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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
On Thursday, April 20, Senator Elizabeth Warren promoted her latest book, “This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save Our Middle Class,” in Old South Church in Boston. During the event, organized by the Harvard Book Store, Warren read from the book before answering questions from the audience.
Warren began her reading with a poignant passage about Mike, an Alzheimer’s patient who asked her to support funding for Alzheimer’s research during his visit to her office in Washington. Warren made it clear that her book was dedicated both to the lives of everyday citizens and to enforcing the promise of government to fairly represent its constituency.
Warren portrayed the situation as a call to action on the part of everyday citizens. “This book is written as an act of optimism,” she said. “This book is about how we get in the fight, and how we’re effective in the fight.”
Warren also stressed the importance of factual evidence as a major component of the book. “It’s got some facts in it, because I think facts are important. I never thought in all my years I’d need to find a word to modify the word ‘facts,’” Warren said, in an obvious critique of Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts.” The audience cheered.
Despite its often light-hearted tone of mutual commiseration, the event was also serious. Warren acknowledged that Democrats are facing difficult circumstances in Washington. “Donald Trump is now poised to deliver the knockout blow to America’s working families,” Warren said. “This isn’t about Donald Trump’s crazy tweets. This is not about what Donald Trump says. This is about what Donald Trump does.”
“He’s been there less than one hundred days,” she said, then paused. “Oh, Lord.” A flicker of exasperation was briefly visible through the veneer of political composure. The audience laughed. She continued. “What’s he done? He’s made it easier for corporations to steal people’s paychecks. He’s made it easier to hide information when corporations kill or maim their employees. He’s made it easier for his advisors to cheat retirees. So now the question is, what are we going to about it? The answer is, I’m fighting back.”
The event had a distinctly feminist tone. Warren lauded the protesters at the Women’s March following Trump’s inauguration. Several audience members wore pro-women’s rights T-shirts. One attendee in the balcony raised a hand-lettered sign reading, “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” referring to Senate Republicans’ silencing of Warren’s speech against Jeff Sessions in early February.
Warren remembered fondly the morning of the Women’s March. “The very act of marching delivered the loudest possible proclamation of our deep-down, unshakable belief that we can make democracy work again,” she read from the book. “By insisting that this government serve the people, we are an army: an army filled with optimism and hope and fierce determination.”
After the reading portion of the event, Warren fielded questions from the audience on gun control, health care, and racism. Colby Anderson, the leader of the Boston chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, summarized recent developments in legislature concerning gun laws. “What can you do, and what can we the public do to stop dangerous bills like this from becoming law?” she asked.
“There are a lot of things that can be done at the state level, but guns, environmental issues, and certain economic issues have to be done at the national level,” Warren said in response to Anderson. “If they pass a law that says, in effect, Massachusetts is now subject to whatever it is that Texas or Arizona or Utah wants to do with their gun laws, we’re in real trouble. It’s not what we choose, and it puts us and our children at risk in ways that we choose deliberately not to do. So this is a fight that has to happen at the national level.”
Kathy Watkins, an organizer from the Cambridge Residents’ Alliance, asked if Warren had signed onto the Single Payer Health Care Bill. Warren responded that there were several bills in the works. “Health care is a human right,” she said.
One audience member, having seen Warren speak at an event preceding the 2012 election, expressed how her dismay at the 2012 Republican nominee paled in comparison to her fear of President Trump. “I could not imagine how scared I was about Mitt Romney,” she said, in disbelief. Warren nodded knowingly. “He seems, in retrospect, so normal.”
The event concluded with a powerful question about racism and discrimination, from an audience member who had recently gotten her PhD. “How can we break down the racial and gender barriers to equality?” she asked.
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