CEDAR RAPIDS — Eleven years ago, before she was a senator, Elizabeth Warren was supposed to join presidential candidate Barack Obama in Cedar Rapids to talk about the home mortgage crisis.
The historic flood of 2008 changed those plans.
So Sunday, the Massachusetts senator brought her own presidential campaign to Cedar Rapids in the middle of a snowstorm. Warren wasn’t surprised by the 200-plus “caucus people — a special breed of tough” — who showed up despite the snow and freezing temperature.
“Our country’s at a dangerous moment and what happens in 2020 is going to determine the direction of our nation, the direction of our people,” Warren said on the first full day of her campaign. “So the fact that you’re here, the fact that you want to engage in this, the fact that you want to hear the details, you want to tell what you think is important, really matters.”
Warren, who spoke and took questions for more than an hour, described her campaign as “an extension of my life’s work — fighting to make America work for all families, not just a thin slice at the top.”
That’s what inspired Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, who introduced Warren to the crowd at Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
“Throughout her entire career she has deliberately used her time to fight for something I consider the cornerstone of the American dream — a fighting chance,” said Bennett, who appeared with another Democratic presidential candidate, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, on Friday evening.
Warren, who officially kicked off her campaign Saturday in Massachusetts and then headed to Iowa for events in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Davenport, thinks that “if Democrats are fighting for economic opportunity in 2020, we’ll win.”
That’s been her focus “pretty much my whole grown-up life,” said Warren, who is considered an expert on bankruptcy. She has taught at several universities and participated in forums at the University of Iowa law school.
She sees an America that works well for the rich and powerful “and turns around and doesn’t work for anyone else. That’s corruption pure and simple.”
Warren encouraged her audience not to consider only her examples, but “tie it all together (with) whatever brought you here today, whatever gets you up early in the morning,”
“Whether it’s gun safety, prescription drugs, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s about criminal justice reform — every one of them intersects at this question of the influence of money in Washington,” she said.
Warren pledged not to take “one thin dime” of political action committee money or donations from federal lobbyists.
“I’m not out kissing up to a bunch of billionaires hoping they will fund a super PAC for me,” she said. “I believe that in a Democratic primary we should demand that every Democratic candidate who asks for your vote say exactly that same thing.”
Although it’s early in the 2020 Iowa caucuses campaign, Warren, 69, who is in her second term in the U.S. Senate, believes she’s benefiting from a rising tide of Democratic energy and activism. Women, people of color, the disability community and immigrants “are ready to join together, raise their voices and make this government represent them.”
Much has changed since the 2016 election when many Democrats despaired, she said. From the women’s marches that brought out millions of people to grassroots groups that have sprung up, people have come off the sidelines and asked what they can do to change government.
“They said ‘my voice matters’ and ‘Washington will hear my voice,’” Warren said.
So the 2020 campaign is more than a race for the White House, but about building a movement “that will give us the energy and direction to make real structural change.”
“This fight isn’t about me,” she said. “This fight is about the tens of millions of people in this country for whom Washington’s just not working.
“This is the time to take on the fight,” added Warren, who talked about being the daughter of a janitor and a retail store clerk.
“I believe in opportunity,” she said. “I have lived opportunity and I am determined that we will be an America that gives those opportunities to every one of our children.