LAWRENCE — Taking many shots at the rich and powerful, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren chose the starting place of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike to launch her presidential campaign on a bright but frigid Saturday morning.
“The middle-class squeeze is real, and millions of families can barely breathe. It’s not right,” Warren told an estimated 3,500 people crowded in between the Everett and Stone mills.
The crowd responded with chants of, “It’s not right! It’s not right!” along with “War-ren! War-ren! War-ren!”
Warren suggested the rich and powerful have “rigged the system” so they could become even richer, “regardless of who got hurt.” She inveighed against “tax cuts for companies that scam.”
While the rich are getting richer, she said, “wages in America have barely budged” since the 1970s, when adjusted for inflation. Yet the cost of housing – again, when adjusted for inflation – has climbed by two-thirds, she said.
“When I talk about this, some rich guys scream ‘class warfare!’ Well, let me tell you something, these same rich guys have been waging class warfare against hard-working people for decades – I say it’s time to fight back!” she said to loud cheers.
Besides the middle class, the system has also been rigged against women, gays, lesbians, transgendered people, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, the disabled and immigrants, according to Warren.
Regarding climate change, Warren said it’s real and “our very existence is threatened.”
“But Washington refuses to lift a finger without permission from the fossil fuel companies. That’s dangerous and it’s wrong,” she said.
Warren called the Trump administration “the most corrupt in living memory.” She pledged to put power “back in the hands of the people where it belongs.”
Calling for “real structural change,” she promised to “shut down the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington,” ban foreign governments from hiring lobbyists in Washington and require candidates to put their tax returns online.
She also called for putting workers in corporate board rooms, breaking up monopolies and prosecuting corporations and executives that “cheat their customers, stomp out their competitors, or rob their workers.”
Warren said she’s “tired” of hearing the assertion that America cannot afford child care, Medicare for all, greater access to a college education and better housing – “because it’s just not true!”
The wealthy, she said, need to “pay their fair share.”
Warren, elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts in 2012 and re-elected last November, advocated a “constitutional amendment to protect the right of every American citizen to vote and to have that vote counted.”
“I will fight my heart out,” Warren said just before ending her announcement speech. “I am in this fight all the way.” She was joined on the stage by her husband, Harvard Law professor Bruce Mann, and other family members.
She then slowly worked her way through the crowd, exchanging hugs, shaking hands and posing for selfies before heading for Derry, New Hampshire. A cordon of Lawrence police officers, led by Chief Roy Vasque, kept watchful eyes on the candidate and the crowd.
Firefighters, led by Chief Brian Moriarty, were also there to keep people safe.
Warren is running for chief executive of the United States government. Asked what executive experience she has, she told this reporter, “I started an agency.”
She was referring to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which came into being after she led the fight for its establishment.
Warren was introduced by no less than six speakers: Mayor Daniel Rivera, Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Westford, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and finally, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-Newton.
Rivera said Warren will be a president “who will fight for us.” When Lawrence, Andover and North Andover were devastated by the Sept. 13 natural gas disaster, Warren was “one of the first” political leaders to call the mayor’s office, Rivera said.
Tompkins boomed out, “We the people” and read the preamble to the Constitution. Warren will “level the playing field,” he said.
Wu said Warren, a Harvard law professor before she unseated then-U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in 2012, was her “best teacher ever.”
“You had to come to her class prepared,” she said.
Trahan, the 3rd District’s new representative who emerged as the narrow winner of a crowded Democratic primary field last September, then went on to victory in November, said the U.S. economy needs to be “reoriented.”
Despite the stock market’s strong performance, wages are stagnant, according to Trahan.
“The American people and the world are watching to see if we get it right,” she said.
Markey, who served in the U.S. House for nearly 37 years before he was elected to his current post in 2013, called Warren “a phenomenal partner.”
“I’ve been in Congress for a while now and no one knows how to fight for what is right better than Elizabeth Warren. These days fighting for what is right means fighting the dangerous, divisive, hateful agenda of Donald Trump, but the good news is no one knows better how to get under Donald Trump’s skin than Elizabeth Warren.”
Markey talked about his roots in Lawrence. His father lived at 88 Phillips St. and graduated from the vocational program at Lawrence High School.
Kennedy, a graduate of Harvard Law School who called Warren a mentor, said, “Economic injustice remains the challenge of our times.”
Striding to the stage to the sound of the Dolly Parton song “9 to 5,” Warren embraced Kennedy and began her message.
Many of the people who braved the chill said it’s time for America to elect a woman president.
“I am still waiting to see a woman in the Oval Office – and not a first lady,” said Patricia Jesselyn, 73, of Andover.
Her daughter Sarah Jesselyn, 38, an artist, said, “Most Americans are on the brink of financial disaster.” A hundred years after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, “it’s about time,” she said, to elect a woman to the nation’s highest office.
“I think we’re ready” for a woman commander in chief, said Bonnie DeRosa, 58, a filmmaker, also of Andover. Despite the strides woman have made, she said she is “horrified” at the inappropriate behavior girls and young women will tolerate from men who have loose boundaries.
She said she has a “responsibility to younger women” to teach them that they are entitled to equality and respect.
Jack Dunn, 55, of Billerica, a member of Local 7 of the Ironworkers’ Union, said he was at the rally to support a strong alternative to Trump.
Dunn, now working 30 stories up on a skyscraper under construction, said he will support “the best one that comes out of the (Democratic) pack to take back the government.”
Sebastian Brown, 31, who lives in the Tower Hill section of Lawrence and owns and operates Roots Compost, said he likes Warren’s “real populism” as opposed to the “fake populism” of Trump.
He said he hopes a “real progressive” will win the presidency in 2020. He also likes U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., he added.
Rivera said after the rally he was pleased with the turnout and enthusiasm. Warren, he said, is “genuinely upset” about economic injustice in America.