October 27, 2014
Interview and image by Frances Madeson
Sally-Alice Jane Hollcroft Thompson was born into abject poverty. For most of her childhood she had only one set of clothes at a time, and when her family had food on the table to sit down to, they consumed a single item per meal. “If we ate mashed potatoes, that’s all we ate. Same for rice, same for beans. We drank out of tin cans, we had no glasses.” Her voice got quiet, I leaned in to better hear her. “Kansas, during the Depression…Of course I can still recall going to bed with an empty rumbling stomach. It’s the kind of thing that makes a great impression on you.”
This intense conversation began today in the most unlikely of places—outside Auto Zone on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe. The shady spot in the parking lot had been secured by Maria del Carmen Lopez Martin as a rest stop on today’s leg of Sally-Alice’s 13-day walk to get the MOP (money out of politics). Sally-Alice started her walk at the Peace and Justice Center in Albuquerque on October 13th and will arrive at the Roundhouse, at the New Mexico State Capitol on 490 Old Santa Fe Trail, as scheduled at noon on Saturday, October 25th.
“Everyone was poor, but we were the poorest,” she continued. Sally-Alice’s destitution only began to be relieved when she was admitted to the National Youth Administration, a federal employment program specifically for high school age youth. Securing work in the NYA enabled her finally to have a change of clothes. “So if I washed them on the weekend, I could go to school with clean clothes on Monday. But still I had no hope of going to college without the G.I. Bill, so I enlisted and served in the U.S. military.” She went on to study general science at the University of Iowa, and spent most of her working life as an elementary school teacher. She was also a wife to her husband Don, who died three years ago after 61 years of marriage. “We were always in synch,” she explained about their long-lived union.
“To us, because my husband was also raised in poverty, America was the land of promise and opportunity. That is gone, and that is bad. Children who are capable should have opportunity, and those who aren’t shouldn’t have to starve and freeze. We have enough for everybody if it’s not consolidated into a few hands. College students now are in the position of carrying debt for their education all their lives. Money should go to the people who earn it, not those who sit around in their upholstered chairs earning interest off the labor of others.”
Her role model for this action is Doris “Granny D” Haddock, who at age 88 walked across the entire United States for campaign finance reform, ten miles a day for 14 months. Along the way Sally-Alice heard her speak and a seed was planted. “You know, she died the day of the Citizens United hearing, brokenhearted.”
With so much at stake—our freedoms, the earth’s very ecology, etc.—I asked Sally-Alice about violence as a tactic generally, and specifically if she, given the depth of her commitment, had ever considered deploying violence, perhaps even becoming a suicide-bomber. Her No! was as emphatic as they come. “Violence begets violence. It does not work. I’m a member of Veterans for Peace, we’re all anti-violence. We’re followers of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus who said that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil.’ This is a very profound teaching.”
Should we do away it then? I wondered. “No,” Sally-Alice said again, this time more gently. “It’s a means of running commerce and it’s necessary. Well, I can’t think of a better way. But the accumulation of billions is unethical. It’s obscene! They always talk about earning their billions—they didn’t earn it, they grabbed it!”
I asked Sally-Alice if she’d ever met Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of the boosters of the National Youth Administration, and who used to travel the nation and visit the young participants. “No, but I met Ann Wright. When W began Shock and Awe in 2003, she resigned her position in the State Department, joined the Veterans for Peace, and she’s been a peace activist ever since. I have immense admiration for her, that she would give up her career to do what’s right. Ann’s the most luminous luminary I’ve ever met.”
I was curious whether Sally-Alice thought that government at any level was equal to the task of holding itself accountable, if it’s even possible to hope that it could at this point? “If it’s not,” she said, “then our democracy is gone—then we have gone the way of the Ancient Greeks, who gave their democracy away. We’re facing a fork in the road. We have to decide. I know what I want, but it’s up to the people. Will they accept bread and circuses and continue to give up their liberty? I hope not.”
She pounced on my next question, concerning the relationship between irrationality and corruption? Did she see one? “Very much so. The powers behind the curtain, for example the Koch brothers, want to keep things irrational. They’re funding irrationality, the Tea Party, for instance. That maintains their power. When rationality re-enters the picture, the power of the people comes back!”
Sally-Alice reads books by contemporary social thinkers such as David Swanson, and David Korten of Yes! Magazine. “In The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, Korten’s ideas of how society should be run are very forward thinking.” Music too has always been important, from Classical to hillbilly. “I was young during the Big Band era. I still love listening to Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller. I’ve never been much of a dancer, though. Two left feet!” As a member of the Raging Grannies, Sally-Alice performs street theater, including one farcical bit titled “Psalm of a CEO.” The refrain is catchy, and certainly apt for her current action. The pompous exec crows at every opportunity: “And now we own the government!” She sings it con brio.
Fortunately for all of us here in New Mexico, Sally-Alice isn’t in Kansas anymore; she’s no longer dirt poor, she can eat when she’s hungry. Compared to her younger self one might even say that she’s prosperous: she’s entitled to and receives Social Security benefits, a teacher’s pension; her own dignity is secured. But she worries about others, and shares accordingly. “I try to spend about $1,000 a month on social justice. Not every month, but most. I spend more on social justice than I do on myself.”
Sally-Alice can’t help feeling somewhat disappointed by the lack of media attention her campaign has received so far. “There have been a few pieces (mostly reprints of the press release), but I have a great desire to speak outside of the choir. I was hoping that walking six miles a day for 13 days at age 91 would create that opportunity. But when Channel 7 covered my stepping off that first day, they said I was walking to reduce government spending! Not that I wouldn’t want to reduce military spending, of course, I would. But that’s not why I’m walking. I’m walking to demand that the elected officials represent us instead of the big contributors.”
Fortunately, Sally-Alice has a fantastic support group with whom to weather those kinds of absurdities. “Phenomenal,” she said about the community supporting her efforts. “The people you see here today—LeMoyne Castle, Art Sherwood, Kent Zook, Maggie, Sandy, and my angel Maria del Carmen Lopez Martin—a lot of folks back in Albuquerque, those who’ve extended hospitality along the route. People have come out and walked with me. I think I walked alone for about one mile. My podiatrist came out twice to check on my feet, without my even asking her to. I’m grateful for all of the thinking people who have shown their support. It’s very gratifying.”
In the few hours I spent with Sally-Alice and the lively and dedicated group walking along Cerrillos with signs inscribed with slogans like: “I Want a Government That’s Not for Sale” or “Corporations Are Not People,” many people honked and waved, smiled, blew kisses, or stopped to chat. As serendipity would have it, two aides of U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich happened by after a training of some sort, recognized the entourage, and leapt a small fence to shake Sally-Alice’s hand. She told them that senators have to spend far too much time raising money for election campaigns, and they heartily agreed. They might have chatted more, but Sally-Alice needed to be on her way.
“I have a tee-shirt that says: ‘Resist Illegitimate Authority.’ One thing I say to children, if someone tells you to do something bad, don’t do it. Kids understand that better than adults. We need people listening to their consciences instead of being sheep. It’s a challenge. It’s the challenge we face.”
Tomorrow Sally-Alice will be resting at her host home in anticipation of the completion of her journey. Please join this remarkable elder at 11:30 am on Saturday, October 25th at the corner of Cerrillos and Paseo de Peralta. Please join Burque Media in walking by her side as she concludes her historic trek to the Roundhouse to urge all who will listen to get the MOP, to rid and banish and exorcise the filthy, dirty, ruinous Money Out of Politics.