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A quiet country road from Dublin to Hancock, New Hampshire was the site of the New Hampshire Rebellion’s latest “Granny D Walk” to end the influence of money in American politics.P8230046 (2)

Granny D was the public moniker for Doris Haddock, a long-time Dublin resident who set out from California a few days short of her 89th birthday to walk across the USA and publicize the need for campaign finance reform.  She had just turned 90 when she reached the nation’s capital on February 29, 2000. 

The path of today’s walk was one she used to train for her historic pilgrimage, which ended at the US Capitol on February 29, 2000, a month after she turned 90.

Few people reflect the strength of conviction demonstrated by Granny D, observed Larry Lessig, the writer and Harvard Law School professor who launched the Rebellion last year.  The group conducted a winter march from Dixville Notch to Nashua in P8230054

January and another along the New Hampshire seacoast in July. 

Today forty people, aiming to make breaking the money-politics link a central issue of the 2016 presidential nominating contest, continued Granny D’s quest.  Walking through a wooded area with no pedestrians and barely any cars, there weren’t many people to educate and convince.  But perhaps that wasn’t the point.  P8230045

There’s a long history of walks, marches, and pilgrimages intended to bolster movements for social change.  Gandhi’s march to the sea, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, the United Farm Workers Union’s 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, and the regular peace walks led by the Nipponzan Myohoji monks come to mind as examples.  Yes, they are expressions of political views, but they also embody spiritual power. 

When we sing “we won’t let nobody turn us around,” we aim to capture that same spirit.  When musicians Leslie Vogel and Fred Simmons treated us to “Just a P8230063 Walk with Granny D” before the march, I felt the spirit in motion. 

Part of the point was also to get to know new people, Dan Weeks said at the walk’s outset.  Dan, who was recently appointed as Executive Director for the NH Coalition for Open Democracy (NH COD), says his own activist inclinations began when Granny D visited his high school.  At that time the impressionable 15-year old learned from his elderly neighbor that companies which profited from selling tobacco had a heavy hand in writing the nation’s laws through their political involvement.  Children were dying because of the nation’s twisted approach to campaign finance, Granny D explained.  Dan was hooked, not on cigarettes, but on money & politics activism.  “The systemP8230109 excludes so many of our people,” he says. 

To put it another way, if money is speech, then those with the most money get the most speech.  And as the distribution of wealth becomes increasingly skewed, inequality of speech becomes a profound political problem for a country where government of the people, by the people, and for the people is supposed to be imperishable.

From Dan’s perspective, a walk in the steps of Granny D is a statement that we have not given up hope.

Two hours after setting out, clusters of walkers arrived in the center of Hancock, a town with a population of fewer than 2000 people.  There we were greeted by volunteers and treated to ice cream donated by Ben & Jerry’s.  The crowd had grown to about P8230117 60 people, now including Jim Rubens, a Republican candidate for the US Senate who has made campaign finance reform a plank in his platform (and who says he’s the only Republican in the race who is speaking out against the third Iraq war).  

When the ice cream had been eaten, Dan Weeks introduced Professor Lessig for a short speech by the gazebo on the Hancock Common.  Lessig apparently didn’t feel a need to educate the assembled dozens about the corruption caused by the billions of dollars in the political system, nor did he choose to restate the strategy of the NH Rebellion.  He chose instead to exhort the small crowd about the importance of action, something he says our country has become unaccustomed to taking. 

“We’ve just gotten through a century of very passive politics, where we were told to shut up and listen to the commercials and just show up to vote,” Lessig said.

“That’s the only thing we were to do. We weren’t to organize or to get people out in P8230104

the streets.  We weren’t about ordinary citizens trying to lead.  We weren’t practiced in that kind of politics.”

“But that’s the kind of politics this will take,” he continued.  “Neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party leadership like this issue.  Neither of them are going to make this transition happen on their own.  It will only happen if we force them.”

Plans are already being hatched for another walk next January, timed to coincide not only with Granny D’s birthday but also with the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United court decision. 

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Today’s rebellion started slowly in a parking lot off Route 1A on the south side of Portsmouth.  With 3 days of rain finally over and the sky brightening up, the spirits of the few dozen people who met there were pretty good, and a bunch of them were old friends I wasn’t expecting to see.  It was a good start to a day of marching to get big money out of politics.P7050023

That’s the purpose of the NH Rebellion, a year-old organization inspired by Doris “Granny D” Haddock, the New Hampshire woman who at age 90 walked across the entire country to call for reform of the nation’s campaign finance laws.  Her relentless pavement pounding helped pave the way for passage of the McCain-Feingold law in 2002.  That law, in turn, opened the doors to new paths for moneyed interests to worm their ways into the political system and then was undermined by the US Supreme Court. 

With money spent on political campaigns deemed a form of speech protected by the P7050040 First Amendment, and corporations deemed persons with just about all rights – so far – save the right to cast ballots, Granny D’s spirit is more important than ever.   

“96% of Americans think that big money in politics is a problem,” the NH Rebellion says, “but 91% think we can’t do anything about it.  It’s time to prove them wrong.” 

“Systemic corruption blocks progress on ALL issues, regardless of one’s political viewpoint,” insists the Rebellion.  “Our goal is to make money in politics the central issue of the 2016 presidential primaries by asking every candidate to answer one question:  ‘How are you going to end theP7050044 system of corruption in DC?’”

From now until the NH Primary, the Rebellion aims to mobilize citizens to ask that question.  They are also planning house meetings, circulating petitions, and organizing more marches.

Our busload of rebels emptied out at Hampton Beach and without fanfare hit the sidewalk for several hours of walking north to New Castle, where a mid-afternoon rally was scheduled.  With everyone walking at their own pace we were soon spread out along Route 1-A, a bit hard to distinguish from vacationers who were just as glad the sun P7050090 was shining.

NH Rebellion volunteers met us now and then with offers of water, leaflets, encouragement to walk faster, and reminders that the bus would come by to sweep up stragglers.  We were among those “swept up” by the bus to leapfrog ahead a few miles and re-join the march for the last few miles through Rye and New Castle.

Only when we reached the New Castle Library could we see that there was a pretty good crowd.  Finally, inside the walls of Fort Constitution we were able to join a crowd several hundred strong.  No surprise: Portsmouth’s Leftist Marching Band was performing.  

Jeff McLean, the Rebellion’s Executive Director, welcomed the marchers with a P7050054 brief statement noting that Fort Constitution was the site of the first victory of the American Revolution.  “Today we come here as citizens who recognize a fundamental flaw” in the political system.

McLean, who led organizing of turnout and logistics for the march, introduced Professor Lawrence Lessig, founder of the initiative and the event’s only other speaker.  Conventional wisdom in the nation’s capital is that the money system is entrenched and impossible to change, Lessig said.  “But look around.  This looks like the first victory of the American Revolution Version Two.”

Lessig also proudly announced that his May Day Super PAC had raised $5 million to support candidates who want to rid politics of the influence of money.   P7050059

By the time of the NH Primary, Lessig said, every candidate will have to answer the Rebellion’s one question about ending the system of corruption.  That remains to be seen. 

One thing was obvious today.  Unlike the Rebellion’s first march last January, this one was peopled mostly by New Hampshire residents.  These are the people who, if they get jazzed up over the next 16 months, can turn money in politics, the unwarranted influence of big business, and the notion that corporations are vested with constitutional rights into key issues in the Primary campaign.   

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“The views that most of us hold are not minority views”

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in Warner, New Hampshire, and Bernie Sanders didn’t need much time to warm up the sympathetic crowd outside Bookends.

“I think that old fashioned politics, I think the politics of big money dominating what goes on in Washington, the old status quo is not good enough,” began the Vermont Senator.  “In my view, and I say this very seriously, we need a political revolution in this country.”  The audience of perhaps one hundred people applauded enthusiastically.

Senator Sanders would sign copies of his book, The Speech, afterwards, but this is no more a standard book tour than are the recent appearances of Hillary Clinton.  Bernie, as he is commonly known, is considering a run for President, and this was his second campaign-style trip to the state that hold the nation’s first primary election.

Sanders’ speech, like one he delivered at the NH Institute of Politics a couple months ago, ran through a menu of issues he referred to as the “progressive agenda.”  The growth of economic inequality and its pernicious effects, the threat of global warning, the need to end wasteful military spending, the need for universal health care, and the importance of free, public education each received a couple paragraphs of stump speech, as did the importance of political reforms to take the government back from the 1 percent and the corporations they own. 

“Last year alone the Koch brothers saw a $12 billion increase in their wealth struggling under the despotic Obama administration,” he said with more than a touch of sarcasm.  Going on about the Kochs, he said, “When you have an extreme P6280041 ideology and you are prepared to spend as much as it takes you can buy the political system. And that is what this disastrous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United has enabled them to do.”

“Here’s what I think,” Sanders continued in his characteristic conversational style.  “Number One we have to overturn Citizens United,” the Supreme Court decision that solidified Court precedents behind the notions of corporate personhood and protection for corporate rights to spend money to influence elections. 

“Second issue, equally important, we need to move toward public funding of P6280020 American elections,” Sanders said.

A week before the NH Rebellion’s next gathering, in which hundreds of local residents are expected to walk from Hampton Beach to New Castle to protest the corrupting influence of big money on our political system, Sanders’ comments were affirmed by the audience.

“We are part of the vast majority.”

As a positive example, Sanders described how efforts to cut Medicare benefits and weaken or privatize Social Security have been rebuffed by organized citizens, despite the propaganda of the deficit hawks.  “The reason we have a deficit today is two huge wars were not paid for and tax breaks for the rich,” he said, again getting approval from the audience.   

The job of progressives, according to Bernie Sanders, is to educate people about what is really going on in the economic and political systems.  And that means going outside of our comfort zones to talk to people with whom we don’t always agree.  The right-wing specializes in division, he said.  Progressive need to bring people together.

“One point I want to reiterate today — the views that most of us hold are not minority views,” Sanders said.  “They are not strange views. Our views are what the vast majority of the American people believe in. It is the Koch brothers and right-wing Republicans who have the fringe ideology.”

“Our job politically is to rally the American people around an agenda which speaks to the needs of the vast majority. And we are part of the vast majority.”

A veteran of who knows how many dozen town hall meetings in Vermont, Bernie Sanders is clearly comfortable with the type of give and take that can animate a New Hampshire Primary campaign.  Of course, he would have to join the Democratic Party in order to compete in that arena.   But he’s already been to Iowa once, and when he left Warner yesterday he was headed for a fundraising dinner for the Hillsborough County Democrats   

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Atlant Schmidt and Cathy Goldwater at Bird-dogging workshop

The third annual New Hampshire Progressive Summit brought 150 activists to New England College yesterday for a conference devoted to practical political skills and information in a wide range of P6070068topics.  Renewable energy, youth organizing, preserving Social Security and Medicare, poverty, GMOs, use of social media, and more kept the crowd moving for the day.  There was even time for debate over the Northern Pass powerline project, an issue about which there is not unity in the New Hampshire Left.  

The Summit included 19 workshops and another 6 “mini-workshops,” plus sessions for elected officials and candidates.  I was able to catch ones on LGBT issues (with Mo Baxley and Jamie Capach) and on the perils of privatization (with Diana Lacey and Janice Kelble) plus 20-minute “mini workshops” on the American Legislative Exchange Council (with Caitlin Rollo and Rep. Marcia Moody) and reducing gun violence (with Janet Groat of Moms Demand Action).  The presenters all were masters of their subjects and led effective discussions.

I also sat in on a presentation about the NH Rebellion, a growing project to put  P6070028pressure on candidates to end the “system of corruption” caused by the flood of cash in the political system. The rebels are planning to join four July 4 parades and assemble hundreds of people to walk from Hampton Beach to New Castle on July 5, all in the spirit of Doris “Granny D” Haddock.  Their supporters at the Summit included several old friends from Occupy NH. 

With Olivia Zink and Addy Simwerayi, I led a session on P6070057“bird-dogging” skills, i.e. how to let candidates know what is on our minds and find out what is on theirs. These sessions are always lively, fun, and hopefully useful.  We had a great assortment of activists concerned about trans rights, climate, GMOs, money and politics, and other issues, all eager to hone their skills.  With the 2014 election campaign heating up and the campaign for the 2016 NH Presidential Primary already underway there is plenty of bird-dogging to be done. 

In fact, the lobby outside the main meeting room was filled with tables from Democratic Party groups, including “Ready for Hillary.” 

What it means to be an “aggressive progressive” was the theme of Richard Kirsch’s keynote.  The speech ran through dozens of popular progressive concepts like aP6070009 higher minimum wage, defeat of “right to work,” the use of the tax code by the 1% to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else, the need for paid sick leave, and the importance of not only preserving but expanding Social Security.  “We all do better when we all do better,” he said.  

Punctuated with applause, Kirsch’s remarks were deliberately formulaic, and in fact, he said they were drawn from the key message points of “An America that Works for All of Us,” a glossy brochure included in everyone’s conference packet (and available online).  From the speaker’s perspective “repeating, repeating, repeating and telling the same story,” what he calls the “progressive narrative,”  is the P6070080 key to political success.

Coming out of movements based on direct action, I’m not totally sold on this “narrative” concept.  I think we create the “narrative” by our actions as much as by our words, but I agree it’s important to communicate effectively and have always believed that the “progressive agenda” – good schools, fair taxes, protection of civil rights and liberties, decent wages for workers, etc. — ought to be popular with the majority of Americans.  But let’s give attention to actions beyond voting and appeals to those who get elected.  I hope there’s still room for direct action on the progressive agenda.  

 

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2014 04 12 mike lee @ freedom summit

Senator Mike Lee at the Freedom Summit, Manchester, April 12, 2014

If you think critique of Big Business is a left-wing phenomenon then think again.

Two Senators who are testing the waters for Presidential runs, and a prominent Republican Representative, have been talking about “corporate cronyism” and “crony capitalism” in recent presentations at The Heritage Foundation of all places.

Speaking at the conservative “think tank” on April 30, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) issued a blast at “America’s growing crisis of crony capitalism, corporate welfare, and policy privilege.”

“The free enterprise system is based on the fundamental equality of opportunity for all—to succeed and to fail—on a level playing field, but cronyism cements the status of the politically well-connected, making it easier for favored special interests to succeed and harder for their competitors to get a fair shot. As a result, honest small business owners, would-be employees, and investors are unfairly kept on the sidelines of a rigged game,” Senator Lee went on.

Senator Lee has made at least one visit to New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation Presidential Primary.  At Americans for the Prosperous’ “Freedom Summit” in April he gave a rather tepid speech in which he said Republicans “have to stop talking like Ronald Reagan and start acting like him.”  

His Heritage appearance was more interesting:

Cronyist policies come in many shapes and sizes—from subsidies and loan guarantees to tax loopholes and protective regulations—but they all work the same way: The elite leaders of big government, big business, and big special interests collude to help each other climb to the highest rungs of success, and then pull up the ladder behind them.

Senator Lee is not the only one talking like that.

In an appearance before the Rockingham County Republicans in New Castle, New Hampshire on May 9, Senator Marco Rubio issued his own blast at greedy capitalists.

As reported by Fox News Latino the Cuban-American Senator from Florida said “Big companies may not like big government, but they can afford to deal with it. They can hire the best lobbyist in Washington to help write those regulations. They can hire the best lawyers in America to find loopholes in those regulations. But if you’re starting a new business out of the spare bedroom in your home you can’t do that.”

Like Lee and a host of others, Senator Rubio is a contender for the GOP Presidential nomination. 

“Subsidies, tax preferences, and political influence”

Rep. Hensarling (R-Texas), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, was another recent visitor to Heritage, where he said “The Main Street competitive economy relies upon hard work, creativity, perseverance and ‘can do’ optimism to create wealth,” while “the Washington insider economy, in contrast, relies on earmarks, regulatory barriers to entry, subsidies, tax preferences, and political influence.”

Rep. Hensarling devoted much of his Heritage speech to criticism of the Export-Import Bank as the epitome of the “Washington insider economy.”

Created in 1934 to boost the U.S. economy by financing foreign purchases of U.S.-made goods, the Ex-Im Bank has earned its place as a focus of criticism.  For example, as a long article in a recent issue of The Nation describes, the Ex-Im Bank was behind the financing of a controversial ExxonMobil mining project in New Guinea, where a landslide cascaded 2 million tons of rocks and mud onto a village two years ago, killing at least 27 people.  The limestone quarry, where the fatal landslide originated, was part of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project financed by a $3 billion Ex-Im Bank loan.

Ian T. Shearn writes:

This massive government loan to the ExxonMobil-led project was issued despite sharp rhetoric from the Obama administration on climate change. Indeed, the loan was approved by the administration just four days before the president delivered his address to the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. “As the world’s largest economy and the world’s second-largest emitter, America bears our share of responsibility in addressing climate change,” Obama said then. “That is why we have renewed our leadership within international climate negotiations, and worked with other nations to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies.”

The PNG LNG loan was hardly the only exception to the president’s stated position. Since Obama took office, the Export-Import Bank has invested more than $27 billion in fossil-fuel endeavors, while lending less than $2 billion to clean-energy projects.

As the Presidential campaign heats up, alongside a growing movement of citizens concerned about the floods of corporate cash washing through the election system, it will be interesting to see whether populist attacks on Big Business find a secure home in the GOP.   Maybe we’ll even see some Republican Senators at the NH Rebellion march July 5.

 

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Senators from opposite ends of the political spectrum took to lecterns on opposite ends of Manchester yesterday to test the waters for potential presidential runs.  At the NH Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders engaged in spirited  back-and-forth with 200 progressive activists on topics including campaign finance, excessive military spending, and the need for a “political revolution.”  Meanwhile, the Americans for the Prosperous Foundation and Citizens United hosted a parade of right-wing Senators and others trying out their stuff before an audience of several hundred conservatives at the Executive Court.  2014 04 12 freedom summit 005

Outside the conservative event, progressive activists – mistakenly identified with the Democratic Party by the Concord Monitor – held signs lambasting proposals to weaken retirement security.  

It was perhaps the first in what will soon be a typical day on the trail to the 2016 New Hampshire Presidential Primary.  

The conservative event was tickets-only, but I got my request in early enough to get a seat and hear speeches from leaders of Citizens United and Americans for the Prosperous, followed by NH Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Mike Lee, Do2014 04 12 freedom summit 008cropnald Trump, and a couple of local pols.  While Trump was entertaining, audience response to Senatorial speeches about low taxes and the evils of Obamacare drew tepid responses.  The speakers were ushered to the stage from behind a curtain, gave their prepared speeches, and disappeared again behind the curtain without taking any audience questions or comments.  

Senator Kelly Ayotte, who seems to be on lots of lists of potential VPs, quoted former Governor Meldrim Thomson, equated freedom with low taxes, and equated the Affordable Care Act with freedom’s opposite.  Applause were somewhere south of excited. Senator Lee was teacherly and likewise failed to excite the crowd. 

Trump was different.  Speaking without notes – and criticizing politicians who  depend on speech-writers and tele-prompters – Trump wandered from point to 2014 04 12 freedom summit 028 point, some of which departed from standard AFP scripts.  For example, he defended Social Security and Medicare in an apparent dig at proposals coming from Congressman Paul Ryan.  He said we need “to come up with a humane solution” to the country’s immigration system, but then drew applause for ridiculing Jeb Bush’s recent “act of love” statement and said he could build a physical barrier that would keep immigrants out.  Trump said we had spent $2 trillion on the Iraq war, “for what?,” but then implied maybe it would have been worth it if we had taken2014 04 12 freedom summit 020 over the country’s oil. 

With no candidate Q&A, the event was rather boring.  My colleague Addy and I left during the introduction of Congressman Louie Gohmert and headed across town.

Senator Sanders had already finished his speech and was talking about Harry Truman when we arrived at the Institute of Politics.  The mood felt different, and it wasn’t just that we were in politically comfortable surroundings.  The seats were all filled, except for ones emptied by people standing in line to get their turns at microphones on the left and right sides of the stage.  Sanders handled questions comfortably, clearly at home in a town hall meeting environment.  Decrying “a Congress largely dependent on corporate 2014 04 12 bernie sanders nhiop 011 money,” Sanders called for development of a grassroots movement to demand change and then hold politicians accountable.  

Sanders, a socialist who ran as an Independent and caucuses with the Democrats, is giving active consideration to a presidential run without saying whether he would run as an Independent or take the fight inside the Democratic Party.  “Somebody has got to be talking about these issues,” he told a group of labor activists who met with him in a small conference room after the main event. 

We could have returned to the Freedom Summit and perhaps would have been able to hear Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but I had had enough for one day.  I would have liked to hear Senator Paul criticize corporate welfare at a Koch-fueled forum.  But I’m pretty sure all these wannabe Presidents will be back, as will the progressive protests, grassroots activists, and the reporters who love to take it all in. 

 

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Chuck Collins, whose latest book is 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About it, spoke to the Henniker Peace Community yesterday. 

Chuck Collins didn’t come to Henniker to “foment antagonism or class warfare,” he said, but instead to encourage people to do some “simple math.”  It’s pretty much the same thing.

The richest 44 households in the USA hold more wealth than the poorest 95%, for example.  The wealthiest 1 percent controls 36 percent of US wealth and more than 42 percent of all financial assets. 

It hasn’t always been that bad.  According to Collins, there’s been a “dramatic upward redistribution of wealth” in the past three decades.  That was no accident, but followed policy changes in which the rules of the economy were “rigged” to benefit asset owners over wage earners.  “These are the folks we need to defend ourselves against,” he told an audience of more than fifty people at the Henniker Congregational Church.

Historically, Collins said Americans have been comfortable with wealth and income inequality as long as they thought the rules were fair.  But that has shifted since the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.  Now, 70 percent of Americans believe extreme henniker 11-3-13 005 inequality is a problem.

It’s a problem that can be addressed with three types of policy changes:

1) “Raise the floor,” through a higher minimum wage and a stronger safety net;

2) “Level the playing field,” through reforms of the political process, such as overturning the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision; and

3) “Break up concentrations of wealth and power.” 

It’s that third point that would meet the most resistance from the natural persons, organizations, and corporations where power and wealth are unfairly concentrated.  But there are specific steps to advocate, such as restoring the progressivity of US income taxes, raising the estate tax, closing loopholes that enable corporations to evade taxes by assigning profits to overseas subsidiaries, breaking up the megabanks, and imposing a tax on financial transactions.    Some of the One Percenters even agree.

One place we can take this message is into the presidential campaign, now warming up in both major parties.  New Hampshire and Iowa may soon be awash in candidates.  Let’s tell them what we think.

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