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Warren explores plight of middle class in her new book ‘This Fight is Our Fight’

Massachusetts Senator makes stop at Old South Church as part of ten-day National tour to promote her 11th book.

Susan Saccoccia | 4/26/2017, 10:35 a.m.
“This Fight is Our Fight” is U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 11th book, but not her first to include “fight” in ...
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren shares a passage from her book during her appearance at the Old South Church. Photo: Courtesy of Ami Li

“This Fight is Our Fight” is U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 11th book, but not her first to include “fight” in the title. A rallying cry to restore policies that build opportunity for all, the book was released last week, and Warren spoke about it at Old South Church in Boston on Thursday night.

Hosted by Harvard Book Store, the talk was a stop in a 10-day book tour that began in New York City and moved on to Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Glendale, California.

The church setting suited the event, a gathering of the faithful. An audience of more than 800 filled every pew for the talk, which was high on spirit but short on an action plan to achieve change.

During her hour-long talk, Warren alternated between reading passages from her book and addressing the audience, and did both with zeal. The audience responded in kind, greeting and sending her off with standing ovations.

Arguing that the middle class in this country is under siege, Warren, 67, recalled her parents’ struggles and how government policies enabled her to obtain higher education. Such opportunities have diminished, Warren notes, since policies have shifted to favor big business and the wealthy few.

Reflecting on President Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal, which led to an era of widespread prosperity, Warren decried the advent of “supply-side economics,” introduced by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, with its fiction of trickle-down wealth. Now, with the election of Donald Trump, the middle class is confronting another onslaught of policies favoring the rich, this time veiled under the guise of populism.

Constituent’s concerns

Warren began by reading a gripping anecdote about a constituent, Mike, who visited her in Washington. He told her that he was afflicted with early onset Alzheimer’s and would soon forget their visit and his wife, who stood next to him. The senator went on to castigate policies that no longer serve “people who never plan to ask for help, but find they need it” and noted that President Trump proposes to cut 20 percent of an already underfunded National Institutes of Health budget for basic research.

Warren said her book is about people like Mike and how government policies are no longer on their side but instead favor the rich and powerful.

Eroding gains

She summarized her book’s coverage of the past 80 years, from the mid-1930s and the Great Depression to 2016. The gross domestic product (GDP) has risen steadily over this period. And from 1935 to 1980, said Warren, “We built the greatest middle class on the face of this earth —through investment and regulation.” She said that such policies as anti-trust laws and progressive taxation led to investments in education and infrastructure that raised opportunity for all.

Income growth was widespread, although, Warren acknowledged, “African Americans were locked out. But as civil rights progressed in the ’60s and ’70s, that wealth gap closed. We were on a good path.”

Then, in the 1980s, the Reagan years introduced trickle-down economics, deregulation, and tax cuts at the top — measures that diminished funding for education, infrastructure and research and ended income growth for the majority.

“This book is about good and evil,” said Warren. “It is also an act of optimism, about how we can be effective in fighting back.”

Noting that the current administration in Washington regards government as the enemy, Warren said, “President Trump and his team are poised to deliver the knock-out blow to American families.”

What to do about it? “I’m fightin’,” Warren said to loud cheers. Warren asked who in the audience had taken part in the Women’s March in January. Most raised their hands.

“We can make democracy work again by insisting that government serve the people,” said Warren. “We’ve got to build an America of opportunity again. Our character is being tested here — not the character of this country’s president, but the character of its people.”

Warren concluded by inviting all to join her for selfies, showing her knack for social media. A very long line formed within minutes.