The following is just one of the insights I discovered while walking in the New Hampshire Rebellion. The NH Rebellion is a strategy inspired by Doris “Granny D” Haddock and initiated by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig to spend the next 3 years making the corrupting influence of money in America’s political system the number one issue for all future candidates.
Right now, as we look toward the future we see a world of worsening odds for catastrophe. Be it the result of debt, environment, economy, war, or some combination, it doesn't really matter. All that will matter in the end is that, should we fail to fix our broken political system, it will be entirely our fault.
At the beginning of the NH Rebellion walk I believed that voters were apathetic when it came to fixing our political system. Yet, being apathetic implied that voters didn't care about the future of our children and the generations to come. As I walked along the 185 mile route through the great “Granite State,” however, my encounters with residents suggested that nothing could be further from the truth.
On the tenth day of the walking I explained how I was confused by the persistence of apathy when concern for the future was so high to Cornelia Sargent, a blind activist and experienced walker. Upon finishing my explanation, Sargent turned and smiled while grasping my arm and said, “People are not apathetic, they only feel powerless.”
It was in that moment that I saw the stark difference between the two. We feel powerless because, what can one individual do? There is no action. There is no movement. Yet, this isn’t true. We can always walk.
For two weeks I walked 10 to 20 miles each day through New Hampshire, starting from Dixville Notch and going all the way to Nashua. It was physically challenging, but at the same time completely empowering.
I was empowered to see the real beauty of our country where previously I would drive through with blinders on. I was empowered by discussions with my fellow walkers and with the citizens met in cafes and homes. More than anything though, I was empowered to make friends from strangers by focusing on a single issue for which there was 96% agreement.
What was this nearly universal issue? Money in politics. When it comes to national debt, education, the environment, and the economy, we all may have very different ideas and dreams for a better future. However, until we get the corrupting influence of money out of politics, any real progress on these issues is impossible.
I found that this issue of corruption had such widespread agreement because for once it wasn't partisan. Instead, most of the people that I encountered saw it as a moral imperative to ensure that, in a representative democracy, there is equality for every citizen regardless of wealth, status, or any other station.
Our generation is at a turning point. From here, our legacy will either be the generation that changed the system and modernized our way of solving problems, or we will go down as the generation that had all the tools and resources right there before us, but that chose to remain powerless.
It is time to stop obscuring the truth of the big problems before us and recognize that our government is systematically corrupt. I say systematically because the corruption we face is not as simple as money for favors (even though that is exactly what ends up happening). It is far more insidious, because what we currently have is an entirely legal system of incentives that rewards those who destroy and pollute the body politic while punishing those that create and renew it.
It is only when we change the system of incentives that we can ever expect to make progress on all other issues. It is time we face the music, or as Lessig likes to say, it is time for an intervention, because Uncle Sam is a huge drunk when it comes to money in politics.
So how do we intervene? Along the walk there were many different approaches being promoted. The first was to simply raise public awareness by ensuring that every future candidate be asked by voters a single question: “”
Other groups that joined the walk promoted laws for greater transparency or tax rebate vouchers for voters to distribute to the candidates of their choice. Others promoted steps toward a constitutional amendment that would clarify the status of citizens and corporations. Yet one final option that is also perhaps the most simple is to seek empowerment by becoming the funders ourselves.
On the surface, the NH Rebellion may have seemed like just another demonstration, but underneath, it became much, much more. By focusing on this issue of corruption it united both citizens and advocacy groups across the country on the single task of restoring representative democracy in a way that had yet to be achieved. Most importantly, it reminded us that even the simple act of walking can empower the powerless.