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Aging Activist Still on Quest for Social Justice

Eight years ago, Doris Haddock, known affectionately as "Granny D," embarked on a remarkable journey. She was 89 years old. Despite an arthritic back, she walked -- and skied -- all the way across America, holding tight to her trademark straw hat while spreading the word about the need for federal campaign finance reform.

Granny D weighed less than 45 kilograms back then. She's even tinier now. A self-described "class clown" growing up, she studied elocution in college. But her only speeches at first were to clerks in the shoe-company office that she ran. Doris Haddock soon had her say, though. She and her husband, Jim, shared a passion for social justice, and for decades they championed many causes together until Jim's death in 1993.

One day five years later, Granny D's eyes fastened on a lone paragraph in a newspaper article about two U.S. congressmen who had slipped $ 50 million into an appropriations measure late one night. The money was a subsidy for a tobacco company.

Furious, Granny D picked up the phone and called the advocacy group Common Cause. "I said, 'But that's corruption!' They said, 'Of course it's corruption. You cannot run (for Congress) today without being a multi-millionaire; or you take illegal money from corporations or special interests.' I wasn't even conscious of this. I said, 'I'm old, I'm tired. What can I do? And they said, 'Try to get the McCain-Feingold Bill passed.' So I said, 'OK.'"

McCain-Feingold was a bipartisan measure pending in Congress to eliminate unregulated donations, or "soft money," from federal election campaigns. But Haddock wondered how one person could help make the bill the law of the land.

She talked the matter over with her friends in a local discussion group that calls itself the "Tuesday Morning Academy." Before long, they were contacting friends, who were contacting THEIR friends all across America, getting signatures on petitions in support of campaign finance reform.

Granny D says those petitions were sent to the senators. "And within a couple of months, we got letters back saying, 'Dear Little Old Ladies. Don't worry yourselves. We are going to pass the McCain-Feingold Bill. Two months later, they didn't pass it. I went into deep depression. All the ladies who had been helping me left, and I was stuck with egg on my face."

Soon afterward, Granny D and her son happened to drive past an old man who was walking down a road, carrying a peace sign. "What if I did that?" she asked her son. "My son said, 'You have to have a reason.' I said, 'Oh, I have a reason.' He said, 'Oh, my God. Campaign finance reform.' And I said, 'Yes!' He said, 'You don't have any money. How are you going to do it? You live on Social Security.' I said, 'I'll go as a pilgrim. I'll walk until given shelter, fast until given food.'"

And that's exactly what she did for 14 straight months, from Pasadena, California, to Washington, D.C. Along the way, she relied on strangers for food and a place to lay her head at night. "Granny's Angels," she called them. Trudging along, she had no idea whether her journey would make any difference. "I'm walking for future generations," she told herself. "For my 16 great-grandchildren."

However, she says, "As I progressed, I became a circus. People were lining up on either side of the road, waiting for me. Or they were telling people ahead, 'She's coming! She's coming!'"

Granny D reached the nation's capital after skiing through the snow on the towpath of an old canal that reaches the city from the Maryland mountains. Only three people greeted her at her last stop, at Arlington National Cemetery.

But then a Metro subway train pulled up to the cemetery station. "And suddenly the cars stopped, and people poured out. And the next one came, and they poured out. So I had 2,300 people walking with me. And when we got near, quite a few of the senators and House members walked with me, too. It was grand! And we went down K Street, because that's where the lobbyists are. And girls in these great, high buildings put out signs saying, 'Go Granny, Go!' I was in tears to think that people cared."

That was in early 2000. The McCain-Feingold bill passed the Senate and the House, and was signed into law by President Bush two years later.

Granny D went back to New Hampshire, but not to a rocking chair. She spoke at several rallies, and, in 2005, delivered the graduation address at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Showing the effects of emphysema brought on by 50 years of smoking, she told the audience that she had recently been jailed for reading from the U.S. Constitution in the rotunda of the Capitol Building in Washington.

"As I thought that did violence to my free-speech rights under the Constitution, I went back and read from the [constitutional amendments called the] Bill of Rights," she told the graduates. "That landed me in jail, too. I felt freer in that jail, because I had spoken out as a free person, than I have ever felt in the open air. Be involved! Get involved! Stay involved!"

Last year, when no one else stepped forward to run against incumbent Republican Judd Gregg in the U.S. senatorial election in New Hampshire, Doris Haddock volunteered. Her first move was to officially change her name to "Doris Granny D Haddock." "While I am happy to step forward in the absence of other Democrats," she told supporters, "I certainly do not do so as a sacrificial lamb. I am running to win!!

Senator Gregg won handily, as expected. But Granny D got 221,000 votes statewide, more than one-third of all the votes cast.

One of the volunteers in Granny D's campaign was Carol Wyndham, a neighbor and retired teacher in rural New Hampshire. "She's awesome, absolutely 'wicked awesome,'" Ms. Wyndham says. "One in a billion, such an inspiration. She realized, after her husband had died and her best friend had passed on that she needed to do something with the rest of her life. She decided to give herself away. And that's what she's done."

Another close friend is longtime Washington, D.C., activist George Ripley, the director of the grassroots organization Americans for Social Justice. He calls Granny D's accomplishments "the power of one" and likens her to the legendary American folk hero John Chapman, or "Johnny Appleseed." He was a New York nurseryman in the 1800s who spent nearly half a century exploring new American territory to the west. Everywhere he went, he spread apple seeds.

"Johnny Appleseed's long-term vision was that settlers who followed would be eating the apples from the trees that he planted as seeds," Mr. Ripley says. "And Granny D has spent the latter part of her life planting seeds of democracy and seeds of citizenship and the nature of going out and encountering your fellow man and sharing your wisdom."

Just last month, Granny D was traveling again, this time by airplane, from her home to Washington to lobby influential lawmakers in the new Democrat-controlled Congress. "It's great what's happening in Congress," she said. "But only two states have passed campaign finance reform. I'm here to work on the others, starting with New Hampshire." Granny D, remember, is 97 years old!

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