Warren launches ‘fight’ for presidency

Candidate draws on past labor struggle in Lawrence

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN launched her presidential campaign on Saturday surrounded by the brick and stone structures of a bygone era and a crowd of supporters hoping her more liberal vision for the country lies in its future.

The setting in Lawrence served both geographical and historical aims of Warren’s candidacy. A mere three miles from New Hampshire and its first-in-the-nation primary, Lawrence was also the site of a massive workers’ protest, the Bread and Roses strike of 1912, led by immigrant women against the powerful men that controlled government and industry.

In her speech, Warren harkened to that labor struggle, telling the crowd that some died in the fight more than a century ago and many more suffered but they ultimately won higher pay from the textile factory owners. Additional labor victories followed.

“The story of Lawrence is a story about how real change happens in America. It is a story about power, our power, when we fight together,” Warren said from a stage in a paved lot of the Everett Mill where the strike began.

The currents of the Merrimack River once powered the mills in Lawrence, and Warren will soon turn her attention to the political fluctuations upstream in the Granite State, which holds its presidential primary only a year from now. Her schedule called for a visit to Dover, New Hampshire, later Saturday and then a swing through Iowa, the first caucus state, on Sunday.

The next presidential campaign will be the first since the victory of President Donald Trump transformed national politics. He has realigned the Republican Party, dispensed with political norms, and charted a nationalist outlook abroad and a hard-line approach at home towards refugees and many others seeking to enter the United States as immigrants.

The incumbent himself received only a few mentions in Warren’s remarks. She called him the most extreme “symptom of what has gone wrong in America” and recast his most famous adjective. “Our government works just great, great for oil companies, defense contractors, great for private prisons, great for Wall Street banks and hedge funds. It’s just not working for anyone else,” Warren said.

A combative theme coursed through parts of Warren’s speech and those of some supporters. Taking on charges of class warfare levied by opponents of her proposals, Warren said, “I say it’s time to fight back.”

US Reps. Joseph Kennedy III, a former law student of hers at Harvard University, and Lori Trahan, who was among a wave of Democratic women who entered Congress this year and represents Lawrence, both endorsed Warren from the stage, as did US Sen. Ed Markey, one of the longest-serving elected officials in Massachusetts.

“No one knows how to get under Donald Trump’s skin better than Elizabeth Warren,” Markey said. “Donald Trump may have his tweets, but Elizabeth Warren has her peeps. We will always have her back because she will always have our back when she is in the White House.”

But while several prominent Bay State pols – including Senate President Karen Spilka and state Auditor Suzanne Bump – turned out to Warren’s event, other Massachusetts Democrats seem to be keeping their powder dry. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who helped on Warren’s inaugural run and has also expressed admiration for former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential candidate, planned to be in Boston on Saturday for a less consequential contest – dropping the puck for the Boston Police vs. New York Fire Department hockey game.

Some may be waiting to learn whether former secretary of state John Kerry or Congressman Seth Moulton plan to mount a White House bid, and there are already several other prominent entrants in the field. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, has launched a campaign as have New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Julián Castro, a former Obama administration official from Texas. Democrats expect the number of contenders to grow so large that they are grappling with how to accommodate them on a debate stage.

The crowd at US Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential announcement in Lawrence. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

The policy themes in Warren’s speech will be familiar to anyone who has followed her political career. She called for ethics reform to stanch corruption in Washington, fundamental changes to the economy to give lower-income workers a leg up, new attention to the inequality that stems from racial discrimination, and the repeal of “every single voter suppression rule that racist politicians use to steal votes from people of color.” Warren also name-checked “Medicare for all” and the Green New Deal, ambitious proposals backed by some Democrats to provide everyone with government-backed health insurance and shift the economy away from fossil fuels.

The overarching message was that a corrupt elite has taken power away from the American people to enrich themselves, and Warren wants to put together a movement to take it back.

Warren pledged not to take money from political action committees or donations from lobbyists, said she would give a cold shoulder to any potential billionaire super PAC funders, and challenged the other Democrats in the race to say “exactly the same thing.”

Warren’s speech did not address an issue that has dogged her since her 2012 campaign – her past claims of American Indian heritage that have relied upon flimsy evidence of family lore and a recent DNA test.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

To a crowd that the campaign said numbered 3,500, Warren walked out to the strains of Dolly Parton singing “9 to 5” and walked off the to tune of the late Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

While Warren’s presidential campaign is technically brand new, it has been anticipated for years. Since at least soon after Warren defeated Republican Scott Brown to join the Senate, she has fielded calls for her to seek the Oval Office. During her re-election campaign last year, she acknowledged during a town hall that she would think about running for president, and that course seemed all but assured by her December 31 launch of an exploratory committee.