When I first started attending St. Thomas Episcopal Church, one of the first persons to befriend me was an 84 year old lady. We found we had a great love of books and one day she handed me a book to read. It was titled Granny D: Walking Across America in My 90th Year, by Doris Hadock and Dennis Burke. Granny D chronicles Doris Hadock, who walked across the U.S. in 2000 at the age of 90 to highlight the need of campaign finance reform. I was instantly enchanted by Hadock, and admired her life of activism and her love of our country. My friend loved Hadock’s motto in life: you’re never too old to raise a little hell.
Doris had a life time of raising a little hell. She was a flapper as a young woman of the 1920s and she performed one-woman feminist plays in the 1930s. In 1960 Doris and her husband demonstrated to stop nuclear testing near an Eskimo fishing village. During the 1990s Doris became more and more disturbe at the influence corporate financing had upon the politicians who ran our country, so she decided to talk a 3,000 mile walk from California to Washington D.C. to highlight the need for campaign finance reform. As she walked, she met Americans of all stripes and classes, all eager for the average person to have some say again in the democratic processes. Doris wrote in her book, “In my long walk, I am trying to get some new laws passed that will make it easier for people to be responsible for their own communities and their own government. I worry that the influence of very rich companies and very rich people make it difficult for regular people to feel that they are in charge of their own affairs. We need to get the big, special interest contributions out of our elections. Those contributions shout down you and me, and there is no true free speech nor true political equality so long as this condition persists.”
In 2004 a surprise vacancy in the Democratic nomination for the New Hampshire Senator race led Doris to run for the Senate against incubent Republican Judd Gregg. This was documented in a wonderful movie Run Granny Run. Doris had never run in any political office before but she continued repeating the themes that she made during her walk in 2000. The highlight of the film is the runup to the televised debate with Judd Gregg. Doris was very nervous before the debate, but she did a credible job against Gregg. One of the most infuriarating things for me to see was how Democratic party leaders like Howard Dean ignored Doris and kept at arms length from her campaign. In listening to Doris’ response to various voters’ questions, I heard an intelligent, progressive and reasonable voice.
In reading her book and watching the documentary, I grew to admire Doris Hadock’s spunk and courage, and respect her opinions on various issues facing the nation. Doris shows that our government doesn’t just belong to lawyers and lobbyists and businesspeople, that our government must stay responsive to the people and the grassroots. In an excerpt of a speech that Doris made in Cumberland, Maryland on January 24, 2000, Granny D said:
“For those of ou who have lived a long life and think you are finished with it, I tell you that, if you will pray for courage and look to the needs of your community rather than yourself, a great energy and happiness will come to you. Indeed, your community needs your wisdom and your patience. Your family needs you, too, whether or not they believe it. Your country needs you.
Friends, look at this country- our genius republic- this great sailing vessel we have built that we might find our way to the future together as free and equal citizens, as friends and partners in self-governance. Though it is two and a quarter centuries old, the paint still smells new some days, and the flag still snaps in the wind. But what a price we have paid for it! I do not have to remind you of the rows upon rows of marble stones that mark the sacrifices our friends and our children and our fathers and their fathers have made to build this great craft and keep it safe.
But now, in a time when people are so stressed in their lives and are so unaware of what it means to truly live well- to live free, to live with enough leisure and confidence to be the stewards of their own lives and communities- in this time, we strangeley find ourselves having to explain why it is a bad thing if multinational corporations control our elections, and why it is a bad thing if our elected leaders no longer represent the interests of the people.
I know that some of these people just need to be awakened. We can do that. We can show them a future they will want. But there are others who know very well what has been lost in this nation over the last few decades, and they have lowered their fists slowly in despair. To them, to my generation and the generation younger and the generation older, I cry to you please- don’t give up the ship!”