Elizabeth Warren flexed her 2020 presidential campaign’s muscles on September 16 with a massive Monday night rally in New York City’s Washington Square Park. Framed by the park’s iconic archway, Warren delivered a blockbuster speech outlining her vision of a political revolution the same day the news broke that she had earned a major progressive organization’s endorsement.
Before a crowd estimated at 20,000 by Warren’s campaign, she pitched herself as a modern-day Frances Perkins, drawing on the legendary labor activist’s legacy to frame herself as a reformist insider who can create, Warren said, “big, structural change!” as the crowd chanted along.
“Corruption and influence peddling has seeped into every corner of our government,” Warren said in her speech. “Enough is enough. We’re going to take down the ‘for sale’ signs hanging outside of every federal building in Washington.”
Using gun violence, health care, and the climate crisis as examples, Warren talked about political inaction in D.C. as a function of corruption. She blamed the “influence industry” of lobbyists working on behalf of corporations for that corruption. And she discussed several policies she’s introduced to mitigate “the ability of the rich and powerful to use their money to tilt every decision in Washington.”
While Manhattan may seem like an unlikely place to make a working-class stump speech, that’s exactly what Warren — who entered to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” — did. The night provided an answer to Trump’s populist politics: If Trump wants to “drain the swamp” (a fitting metaphor of ecological harm for this president), Warren is talking about rebuilding the city on top of it.
Warren used the story of Perkins to make a case for how she’s perfectly positioned to be the representative for working people in Washington. Perkins witnessed the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, the legendary New York blaze still remembered as a galvanizing moment for the early labor movement. She went on to become a major labor leader in New York, eventually become President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, giving her a huge role in his New Deal.
“With Frances working the system from the inside and the women workers organizing and applying pressure from the outside, they rewrote New York State’s labor laws from top to bottom to protect workers,” Warren said, highlighting how Perkins rose through government. “Frances Perkins became the first woman in history to serve in the cabinet.”