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When Granny D Walked Across America

Disappointed but undeterred, she walked after the parade had ended, wearing a high-visibility jogger’s vest, a gardener’s straw hat, and sturdy boots, and carrying a 25-pound pack on her back. On her shoulder, braced like a soldier’s rifle, she carried a big flag she had stitched that said, simply, “Campaign Finance Reform.” Those first days were slow going.

Jim kept in constant touch with his mother and joined her when he could. Friends from Dublin and members of her Tuesday Morning Academy flew out to walk with her. She walked through Pasadena and Colton and Redlands and into Twentynine Palms, and then into Arizona. Through Parker, Bouse, Salome, Wickenburg, she trudged her way.

She rose early to beat the heat, but in the Mojave Desert, she collapsed. Severely dehydrated, she spent four days in the hospital. A sympathetic supporter named Dennis Burke took her back to his house, and he and his wife helped her recuperate.

Now as we walk beside the bog near her home, Doris remembers this time in the desert as a kind of turning point. “Dennis decided I needed a camper, something I could sleep in at night. He went to a used-car dealer and convinced them to ‘lend’ us a camper for two weeks. That was the start of it.”

Her collapse in the desert had attracted attention in the news media. Doris Haddock’s campaign had truly begun. “It gathered a certain momentum,” she says now, perhaps an understatement from a woman who was subsequently listed by the magazine George, alongside Madeline Albright, Hilary Clinton, and Elizabeth Dole, as one of the 20 most fascinating women in politics.

Shouldering her yellow flag, wearing T-shirts and khaki shorts in the heat, heavy woolen pants and sweaters in the cold. Doris marched like a soldier through Los Lunas, New Mexico; Dalhart, Texas; Hooker, Oklahoma; Kismet, Kansas; Mack’s Creek, Missouri; Odin, Illinois; Versailles, Indiana; Chillicothe, Ohio: Clarksburg, West Virginia; Falls Church, Virginia; and all the little towns and big cities in between. She finally strode right into our nation’s capital, just two months late.

Doris never had to sleep on the ground or in a jail cell, and she never missed a meal. Her arthritic pains left her and her emphysema all but vanished. “I had an inhaler when I started,” she says, “but I don’t know what happened to it. I must have lost it.”

On morning walks along the familiar roads near her house, Doris’s child-size feet track at a good pace. She dislikes hills, and when the road steepens, her breath quickens and she recalls the “worst” part of her journey: West Virginia. “It was cold,” she says. “And there were lots of hills.”

Eventually Jim bought a used camper for his mother to use. On the back he had printed: CAUTION! 90-year-old walker ahead! Support Campaign Finance Reform! The camper is now parked in Jim ‘s driveway, a bright reminder of Doris’s triumph.

When Doris arrived home, the bands played and Dublin threw a big party. The invitations for her to speak seemed endless. Most of us who had bid her good-bye were amazed to find that, 3,200 miles later, Doris looked stronger, younger, more alive. She not only walked 3,200 miles, she also delivered hundreds of speeches, nothing she had ever done before.

In Toyah, Texas, she told the crowd, “We didn’t send our young men and women off to fight for a government of, by, and for the corporations.” In Nashville, Tennessee, she said, “We must provide a public financing system for candidates. Otherwise, the candidates are not honestly offering themselves to us. They are already sold.” In Texarkana, she said, “It’s obscene to have to raise that kind of money [the millions funneled to campaigns] when children are going to bed ill and old people are eating pet food. It’s simply insane.”

Radical words for anyone but Granny D. In Parker, Arizona, she was welcomed by the Marine Corps Marching Band. Along her way, politicians fell in and out with Doris Haddock, trying to set their feet on her untarnished path.

Granny D walked through four pairs of shoes and staunchly refused the contract Nike offered her, in spite of her very real need for money to keep her walk going. She exhausted four sun hats and dozens of walking companions. She walked the walk and talked the talk through 208 towns and 13 states.

At her welcome-home party in Dublin, she said , “I am thankful to New England for raising its children with businesslike severity so that we might be a little tough and more courageous and become, after long lives here, great connoisseurs and critics of beauty and community … Wherever I went across America, people wanted to shake my hand and wish me well, not because they thought I was something special, but because I was someone like them. Americans are not selfish. They are kind and full of great spirit.”

Two months after she arrived home, Doris returned to Washington, D.C., to once again call attention to her cause. Surrounded by supporters, Doris stood in the rotunda of our Capitol building and read the Declaration of Independence. As she read, police arrested her for demonstrating. They put her hands behind her back and cuffed her. She and her supporters (including her son, Jim, and several of her elderly lady friends from the Tuesday Morning Academy) were taken by bus to the police station to be booked. She was released, and a month later she came before the court in Washington to answer charges.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

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One Response to When Granny D Walked Across America

  1. Jamie Trowbridge March 10, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    In the nine years since Edie Clark wrote this piece, Doris Haddock’s strength, smarts and persistence did not diminish. We’ll certainly miss her here in Dublin, NH.

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