It’s pretty clear why the GOP is coming for Elizabeth Warren next. With Hillary Clinton’s running days behind her, Senator Warren is the most high-profile woman in the thick of game for the left. She is overwhelmingly intelligent, fiercely capable, and can deliver her message clearly, making her an obvious symbol for the resistance. She’s ready to fight. Oh, and she’s persistent.
The Massachusetts senator spoke to an excited Town Hall on Friday June 16 about her new book, This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle To Save America’s Middle Class. Oftentimes when a politician releases a book, one can’t help but analyse their motives. Is this being timed for a presidential run? Is this about positioning themselves strategically in a particular cultural debate?
Warren’s galvanizing book is perfectly timed to be front and centre in the Trumpian #Resistance. But the increasing struggles of the middle class didn’t begin with Trump, nor did Warren’s attention towards them. This Fight is Our Fight is one of many books the Harvard Law School bankruptcy expert and champion of the middle class has authored on its decline, following on from The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke — which she co-authored with her daughter Amelia Tyagi in 2003 — and A Fighting Chance, in 2014 (all in all, Warren has written 11 books). But while the progressive senator has always spoken passionately about these issues, her anger remains as contagious and authentic as ever — and has only increased in urgency.
“I wish I had more ways to reach out to every single person in this country,” she told the assembled Town Hall crowd. I desperately wish for the same: if everyone in this country could hear Warren speak, not just those of us in these lefty coastal bubbles, there would be no doubt whose side the GOP is on.
Warren’s new book — from which she read — is about real people, people whose voices are rarely heard in our current political discourse. While Donald Trump exploited these struggles in his presidential campaign, we rarely — if ever — heard him relate their personal stories, their distinct and very painful crises. Warren spoke about Michael, a middle-class family man who worked for and then lost the American Dream (and his beloved home) in the 2008 financial crisis. Warren gently laid out exactly how hard he had worked, and how it had all come to nothing. Listening to Warren read his story, I wasn’t sure if I wanted her to be my professor or my grandmother; but I do know that I want her to read everything aloud to me forever. It was when she got to the part about the corporate executives who had caused the GFC that Warren became the fierce, biting politician we’re used to: “Guess how many of them lost their homes?”
Warren also shared her own humble origin story, not to make a point about how far she had come, but to make a point about her family’s ability to survive on one full-time minimum wage income—her mother’s department store job, which she took on after her father’s heart attack. That reality, says Warren, is quickly disappearing. Families like hers would today find themselves plunged into poverty, as a minimum wage job can barely support an individual, yet alone family of three.
It’s clear that Warren, before she was a beloved senator and beacon amongst progressives, was an excellent professor. She joked around on stage, apologizing for not having slides and making do with her limbs for showing graphs and trends. When someone’s phone rang, she was quick to say, “Somebody get that!” And she owned her wonkiness. “I want to be a real nerd here; I want to talk about facts,” she said, to riotous applause.”Do we need a modifier for “facts” now? Fact-y facts, or really truly facts?” (Please universe, take us back to a world where the use of facts are a given and not a punchline). She talked us quickly through the history of the US economy, the booms and busts and unfairness that were once considered inevitable before FDR put a stop to that, before the corporations and Reaganites but a stop to that. She did what Elizabeth Warren does best, showing in no uncertain terms exactly how unfair the American economy has become over a short space of time and exactly who is responsible: the policy makers of Washington, DC. This is Warren’s usual schtick, but in person, standing on a stage built by NYC suffragists, it was even more of a call to arms. She calls the current situation “a real life story about good and evil,” one that the side of good cannot afford to lose.
Warren has become a symbol of tenacity. In the lobby, staff from The Strand sold badges and t-shirts bearing the unintentionally galvanizing words used by GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell to justify silencing Warren in the Senate: Nevertheless, she persisted. Warren told the assembled crowd she had her own way of staying motivated in the fight: Inauguration Day 2017. “I went. I really did.” (She did. Many Democrats boycotted the event, but Warren, sporting a pink scarf for Planned Parenthood, was not among them.) “I wanted to see it. Partly because facts. But partly seeing it burned into my retinas.” Now, any time she finds herself weary of the fight, all she has to do is close her eyes and “I’m there; I’m back in the game.”
As activist and academic Zephyr Teachout, who moderated the Q&A for the night, put it, “the term hero gets thrown around alot these days”— “SHERO!” someone in the crowd shouted. But Elizabeth Warren is undeniably a shero (there’s an Elizabeth Warren action figure kickstarter, as New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman pointed out in his introductory remarks). And this shero is waging a war to save the middle class, and the quality of life of millions of hard-working people.
It’s our war too.
Top image via Flickr
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