The senior Senator from Massachusetts who was elected into office in November 2012 is the first female senator from the state. Previously a Harvard Law Professor, Elizabeth Warren is certainly intelligent but she is most well-known for speaking her mind, advocating for those in the lower and middle classes, and not backing down. She calls people – and mostly rich corporations – out in a way that we have never truly seen before.
Warren saw financial hardship as a child after her father had a heart attack and lost wages as a janitor. She won a scholarship to George Washington University at the age of 16 for her debate skills, and left after two years, eventually pursuing a degree in audiology and speech pathology. She taught children with disabilities for a year in public school. She enrolled in law school when her first child turned 2 and subsequently taught at numerous institutions. During her time teaching at Harvard, she became one of the most heavily cited law professors in the country. Though a white woman who experienced the privileges that go along with that, she has witnessed difficulties first-hand which have only served to inform her political career with richness, thoughtfulness, and integrity.
Warren is an exception for being an intellectual who values individual stories over bulk data. Her work in bankruptcy law established her as an expert in the field and she was eventually asked to participate in numerous government projects, including the National Bankruptcy Review Commission and the Congressional Oversight Panel to oversee the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. As Leon Neyfakh wrote in 2011,
“Unlike many other legal scholars, who tend to think about the law in terms of abstract theory, logic, and precedent, the defining feature of Warren’s scholarly work has been the priority she places on studying how people actually respond to laws in the real world.”
She is split from many others in the bankruptcy field by taking a more holistic, global view of the problem and seeing it as a detriment to individuals, businesses, and societies. Again, Neyfakh writes: “Her position is rooted in a progressive strain of legal thinking that society as a whole suffers when debt obligations are so absolute that there’s no possibility of a fresh start for anyone.”
Warren has also outwardly acknowledged systemic oppression in a way few well-known white politicians have before. On the site The Angriest Black Man In America, a writer contends “there are not many White politicians who will admit that the issues plaguing the Black community are not just economical or legislative.” The article quotes Warren: “Economic justice is not – and has never been – sufficient to ensure racial justice. Owning a home won’t stop someone from burning a cross on the front lawn. Admission to a school won’t prevent a beating on the sidewalk outside. But when Dr. King led hundreds of thousands of people to march on Washington, he talked about an end to violence, access to voting AND economic opportunity. As Dr. King once wrote, ‘the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice.’“
She came out swinging when politicians were (and they still are) trying to defund Planned Parenthood, stating “When I talk about 1955, I’m talking about a world where women died. I’m talking about a world where women committed suicide rather than go forward with a pregnancy they could not handle, and what the Republicans are saying is they want to go back, and I want to make it clear we are not going back – not now, not ever.” She is fierce, she is passionate, and she is something else that I can’t quite put my finger on. Is she the first person to speak frankly and directly about holding big corporations responsible? Not at all. But something about her history of fighting for individual voices to be heard, something about her demeanor, something about her voice, something about her eloquence all points to the belief that she means it; that what she says is not solely about political gain.
Perhaps what I like best of all is that Warren has not run for president. As the quote from Gore Vidal goes, “Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so.” She can do greater work, it seems, from a lower position than from the highest political office in the land. I can’t wait to see what else she has in store, and can never tire of all the YouTube videos of her kicking ass and taking names.