Manchester, N.H. — Wrapped up in three layers, a yellow traffic vest, and signature top hat, Aaron Goode looked through a clump of equally bright vests as presidential dreamer Laurence Lessig took the makeshift stage, a circle of shoveled pavement by the entrance to Manchester’s snow-blanketed veterans park.
Raising a microphone to his mouth, puffs of frosty breath billowing out, Lessig began to sing:
We walk with love for our country
To honor our Grannies and Sons
We walk for an end to corruption
‘Till the will of the people be done
Goode joined in quietly, hosting up a sign that read “Fight Big Money” as Lessig led another round.
Goode had traveled here from his home in New Haven Saturday to join the nonpartisan NH (New Hampshire) Rebellion for its annual “We The People Convention,” three days of lectures, panels and political marches dedicated to battling the influence of big money on elections à la Granny D Haddock, a centenarian who marched across the country in 1999 advocating for campaign finance reform.
During the morning’s panels, Goode had listened to New Hampshirites Dave Molone and Jim Dannis discuss “Responsible Energy Action” and its ties to fossil fuels and big money. Now the march was about to begin. Lining up, he and others began the nearly-four-mile trek toward Saint Anselm College, where a Republican presidential debate was set to start that evening, in advance of Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary.
The march wasn’t for a candidate. It was for an issue: getting special-interest money out of politics. The marchers had been revved up by a morning of panelists and guests: Actor Sam Waterston declaring that “this issue [reform] is now at the forefront, and there’s change in the air.’” Ice cream activist Ben Cohen‘s impassioned plugging a Stamp Stampede, in which paper currency is stamped with anti-big-money slogans like “Corporations Are Not People/Money Is Not Free Speech” in fat red lettering. New Hampshire State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark calling for a Constitutional move to amend Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that gave corporations the status of human beings with First Amendment rights to donate unlimited amounts of money to campaigns.
The marchers cheered and sang as they set off.
A representative of a civic-participation activist group called New Haven Votes Coalition, Goode and fellow Connecticut political junkie Jason Pauldescribed participating in the NH Rebellion — down to its marches, of which he has participated in four — as part of their civic responsibility. The group appeals, Goode said, to his grassroots sensibilities: Co-founded in 2012 by Lessig (a Harvard law professor who ran a short-lived Democratic presidential campaign this year) and Open Democracy Director Dan Weeks, NH Rebellion declares its aim to be to get corruption — “written into the way we fund campaigns,” according to the organization’s mission statement — definitively out of politics.
The 33-year-old Goode is used to hoisting that banner. While his day job is in dealing rare books, he has worked and volunteered for years on political campaigns and at the grassroots in Los Angeles and and now New Haven. He has spearheaded efforts like the Mill River Bike Path in the Elm City.
On Saturday afternoon here in New Hampshire, Goode wove through signs like “No PAC Rats Allowed!” and “Vermin Supreme” as he and Rebellioners donned tricorne hats and traffic vests over pea coats, and began the uphill trek to the debate. After first joining the Rebellion for a statewide New Hampshire walk in 2014, Goode was hooked.
“I think we spend a lot of time paying attention to the horse race aspect of politics,” he said as thawed out from the walk, half of which he did before turning back for gloves. “We need to pay attention to the structures and institutions in politics … Who are the donors? Who are the candidates? Where’s the money coming from? Who draws the district lines? All of these things are kind of in the background, in the shadows, but they’re just as important as the figureheads, the candidates. Often it’s actually more important. That’s what brings me here.”
Back in NH Rebellion’s tent, a capacious but chilly staging ground with grassrootsy tables — information about the Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct (NED), and roaming James Madison and Betsy Ross impersonators — Goode explained more about his enthusiasm for the group.
“My first election was Bush-Gore” in 2000, he said. As a college student, he’d come to New Hampshire for that campaign for Democrat Al Gore, then was let down when the Supreme Court handed Bush the presidency in a contested process. “That was not probably not the best election to have as the first election of your adult life. I was depressed about our democracy for a number of years after that,” Goode recalled.
Then, on a semester abroad in spring 2003, he witnessed millions of Londoners pouring into the streets to protest the Iraq war.
“I realized that I needed to get involved again in the political process,” he said. “When I came back, I became much more involved in the 2004 campaign,” where he stumped for Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark. “For me it’s always a balance of issues, and reforming the structures and the institutions as well as supporting the candidates.”
While he supports the Democrats, Goode wouldn’t say whether he’s Feeling the Bern or Ready for Hillary in the primary. “I like Bernie [Sanders] and Hillary [Clinton]. I would be happy with either and I’ll be supporting them in the general [election]. There’s a lot to like about both candidates. They both have their strengths and their weaknesses.”
“I just can’t decide between Huckabee and Trump,” he added with a grin before turning his attention back to the stage, where Maryland U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, New Hampshire U.S. Rep. Ann “Annie” McLane Kuster, and Former New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea Porter were discussing Sarbanes’ Government By the People Act, which seeks to reform and limit the scale and origin of Congressional campaign contributions by amending Internal Revenue Code and providing normal citizens with a “My Voice Voucher,” to increase participation on the small level.
The hope, Sarbanes explained, is to return Congressional elections to constituents back home in the districts, and to “narrow the gulf between the grassroots and Washington.”
That sounded pretty good to Goode. He raised his hands just slightly, and clapped.
Thomas Breen contributed reporting to this story.