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LAWRENCE, Mass. — Elizabeth Warren formally launched her presidential campaign Saturday with a call for “fundamental change," even if the “cowards and armchair critics” call it "extreme or radical."
“Because the man in the White House is not the cause of what’s broken, he’s just the latest — and most extreme — symptom of what’s gone wrong in America,” Warren said of President Donald Trump at an outdoor rally on a chilly, but sunny winter day.
"It won’t be enough to just undo the terrible acts of this administration," Warren continued. "We can’t afford to just tinker around the edges — a tax credit here, a regulation there. Our fight is for big, structural change."
With the cat let out of the bag on her 2020 plans more than a month ago when she started her exploratory campaign, the Massachusetts senator had any number of symbolically appealing places in her how backyard for the formal roll-out.
She could have chosen the battlefields of Lexington and Concord, right down the road, and invoked “the shot heard round the world” that started the American Revolution.
Or she could have chosen a location in downtown Boston or her hometown of Cambridge, where she might have been able to draw a crowd large enough to rival the 20,000 who turned out to see Kamala Harris launch her campaign in downtown Oakland last month.
But instead, she chose Lawrence, a distressed mill town about 30 miles outside Boston, with a more obscure, but very telling history: Just over 100 years ago in the factory buildings that served as a backdrop for Warren’s speech, women textile workers defied bosses and bayonets to start a strike, that as Warren said, “changed America.”
Warren took the stage to Dolly Parton's "9 to 5," a song about a worker "barely gettin' by," after an introduction and endorsement from Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., her former student whom some Democrats hoped would run for president himself this year.
Her staff said 3,500 supporters filled the courtyard of the mill complex, some of whom had ridden campaign busses from as far away as Cape Cod.
Then she told the story of why she wanted them here.
After realizing their pay was cut in the winter of 1912, the women who worked here stopped the looms and started a political conflagration that became known as the Bread and Roses strike, which saw tens of thousands of workers clash with police and armed militiamen called out by political leaders aligned with the mill owners.
“Nevertheless, they persisted!” Warren said, invoking her now-famous slogan as she looked out at the phrase plastered on hundreds of signs waved by supporters in the crowd.
The workers didn't engage only in civil disobedience, but vandalized factory buildings and machinery in protest of working conditions that saw one of out of every three mill workers die by the age of the 25.
Despite an attempt to paint the strikes as violent anarchists, public opinion turned in their favor as police dragged mothers by their hair out of a train station when they tried to send their children out of town and away from the unrest.
“Within weeks, more than a quarter of a million textile workers throughout New England got raises. Within months, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a minimum wage law,” Warren said.
In Washington, Congressional hearings and a Department of Justice action lead to further victories for the nascent labor movement, like child labor laws and the 40 work week.
“That’s right, because of workers here in Lawrence — and all across the country — we have weekends,” Warren said.
Today, Warren said, a new uprising is needed to confront the 21st century equivalent of mill owners and the politicians who defend them, which she made a point of saying include members of both parties.
“When I talk about this, some rich guys scream ‘class warfare!’” Warren said. “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!"
With most of the leading 2020 Democrats adopting a similarly progressive policy agenda, the new fault line may be between those willing to accommodate and find compromise with the powers that be, and those who say it is necessary to confront them and tear down what Warren called a “rigged” system.
With her launch, Warren placed herself clearly in the camp of confrontationalism in a way that many Democrats may still find uncomfortable.
For instance, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who supports the same Medicare for All bill as Warren, is this weekend in Iowa talking up the need to work with Republicans and touting his relationship with Chris Christie, his state’s former Republican governor.
“People will say it’s 'extreme' or 'radical' to demand an America where every family has some economic security and every kid has a real opportunity to succeed. I say to them, 'Get ready, because change is coming faster than you think,'" Warren said.
To achieve that, the senator laid out a policy agenda in three broad buckets.
The first is taking on what Warren called the "corruption" of Washington with her aggressive ethics bill and other reforms.
Next, a sweeping economic platform that includes her wealth tax, Medicare for All, breaking up corporate monopolies, making it easier to join a union. She also added to that the Green New Deal, an extremely ambitious plan to fight climate change rolled out last week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
And third, to “strengthen democracy” by outlawing partisan gerrymandering for both parties, and enacting constitutional amendments to guarantee voting rights and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
She also included in that category taking on “structural racism” and the “broken criminal justice system,” which she has previously called “racist from front to back."
“It’s not equal justice when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus,” Warren said.
To call that agenda ambitious may be charitable. Many, including some in her own party, may call it utopian and unrealistic.
But Warren urged supporters to ignore the “doubters and cowards and armchair critics,” drawing on everything from the abolition of slavery to her own success potty training her daughter in five days as examples of other struggles once deemed impossible to achieve.
Warren has been struggling more recently with a different history — her personal history claiming Native American ancestry, a controversy for which she was again forced to apologize just days ago.
"Elizabeth Warren has already been exposed as a fraud by the Native Americans she impersonated and disrespected to advance her professional career, and the people of Massachusetts she deceived to get elected,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement Saturday. “The American people will reject her dishonest campaign and socialist ideas.”
Trump's animosity for Warren has been on display for years, and his campaign notably did not put out a statement in response to every other Democrat to enter the 2020 race.
But Warren will attempt to turn it in her favor.
“No one gets under Donald Trump’s skin like Elizabeth Warren,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said while introducing Warren.