The tiny township of Dixville Notch, NH — population 12 – is familiar to any aficionado of American politics. Just after midnight, every four years in both the US presidential election and the New Hampshire primary, Dixville Notch’s residents are the first to cast their ballots (a symbolic tradition started in the days before early voting).
So despite winter’s ice and sleet, it was a fitting starting point on January 11 for a march across New Hampshire from north to south, top to bottom, a protest demanding that our leaders acknowledge the corrupting influence of money on government and politics. And do something about it.
Activist Lawrence Lessig is leading a group of demonstrators bundled up against the cold, asking Americans to challenge candidates in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election with one big question: “How will you end the system of corruption in DC?”
Lessig’s initial goal is to reach only a few thousand people in New Hampshire, because the state’s early presidential primary gives its citizens an early and powerful influence on the candidates. As he told the Nashua (NH) Telegraph, “The only way we’re ever going to get fundamental reform is if we can inspire presidential candidates to make this a central – maybe the central issue – that they want to talk about.” What’s more, as he asked in a recent tweet, “Can the public have a seat at the table without paying the campaign-contribution tax?” One answer would be to demand public financing of campaigns that eliminates the undue influence of deep-pocketed corporate players and the super wealthy whose donations are often made in secret.
Described as “the first step in rebelling against a broken system and a dysfunctional Congress,” the 185-mile trek started small, a modest version of what New Hampshire resident Doris Haddock – more famously known as “Granny D” – took on 15 years ago. At age 88, she marched from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, carrying a sign urging campaign finance reform. America took notice, and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) took up her cause. The decade that followed saw some reforms, many of which have come undone in the regulatory disarray following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Lessig’s march – part of what he calls “The New Hampshire Rebellion” – will grow in size as it continues south, culminating in Nashua, NH, on Granny D’s birthday. (Haddock passed away in 2010, at age 100).
Jan. 11, the starting day for Lessig’s march, also was carefully chosen. On that date last year, 26-year-old Aaron Swartz, a revolutionary programmer and equally influential activist committed suicide. It was Swartz, Lessig says, who convinced him that before progress could be made on any other issue important to voters, the system of cash donations as legalized political corruption had to be stopped.
The marchers hope their journey will become an annual tradition, growing each year in strength and influence, until cash and carry politics is an issue that candidates running for president in 2016 are unable to ignore. As the Nashua Telegraph editorialized, “If you’re cynical about government and think that our politicians are bought off by the super-rich and special interests, this may be the cause for you. If you think our representatives should put the interests of the country before their own re-election, you may want to get in on this.”
Cameron Hickey spoke with Lessig for BillMoyers.com as the first marchers headed south from Dixville Notch and will continue to report as they make their way to Nashua. You also can also follow their progress here.