Today: Granny D, who at 89 years old walked 3,200 miles across the continental United States for campaign finance reform.
Ethel Doris Rollins, later known as Granny D, was born in 1910, and in the late 1920’s, unlike most women of the time, went to college, attending Emerson College in Boston for three years. But when Emerson found out she secretly married Amherst student James Haddock, she was expelled for they didn’t allow their students to marry.
The couple moved to New Hampshire where he became an electrical engineer and she as a stay at home mom, raised their son Jim and daughter Elizabeth. Later, she worked for 20 years in a shoe factory, retiring in 1972.
In 1960, they had become political activists, when as a matter of conscience, they campaigned successfully against a nuclear testing facility in Point Hope, Alaska that would have destroyed a Native American fishing village.
After retiring, Granny D got immersed in local politics. But her real passion became campaign finance reform, for she saw the U.S. government coming under the control of giant corporations, which wrote big campaign checks to politicians. The citizens’ voices often didn’t matter.
They were being squeezed out of their own democracy and Granny D decided to do something about it, knowing if the people en masse would get involved, they could take the system back.
To inspire and activate them, on New Year’s Day, 1999, Granny D arrived at the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. She wore blue gym clothes and a bright reflective orange and yellow safety vest with stenciled blue lettering on a white sign that read “Granny D, For Campaign Finance Reform” and she was ready to go.
She strapped on a backpack, put on a wide brimmed straw hat, tied her sneakers and this 5 foot tall dynamo began speaking to the people and to the media there to cover the Rose Parade and she started her journey.
It was a 3,200 mile walk that would last 14 months and conclude in Washington, DC, on February 29th, 2000 where 90 year old Granny D was greeted by a crowd of 2,000 people at the Capitol on the National Mall.
As she approached the Capitol, numerous Congressmen walked with her as the media swarmed them. Granny D had walked many of America’s big cities and small towns, at times in the warmth of the sun and other times braving chilling winds, rains and snow.
All the while, the media told her story and she spoke to adoring audiences. Now in Washington, the politicians were very much a part of the celebration and the public had become aware of the corporate control and the corrupt campaign finance process. She had accomplished her goal!
But in April of 2000, just weeks after her epic journey ended, 90 year old Granny D returned to Washington, DC for a demonstration. She and 29 other demonstrators were arrested for illegally protesting in the Capitol rotunda, a rotunda that belongs to the people.
As the crowd saw Granny D being hauled off to jail, they began to chant “Go Granny Go!” as they voiced their support for her. And once again she made a great story for the media.
Through the power of one determined woman, Granny D energized a nation and Congress under pressure from the people finally in 2002 passed the McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill.
But as we’ve seen recently with the giant corporate bailouts accompanied by generous campaign contributions, it is a never ending battle.
And here is where our story takes another interesting twist.
In 2004, New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg was running for a third six year term and was a heavy favorite given the many advantages of holding office and the huge corporate campaign contributions readily available to him.
After a financial scandal, his Democratic opponent dropped out just before the filing deadline to run for office. It looked like Senator Gregg would run unopposed, but at the last moment, a multi-colored, psychedelic style bus arrived and out stepped 94 year old Granny D.
She spoke to the media, and declared herself a candidate, signing papers to make it official. And she became the Democratic Party’s Senatorial nominee.
Senator Gregg had a well-funded, professionally run campaign and could saturate the airwaves, billboards, and flood out mail pieces, newspaper ads and Internet coverage. Meanwhile, Granny D refused to accept anything but small contributions and took on the Senator with all her heart.
I’d like to tell you that this fiery little lady won, but that’s not what happened. Senator Gregg won with 66 % of the vote versus Granny D’s 34%. But this meant she still captured over 1 in every 3 votes cast, very impressive given his her lack of financial resources.
Her grass roots campaign captured many a heart and encouraged others to get more involved in the political process. It was such a compelling campaign that in 2007, HBO showed it in a movie entitled “Run Granny Run,” a real feel good story.
But three years later, in January 2010, a deeply divided U.S. Supreme Court issued a stunning ruling. It said giant corporations could contribute as much money to elections as they want.
In response, 100 year old Granny D issued this statement: “The Supreme Court, representing a radical fringe that does not share the despair of the grand majority of Americans, has today made things considerably worse by undoing the modest reforms I walked for and went to jail for and that tens of thousands of the other Americans fought very hard to see enacted.
“The Supreme Court now opens the floodgates to usher in a new tsunami of corporate money into politics.”
Granny D would have begun a campaign to persuade Congress to change the laws, on which the Supreme Court ruled, but at 100, her health was declining and in March, she died of respiratory disease in her son’s home. Thus it is up to the rest of America to carry the ball forward as she so often did.
But there is more to our story. In her personal life, irrepressible Granny D set another wonderful example for us, in that she didn’t live in the past but focused on the present. She became an avid user of email, was fascinated with the Blackberry, and listened to the Beatles and even some of today’s music. She welcomed new ideas and new challenges.
And that’s not all. Granny D walked regularly, often two miles at a time, and played Scrabble with a group of ladies she frequently met with and laughed with, as she kept her mind sharp and held a little joy in her heart, in an energetic life in which she continued to find meaning.
Success Tip of the Week:
Stand up for what you believe in and keep a little joy in your heart and as Granny D did, you too will enjoy your life even more and continue to find its meaning.
In the next KazanToday:
After being widowed, how a mother grew two successful businesses.