I was one of the group of about 45 North Carolinians who marched with Granny D from Arlington Cemetery to the Capitol Building, the final five miles of her 3,200-mile trek from California to Washington, D.C. This trip had been hoped for and planned for months by our singing group, the Raging Grannies, and our chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. We were so inspired by the courage, fortitude and commitment of this now 90-year-old woman, who has given more than a year of her life for a cause she feels is no less than a struggle for the soul of this nation.
Granny D believes that campaign finance reform is a “gateway issue”–that other public policy issues of the greatest importance cannot be adequately addressed until the corrosive influence of big money in politics is removed. She supports the McCain-Feingold and Shays-Meehan bills that would ban unlimited soft-money contributions, but she also feels that more comprehensive reforms–like free TV time and full public financing of campaigns–are needed to free candidates from the burden of raising money and then becoming beholden to those who give it.
We left on Monday afternoon in three vans from the Carrboro Plaza parking lot and stayed overnight in Arlington, Va. Tuesday morning was beautiful, a perfect day for the march. About 2,000 people were there and everyone was so excited and jubilant–and of course there were the banners and signs: “Granny D Speaks for Me” and “Elections That Are For Sale Aren’t Free.” Peter Walz, who works for the N.C. Alliance for Democracy, had arranged for wheelchairs just in case, and people took turns riding in them.
Granny D led the march and we were toward the back, so it wasn’t until we stopped to rest about halfway that I really got a close-up look at her. I knew that seeing Granny D would inspire me, but I wasn’t prepared for how forceful she is and how strong her voice is. Later, at the Capitol, someone referred to her as a sweet little lady, and she gave him such a look of surprise and amusement. Well, this tiny, frail-looking woman is a powerful speaker. She reminded me of Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill with her cadences, the beauty of what she had to say and her vision for this country.
“If I have offended some senators, that is as it should be!” she declared. Remembering Arlington Cemetery, she asked them: “How did you dare to think that we were so unpatriotic to have forgotten all those rows upon rows of graves that mark how much we, as a people, care for our freedom and our equality?”
I hope that people got a chance, not just to hear about her, but to see her and hear her speech. It really would light a fire in anyone whose soul is not dead.
Sens. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota also spoke to us at the Capitol, along with representatives of Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. The only jarring note was the overzealousness of the police in herding us to the sidelines and away from the steps of the Capitol. After all, we were there for reform, not to overthrow the government.
Afterwards, our North Carolina delegation met in a grassy park across the street from the Capitol, where Sen. John Edwards and Rep. David Price both spoke to us in favor of campaign finance reform, and congressman Price told the Senate to “get on the stick.” (Shays-Meehan has passed in the House of Representatives, but the Senate refuses to pass McCain-Feingold.) Then the Raging Grannies sang–songs like “Influence Peddling” and “America’s Being Sold” (to the tune of “America the Beautiful”).
The march got a lot of attention from the press–there were at least 15 television cameras there–and it was a very heady feeling. Our North Carolina group also got a great reception from the other marchers, which helped us return home with renewed spirit and togetherness.
This issue is definitely catching on, and the message is going out to the heartland.
I agree with Granny D: Campaign finance reform undergirds everything we care about that is threatened by the influence of corporations and big money in politics, and if that process continues, we are a democracy in name only. But I think we’re ready to fight back. And though you would think that Granny D, after walking 10 miles a day, six days a week for more than a year, would want to go home and take a rest, now she’s going to take the issue into as many communities as she can. She promised to visit every state where there’s an anti-reform senator running for re-election this year and help organize the opposition. Her message is: “Let’s Snap Out of It!”