When Granny D Walked Across America
The idea had come to her when she was visiting with Jim in Florida one year. “We were driving through the Everglades, and I saw an old man walking along the roadside. He was carrying a bag in one hand and a cane in the other, and it looked as if he had all of his worldly possessions with him. I said to Jim, ‘What on earth do you suppose he is doing?’ And he said, ‘Well, Ma, it looks like he’s on the road.’ And I said, ‘You mean on the road like Willie Nelson?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Like Jack Kerouac?’ ‘Yes!’ So we discussed this for a while. My husband died in 1993. He had Alzheimer’s for a long time, and I took care of him. After that, I just wanted to go, go, go. To get away! And so I said to Jim, ‘Haven’t you ever wanted to walk across the country?’ And he said, ‘Well, yes, but I have to earn a living and you’re too damn old!’ And I said, ‘Says who?’
“Jim knows me pretty well. You get to a certain age and your children start to act like they are your parents. So he thought about that for a while and then he said, ‘Well, you cannot go across the country without a cause.’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you think I’ve been working on for the past two years — campaign finance reform!’ And he said, ‘Oh my God.’ ”
Doris was a long-time member of what is known in these parts as the “Tuesday Morning Academy,” an informal gathering of older women who come together on Tuesday mornings to focus on literature, art, and politics. For the Tuesday academy, Doris had researched the issue of campaign finance reform and the academy had been following the weak attempts Congress had been making to fix the problem — rather like trying to change a flat tire while the car is still rolling. This was long before the issue had become a common phrase on the nightly news.
When Doris returned from Florida, she announced to her “classmates” that she would be making this walk. She mapped out her trip and members of the academy helped link her with friends in towns where she would be walking. Soon she had an itinerary, with a star next to towns where she could be assured of lodging. For each of the towns where she knew no one, she contacted the local police and hoped to convince them to let her sleep in an empty jail cell. She herself knew nothing about computers, but her grandson Joey designed a Web site for her. They called it grannyD.com and with that she hoped that anyone who was interested could follow her journey.
Her rhetoric poised, Doris Haddock began trekking on her 89th birthday, January 29, 1999, in Pasadena, California, where she had hoped to strike up some attention by walking in the Rose Bowl Parade. To her surprise, they banned her from walking in the parade because she was walking for a cause. That was her first tussle with authorities.
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.