CHICAGO (CN) – In her first post-debate appearance, Sen. Elizabeth Warren hosted a boisterous town hall in Chicago that showcased her detailed policy ideas aimed at reshaping American government as we know it.
Packed into the ornate Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago, a crowd of 3,600 came to see Warren speak at her 102nd town hall on Friday evening, following her commanding debate performance Wednesday night.
After the policy-heavy debate, Warren opened the night by tying her personal story to her political ambitions, aiming to convince supporters that her intense focus on policy is fired her by personal experiences and moral compass.
She told the crowd a personal story about finding her mother crying while getting dressed to go find a job after her father had a heart attack and could no longer support the family. Warren said the experience taught her that when the going gets tough, “You reach down deep, you pull it up and you take care of the people you love.”
Warren said government should work the same way.
“When I was a girl, a full-time minimum wage would pay expenses for a family of three,” Warren told the audience. “Today a minimum-wage job will not keep a mama and baby out of poverty. That is wrong.”
“The reason for the difference is, who does government work for?” Warren continued. “When I was a girl, the question asked in Washington was what does it take for a family of three to get a toehold in the middle class? Today in Washington, its where can we set the minimum wage to maximize the profits of giant multinational corporations?”
She paused, and added, “I don’t want a government that works for giant multinational corporations. I want a government that works for our family.”
Throughout the evening, Warren focused on her campaign themes – restructuring the American economy by taxing the wealthy, reducing corruption in Washington by eliminating lobbying and preserving American democracy by overturning Citizens United.
She spent over an hour talking about the details of her plans on each of these points, while acknowledging that the plans all have moving parts that cannot be succinctly explained – “What I have to offer tonight is like a flight of beers,” she laughed. “I know where you’re headed after this.”
Repeatedly, Warren returned to the same question – “Whose side is government on?” – arguing that the government we have right now is on the side of money.
“When you see a government that works great for the rich, that is corruption pure and simple and we need to call it out for what it is,” Warren said. “If there is a decision made in Washington, I guarantee you it has been touched by money. It has been moved and shaped by money.”
She also got in a few digs at the “zillionaires” and analogized her plan for a wealth tax to a property tax – “not just on the real estate, but on the stock portfolio, the diamonds, the Rembrandt and the yacht.”
By taxing the ultra-rich 2 cents on the dollar for every dollar over $50 million, Warren promised to provide universal childcare for every baby, universal pre-K for every child, raise the wages of childcare and pre-school workers, provide tuition-free community college for everyone who wants to go and cancel student loan debt.
“You’re thinking, .02 cents is she right about that?” Warren drawled. “Uh, yes. I’ve done the math.”
After making her policy points, the senator took three questions at random from the crowd, and spent a lot of time thoroughly answering each one.
The first, from a young professed environmentalist, asked “What are you going to do about single-use plastic?”
In response, Warren committed to stopping the use of single-use plastic. But she went further – “How about we don’t have a coal lobbyist as head of the EPA?”
Warren also called for a moratorium on drilling, rejoining the Paris climate accord, and implementing industrial policy that moves towards a clean earth.
The second question came from a woman born in Mexico who is now a U.S. citizen. She asked, “I’d like to hear your plan for immigration, and how soon after you are elected will you get those children out of the cages?”
In her most emotional moment of the night, Warren recounted meeting with mothers in detention centers who had been separated from their children by U.S. Border Patrol and were in anguish not knowing where their babies were.
“No great country locks up children,” she said to huge cheers. “No great country separates children from their families. No great country lets profiteers make money off locking up desperate people. All of us need to stand up and say to our government, stop this – it’s wrong.”
The final question addressed foreign policy, and asked “What will you do to restore the faith in our allies that this administration has done so much to harm?”
First and foremost, “Foreign policy by tweet does not work,” Warren said to laughs.
She continued in a more serious vein. “We start by treating the rest of the world with respect,” Warren said. “We identify real problems. We don’t try to use military solutions for problems that cannot be solved by the military alone. We bring our military home from conflicts around the world.”
Warren acknowledged that her vision of America is radically different from the reality in America today, but compared her vision to that of activists throughout American history who have worked to fundamentally change American society.
“I wonder what the naysayers said to the abolitionists,” Warren said. “The naysayers said it’s too hard, you’re never going to change America. What do you think the naysayers said to the suffragettes? Too hard, give up now. What do you think they said to the early union organizers, the foot soldiers in the civil rights movements, to the LGBTQ activists who wanted equal marriage? But they didn’t give up. They got organized, they persisted. And they changed the course of American history. This is our moment. Our moment in history. Our moment to dream big.”
When answering questions afterward from the press, Warren repeatedly declined to make any comment about other candidates, despite pointed questions about Joe Biden’s civil rights record, and Sen. Kamala Harris’s cozy relationship with the finance industry.
“I am living my values every single day in this campaign,” Warren responded. “I believe the way that Democrats will win is by building a grassroots movement, and this is what a grassroots movement looks like.”
And with that, she returned to a very long line of supporters waiting to take selfies with their preferred candidate.