With Memphis-born Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” playing, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren took the stage at Douglass High School Sunday afternoon as her presidential bid rolled into a Southern swing.
The event at Douglass High was an organizing event and the first stop of a sweep through Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Monday’s schedule called for stops in Cleveland and Greenville in Mississippi before an evening Town Hall meeting (televised by CNN) at Jackson State University.
Cheering supporters greeted the Massachusetts Democrat, who roused the crowd with a frank speech during which she called the national government mistakenly labeled as broken by other politicians.
District 7 Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who is running for mayor of Memphis, moderated a question and answer session after the speech.
Warren said “corruption plain and simple” prevents Washington lawmakers from responding to some of the basic needs of average Americans, asserting that government works just fine “for those at the top.”
Sweeping changes is needed, she said, including bringing a halt to lobbying “as we know it” and blocking “the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington.”
Declaring a need for “big, systematic change in this country,” Warren advocated a constitutional amendment that guarantees every voter’s vote is counted.
The rules governing how the economy works also needs to be changed, said Warren, setting a context by drawing upon her upbringing in Oklahoma as the youngest of four children. Her father was a salesman of fencing, carpeting, housewares and other items, until he had a heart attack.
“He pulled through but he couldn’t work for a long period of time,” she said, detailing the loss of the family station wagon and that her mother got a minimum wage job at Sears that saved the family home and Warren’s future.
“If you want to know who I am, that’s the story that tells it all,” Warren said. “It’s written in my heart.”
Warren said that for a long time she thought it was just a story about her mother and about how, “no matter how scared you get…you reach down and you get what you need to take care of the people you love.”
Later, she learned that it is a story about millions of people across the country.
A minimum wage job would support a family of three when she was growing up, Warren said.
“Today, a minimum wage job will not keep a momma and a baby out of poverty,” she said. “That is wrong and it’s why I am in this fight.”
Politicians used to ask what it would take to support a family of three, but now they ask what it will take to provide the profits for multi-national corporations, she said.
“I don’t want a government that works for multi-national corporations. I want a government that works for families like ours.”
Warren said her life has been centered around one fundamental question: “(W)hat’s happening to working families in America?”
Continuing, she asked, “Why is it that hard working people, people who work every bit as hard as my mother did, have a tougher, steeper, rockier road than ever before?”
It’s not an accident, Warren said.
“We have a government that works great, that works fabulous…for giant drug companies. It just doesn’t work for people trying to get prescriptions filled.”
The government works great for payday lenders but not for people whose lives are being torn apart, she said, noting that the GDP (gross domestic product) and the stock market keep going up while wages, adjusted for inflation, have basically been flat for over a generation.
“Cost of housing up two thirds, cost of health insurance premiums more than double, the cost of sending a kid to school more than triple and the cost of child care up six times, seven times, eight times for families,” Warren said. “The squeeze on working people is real and they feel it every single day.”
Pitching for a “change in America,” she said, “We’re a Democracy and we need one that works for the people.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Gary S. Whitlow, GSW Enterprises
On Tuesday, Warren’s southern swing was set to take her to a stop Selma, Ala., and to an organizing event at Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham.
Hunter W. Thompson, who came to Memphis from Oxford, Miss. to see Warren, labeled her speech amazing.
“She was very forward. She was honest. I think she comes off as a great candidate. She has enough charisma and passion.”
Katherine Hancock agreed.
“I pretty much agree with everything she said. It was a great turn out and a great speech. She seems to have a great heart for the people of America.”