Elizabeth Warren made her presidential campaign official in Lawrence, at a Saturday morning kick-off event that alluded to the mill city’s history of labor strikes and long lineage of immigrant communities. The Massachusetts senator’s speech was full of talking points on issues ranging from corruption in Washington, D.C. to the racial wealth gap. But it usually returned to a discussion of economic justice and equity.
“The man in the White House is not the cause of what’s broken, he’s just the latest and most extreme symptom of what’s gone wrong in America,” Warren said to a crowd of supporters outside Everett Mills. “A product of a rigged system that props up the rich and the powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else.”
In addition to President Donald Trump, Warren took aim at corporate influence over politics. She called to “end lobbying as we know it” and to “ban Members of Congress from trading stocks.” She vowed to not accept money from political action committees (PACs) or lobbyists to fund her campaign.
She also devoted much of her speech to economic justice and corporate accountability, calling for taxes on so-called ultra-millionaires, investments in housing, healthcare and childcare. She also referenced the wealth disparity between white and black families caused by redlining practices in the 1960s, which barred African Americans from homeownership, making it difficult to accumulate wealth.
Thousands braved the cold weather and biting wind to attend the event, which was held at the location of the famous Bread and Roses strike of 1912. Warren and her guest speakers, like Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, often alluded to the event’s historical importance, where thousands of textile workers — mostly immigrants and organized by women — struggled to earn higher wages and better working conditions. The strikers paved the way for better wages across New England and overcame violent responses from business owners and police.
Lawrence locals picked up on the symbolism of Warren’s choice of venue — and how it distinguished Warren’s campaign launch from Trump’s.
“Donald Trump started his campaign attacking immigrants. Warren is starting her campaign embracing immigrants,” said Flavia Jiminian, who came to Lawrence 29 years ago from the Dominican Republic. “I feel like she’s talking directly to me and our problems, the problems of the immigrants.” Starting in the 1970s, Lawrence saw an increase in immigrants from the Dominican Republic and migrants from Puerto Rico. The city is now majority Latino.
Lawrence has seen its share of bad news and bad press over the last few decades. Arson was rampant in the 1990s, and car-theft was abundant. With the opioid epidemic claiming lives across New England the last few years, it’s also gained notoriety as a drug dealing location, attracting customers from surrounding towns.
In March of last year, Trump blasted Lawrence in a speech in New Hampshire that sought to link its sanctuary city status to the heroin and opiate trade. When then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeated those comments months later, Rivera considered suing him for slander. Lawrence has butted heads with the Trump administration before, filing a lawsuit to fight an executive order to withhold funding from sanctuary cities.
Most recently, tragedy hit the city this past September when a series of gas explosions and fires erupted throughout Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. The entire southern half of Lawrence was evacuated for an entire weekend, thousands were left without gas for weeks, and an explosion killed a high school student. Warren was part of a Congressional panel that visited Lawrence, alongside Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Lori Trahan (both of whom also spoke at her campaign event), and publicly grilled the executives of Columbia Gas, the utility company responsible for the incident.
Warren’s candidacy announcement was a nice change for those in attendance.
“It shows that Lawrence is more than just a headline,” said Jim Blatchford, a lifelong Lawrencian. He said the event’s emphasis on the famous strike shows the country how important Lawrence is to U.S. history. Blatchford noted that Teddy Roosevelt once stopped in town on a train tour, and he hopes Warren’s campaign launch proves just as historic as that presidential visit.
Warren is one of 11 Democrats who have officially announced their campaign, and many more are expected to enter the fray for the party’s nomination. The crowded field will prove challenging for many contenders, and beating Trump in a general election may also prove difficult — history shows incumbent presidents are tough to beat. And while Warren recently apologized to the Cherokee Nation over past claims of Native American heritage, the controversy — and her perceived tone-deafness on the issue — may impact her performance in the primaries.
Supporters are still optimistic — speakers Sheriff Steve Tompkins and Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu both noted she managed to unseat a popular incumbent Republican, Scott Brown, in her first Senate race.
“I think she’s a pitbull, I think she’ll put up a good fight,” said Olivia Rosa, of Lawrence.
Warren embraced her underdog status in her speech. “No woman had ever won a Senate seat in Massachusetts, and people said it would be “too hard” for me to get elected,” she said. “But we got organized, we fought back, we persisted, and now I am the senior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So no, I am not afraid of a fight. Not even a hard fight.”