Doris "Granny D" Haddock. (Photo: gavindjharper / Flickr)
Doris "Granny D" Haddock left us on Wednesday after a century of life lived to the utmost. Hailing from an era that told women to sit down and shut up, she cut a wide swath through politics and culture, and became a symbol of strength, integrity and perseverance that will not soon be forgotten.
Granny D had the map of the world on her face, and for good reason. She was born 100 years ago, carved out of the granite of her home state of New Hampshire. She lived through the Great Depression, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, both Gulf Wars and 18 American presidents. She got kicked out of Emerson college when she married her husband, because students were forbidden from marrying at the time. She sold shoes for 20 years, and then retired and got into politics.
I mean, she really got into politics.
It started in 1960, when she and her husband successfully campaigned to ban hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska, an action that saved an Inuit fishing village, which would have otherwise been removed. After her retirement, she served on the Planning Board in her home town of Dublin, New Hampshire, and was active in numerous community affairs. She rose to national prominence in 1999 when, at the tender age of 88, she embarked upon a cross-country walking tour to promote campaign finance reform. She left California on New Year's Day, walked ten miles a day, gave speeches in a dozen states, and arrived fourteen months and two birthdays later in Washington, DC, flanked by thousands of people and several members of Congress. In 2000, she was given an honorary degree from Emerson, the same college that had booted her out for getting married.
In 2004, at age 94, she ran unsuccessfully against Judd Gregg, the Republican senator from New Hampshire, berating him mercilessly for his close personal and political relationship with George W. Bush. She celebrated her 99th birthday by advocating for campaign finance reform at the New Hampshire State House. During the Bush years, she gave speeches at countless rallies against the war in Iraq; during those years, it was almost impossible to go to any anti-Bush rally in Washington and not find her name on the speaker's list. Her eloquence was only matched by her fiery intensity. Granny D was, quite literally, a little old woman, but she could blow the roof off the joint like few others.
An example of this was given on October 6, 2005, in what became known as the Orchard House Speech:
The desperate attitude of the far right toward not only the unborn baby but even brain-dead people on life support reveals something about their true religion: they have little. There is nothing in their actions that reveals a belief that life is eternal, that there is no death except as a doorway to something better. Their brand of Christianity simply does not relate to the teachings of Christ. The worst of the hate-mongers who misuse the Bible to make million-dollar church incomes and push a political agenda of male domination and hate are easy to spot, for they cherry-pick Bible passages to suit their purposes.
They disregard any turning of cheeks, they disregard the fact that Jesus never mentioned the homosexuality that they so fear. They seem not to fear that, as very rich men, they themselves might have a hard time driving their Hummers through the eye of the needle into heaven. They claim that every word of the Bible must be followed, but if they really believed that they would have stoned themselves to death years ago, as they are as sexually frisky and full of covetous looks as anybody else. They forgive themselves freely, of course, even when they promote the murder of foreign leaders.
They refuse a young girl an abortion for the same reason they would refuse her birth control: because in either case she would be exercising power and control over her own future--and such power and control is reserved for the authorities--male authorities--below whom she is to cower and serve and reproduce. It is all about that, and we have to start saying so, so that the far right will no longer have the women marching in its toxic ranks--at least the smarter women.
What is it to our souls when we have to just keep slugging through dark places? Why, after all that has happened in America, from stolen elections to the destruction of our necessary institutions of mutual help, are you, personally, still at it? Why, after seeing our country become the international symbol of irresponsible conduct, of torture, of political imprisonment, of destruction to the global ecosystem, are your spirits not smeared across the plaza under the treads of these tanks? Are your hearts perhaps stronger and your souls deeper than you imagined? Yes, this is what you came here to do. There is no greater gift than to be given a life of meaning. There is no greater heroism than to bravely represent love in a dark time of fear and danger.
We are resolved to help each other. We are resolved to represent love in the world and to follow our national dream.
So look at the situation wisely and know that a happy ending is not to be found under the paper moon of child's brief play. Accept and celebrate the fact that we are deeply engaged in a long, hard drama of global meaning. We welcome the fight. We welcome it, and, by George, we are up to it.
True to form, she was in the fight to the very end. Less than two months ago, responding to the recent Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance reform, Granny D fired off a missive hot enough to singe the hairs of Justice Roberts' eyebrows:
The Supreme Court, representing a radical fringe that does not share the despair of the grand majority of Americans, has made things considerably worse by undoing the modest reforms I walked for and went to jail for, and that tens of thousands of other Americans fought very hard to see enacted. So now, thanks to this Court, corporations can fund their candidates without limits and they can run mudslinging campaigns against everyone else, right up to and including election day.
A few states have adopted programs where candidates who agree not to accept special-interest donations receive, instead, advertising funds from their state. The programs work, and I would guess that they save their states more money than they cost by reducing corruption. Moving these reforms in the states has been very slow and difficult, but we must keep at it. But we also need a new approach - something of a roundhouse punch. I would like to propose a flanking move that will help such reforms move faster: We need to dramatically expand the definition of what constitutes an illegal conflict of interest in politics.
This kind of reform should also be pushed in the 14 states where citizens have full power to place proposed statutes on the ballot and enact them into law. About 70 percent of voters would go for a ballot measure to "toughen our conflict of interest law," I estimate. In the scramble that would follow, either free campaign advertising would be required as a condition of every community's contract with cable providers (long overdue), or else there would be a mad dash for public campaign financing programs on the model of Maine, Arizona and Connecticut. Maybe both things would happen, which would be good.
I urge the large reform organizations to consider this strategy. They have never listened to me in the past, but they also have not gotten the job done and need to come alive now or get out of the way. And to the Supreme Court, you force us to defend our democracy - a democracy of people and not corporations - by going in breathtaking new directions. And so we shall.
Granny D inspired with her words, her actions, her strength and her very being. The last time I spoke to her was on January 20, 2005, in a park in Washington, DC. It was the day of the second Bush inauguration, and a number of us were huddled in the cold a few blocks away from the parade route, preparing for a number of counterinauguration demonstrations that would take place during the ceremony. I was exhausted and dispirited; the notion of four more years of Bush was more than I thought I could bear, and visions of just giving up and letting the bastards have their way were very much in my mind.
But, then, out of a car stepped Granny D, wearing a big winter coat, one of her signature beautiful hats and wrapped in a blanket to protect her from the January chill. She smiled at me when I approached her, and I said something on the order of, "Can you believe this? What are we going to do?" She shook her head, breathed a huge sigh, and said, "The best we can. That's all we can do." She smiled again and walked slowly, gingerly, but steadily toward the podium where, once again, she blew the roof off the joint.
If you believe in Heaven, then you have to believe that, as we speak, Doris "Granny D" Haddock is giving God an earful over all the things that are wrong and need fixing. Go, Granny, go. We loved you so.