Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) put both her presidential promises and personal stories on display for a packed house of over 100 students and community members during an April 12 rally at the Waysmeet Center in Durham.
“Here we are on a Friday afternoon college campus. There are a million things you could be doing, but you’re here,” Warren said. “This is a perilous time for our country, and the next steps we take will come straight through New Hampshire, and so I’m grateful to you for all the time you put into this and the energy you put into it. It’s important.”
The senator delved into her background, starting with her family facing financial strain when she was a child, to wanting a job in education from a young age, to running for president with hopes of educating the public on her views and policy proposals should she win the White House in 2020.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, Warren recalled growing up with three older brothers, Don, John and David – whom she called “the boys” – all joined the military in various capacities, while Warren’s father held multiple jobs selling paint, furniture, fencing, housewares and other commodities. While Warren was in middle school and her brothers were away on duty, her dad suffered a severe heart attack. He survived, but, per Warren, was unable to work “for a long time” after that.
The presidential candidate explained that from second grade on, she initially yearned to be a public-school teacher, though she faced a long road toward that goal, especially following graduation from college.
“By the time I graduated from college, we had no money for that – we never had money for a college application – and I have a kind of twisty story; not everybody lives their lives in a straight line,” Warren said. “So mine is I got [a] scholarship, I go off to school, I fall in love, I get married, I drop out of school, I got a job answering phones; and I think that’s going to be the rest of my life.”
“And then I found a commuter college, cost $50 a semester, I make it back to school, I get my diploma and I became a special needs teacher,” she said. “I have lived my dream. I love this work.”
Growing up, however, she also learned about the outside world from home in unconventional ways.
“…at night when I’d go to bed, my momma would tuck me in, and then I’d hear them talk. And that’s where I learned words like ‘mortgage’ and ‘foreclosure,’’ she said. “Hard words for a kid.”
The latter term especially loomed over her family as they struggled to pay their monthly bills, leading to Warren one day finding her mother crying in her bedroom near a special dress – which Warren said was reserved for weddings, funerals and graduation – as she tried to devise a way to save the house and her family.
“…she starts pacing, and she keeps saying, ‘we will not lose this house, we will not lose this house, we will not lose this house.’ She was 50 years old, she had never worked outside the home, and she was terrified,” Warren said. “And finally, she puts the dress on, puts on her high heels, blows her nose and walks to the Sears to get a minimum wage job, and that minimum wage job saved our house and it saved our family.”
Her mother’s efforts on that day – the day she said she “grew up” – had a clear impact on the senator’s campaign, as she championed at the rally for increasing the minimum wage to fight nationwide poverty and help people like her mother live without the threat of financial insecurity. Warren claimed that the wage, set by the federal government, is not keeping up with current inflation despite being originally based on the needs of a family of three, and is instead currently based on mitigating deductions from corporate bottom-lines.
“…the day my mother walked to the Sears to get a minimum wage job, a minimum wage job in America would support a family of three, it would pay a mortgage, it would cover utilities and it would put groceries on the table. Today, a minimum wage job in America – full-time – will not keep a momma and a baby out of poverty,” she told the crowd. “That is wrong, and that is why I am in this fight.”
Beyond wage reform, Warren argued that current national politics and “decisions made in Washington” only provide tangible or noticeable benefits for large businesses at the expense of the middle class, those with medical needs and the environment, all the while urging for “big, systemic change” and “rewriting simple rules” to give the general public a “level playing field.”
“When government works great for those at the top and not for everyone else, that is corruption pure and simple, and we need to call it out,” the senator said. “So, here’s how I think of this: everything that we care about, everything that brings you here today, whatever is your specific issue that gets you in the front door…whether it’s student loan debt, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s gun safety, every one of those decisions that’s made in Washington runs right through this issue about corruption, about the influence of money and connections on how all of those decisions are made.”
Warren also called for an end to congressional lobbying to reduce corporate influence in politics, the “revolving door” between Washington and Wall Street, enforcing “basic rules of ethics” on the Supreme Court and for requiring all candidates for federal office to release their tax returns online.
Following her speech, the senator led a Q&A with attendees, where topics ranged from dealing with rising student debt to concerns over the direction of the Department of Education under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Warren was also questioned on her stances on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, to which she responded that she would protect the free speech of supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that opposes Israel’s reported oppression of Palestinians and violations of international law (per the official BDS website) and restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
“I think we start with a statement of our values,” the presidential candidate replied when asked whether she would hold Israel accountable for its reported human rights violations and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “different direction” in terms of policy. “Israel is entitled to security, and the Palestinians are entitled to dignity and self-determination. I believe the way we get there is a two-state solution…I believe that, as a good ally to everyone in the region, that we should be pushing hard back toward a two-state solution and toward insisting on both parts” of the previously-mentioned statement.
Following the rally, students lined up for a chance to obtain a photo with Warren and her dog, Bailey, with many like sophomore political science major Michael Roderick expressing positive reactions to the event.
“Turnout was well above what was expected,” the co-president for UNH College Democrats, the organization that hosted the rally, told The New Hampshire. “I mean, any time a candidate comes to campus, we are participating in the democracy that we are so grateful to be in; you can hear what the candidate’s views are on issues, how they’re going to help the community you are in on both at state level, local level and federal level, and then you can really ask the questions that you care about.”