On Sunday, January 11th, two years to the day after we lost Aaron Swartz, a small group of warmly dressed souls will begin a walk from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, to Concord. When they reach Concord, ten days and 150 miles later, they will be met by three other much larger groups that had begun walks from Keene, Nashua, and Portsmouth during the following week. In Concord, on the 5th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which gave birth, indirectly, to the SuperPAC, the four groups will join a much bigger rally to demand our democracy back.
This is the New Hampshire Rebellion, a group that aims to rally the citizens of New Hampshire to ask presidential candidates in the 2016 New Hampshire primary the central question for American politics: How are you going to end the system of corruption in Washington.
This isn't the central question now. Politicians on the Right and Left want nothing more than to avoid the embarrassing question of the way money has corrupted our politics. It is against this agenda of avoidance that these citizens rebel. Because we see, as any sane souls sees, that unless this system of corruption is changed — a system in which the top 100 contributors in 2014 gave almost as much as the bottom 4.75 million contributors, and in which even that 4.5 million is still less than 2% of the American public — no sensible reform on either the Right or the Left will happen. The American government is broken; at its core, this corruption is the cause; and until we find a way to force politicians to address this cause, there will be no way to repair the breach.
This is the second January walk. In the first, last year, more than 200 people joined along a single route, from Dixville Notch to Nashua. That walk also began on January 11. It ended on January 24th, the birthday of the inspiration for most who have participated in these walks, a New Hampshire native, Doris Haddock, aka, Granny D.
In 1999, at the age of 88, Granny D began a trek from Los Angeles. Thirteen months and 3200 miles later, just after her 90th birthday, she arrived in Washington, DC. Along the way, on her chest was a sign that read "for campaign finance reform."
Granny D died just after Citizens United was decided, at the age of 100. Just before her death, in a speech about Citizens United, she challenged us all to continue in her footsteps.
That is what we will do Sunday, quite literally. Her walk was longer. Ours will be colder. But like her, we are looking for a way to get more of America to follow. Because the challenge is not to convince America that there's a problem. The challenge is to convince America that there's a solution. New Hampshire is the key to that solution, for if the question can be focused here, in perhaps the most important primary of the 2016 presidential election cycle, then there is a chance it will echo throughout that campaign, and finally force an answer into the center of American politics.
Granny D is my inspiration too. But not just Granny D. For as we begin this second walk Sunday, my thoughts will also be with the boy who inspired me to take up this cause.
It was Aaron Swartz who in December, 2006, pressed me to give up my work on copyright and Internet policy, and to turn to this more fundamental challenge. That next year, in 2007, we began a project together to do just that. And as we worked together over the next few years, I was certain that some day, we'd see this problem solved, together.
Of course we won't, at least not together. This problem will be solved. It is not impossible. It just seems that way. But Aaron showed us the way to take up impossible problems, and beat them. No one thought SOPA could be stopped — till Aaron and thousands of others stopped it. And as he described that fight after we had won it, so must it be for this fight too. As he said in his final speech at F2C:
We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom. They threw themselves into it. They did whatever they could think of to do. They didn't stop to ask anyone for permission.
I'm not sure we need "heroes." I think what we need, as Ron Suskind describes in his beautiful book, Life Animated, is "sidekicks." Quoting his extraordinary and autistic son, Owen, a "sidekick" as Owen, and Ron, and the tradition of Walt Disney defines it, "helps the hero fulfill his destiny." As I see it, the hero here is this democracy, or at least, what this democracy could be.
We need to help that hero fulfill its destiny. We all need to be the sidekicks who can make that happen. "To save this crucial freedom," as Aaron put it. The freedom of a democracy, with integrity.
Lawrence Lessig is Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership, Harvard Law School; Director, Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, Harvard University.