By Talbert Toole
Video by Anna Grace Usery.
As remnants of Saint Patrick’s Day scattered Beale Street Sunday afternoon, many Memphians and out-of-towners decided to choose a different path of celebration by exercising their First Amendment right—the right to assemble at Frederick Douglass High School for a town hall meeting with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The Memphis town hall was one of three stops for the senator as she makes her way through Mississippi and Alabama in hopes of widening her support in the Deep South for the presidential bid for the Democratic party.
Approximately 500 supporters gathered in the school’s cafeteria awaiting the arrival of the senator. A small platform positioned in the center of the room with an American and Tennessee flag served as the backdrop for Warren’s first stop on the three-state southern swing tour. She travels today to Greenville and Cleveland for a Delta walking tour to advocate for better housing before her town hall at Jackson State University, moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Jasmine Boyd, state executive committeewoman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, introduced Warren to the crowd. Boyd spoke to the audience on how the nation is in perilous times and in these times “the only two choices are either to fight or run.”
Boyd said with justice, dignity, equity and common sense all on the line, the only option for the nation is to fight.
“And fight we must for the soul of our nation,” she said.
Boyd said each and every day Memphians and those around the nation are living and trying to build a better life for themselves, but the deck is stacked against them by politicians who engage in voter suppression and intimidation.
“We need a leader who has a proven track record of fighting for and with us who isn’t afraid to call out racism, corruption, bigotry and downright crazy, no matter what,” she said. “Senator Elizabeth Warren is such a leader.”
As Boyd introduced Warren to the enthusiastic crowd, she was welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation.
Dressed in her typical Warren garb—a black top with black pants paired with a green sweater for St. Patrick’s Day—she began the town hall with the story of her growing up in Oklahoma and the financial fight her family had to overcome.
After her father suffered a heart attack while she was in middle school, Warren described how she overheard her mother stressing about financial burdens like the mortgage and the fear of foreclosure—words she said she was never supposed to hear.
Fighting for her family’s home, Warren’s mother put on “the dress” that’s typically only worn for weddings, funerals and graduations. Wearing the symbolic dress, her mother went to the local Sears where she received a minimum wage job which allowed the family some financial relief.
“If you want to know who I am, that’s the story that tells it all,” Warren said. “That’s the story written on my heart.”
Warren said she used to think that particular story was simply about her mother; however, years later, she realized that story is the same battle many families across the country live every day.
“A minimum wage job will not keep a mother and her child out of poverty today,” she said. “That is wrong and that is why I am in this fight.”
Warren touched on several key policies she would implement if elected to the Oval Office.
Her platform covers several issues that include lobbying and criminal justice reform, as well as rebuilding the middle class.
One of Warren’s proposed policies which she plans to use in rebuilding the middle class is called the “Ultra-Millionaire tax.” The tax would apply to those who have created fortunes of $50 million or more. She says the 50 millionth and first dollar of the fortune would be taxed 2 percent.
Warren said homeowners already pay a wealth tax.
“It’s called property tax,” she said.
Warren’s proposed Ultra-Millionaire Tax on America’s 75,000 richest families would produce trillions that her presidency would use to build the economy that works for the lower and middle classes and include universal childcare, student loan debt relief, and down payments on a Green New Deal and Medicare for All.
She said she would continue to use the tax to invest in housing that she said would bring down rents by 10 percent across America and create 1.5 million new jobs.
“I am tired of freeloading billionaires,” Warren said.
Warren also expressed her position on the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act.
She said she believes in protecting the country’s “DREAMers” and giving them a path to citizenship along with not breaking up families, such as those that have been arrested recently at the border under the Trump administration, she said.
Warren said she visited the border where she witnessed fathers, mothers and children separated by “cages” in a structure she described as the size of an Amazon warehouse.
“An immigration system that cannot tell the difference in risk posed by a criminal, a terrorist and a 12-year-old little girl is a system that is not working and needs to be reformed,” Warren said.
Lainey Stevens, an Ole Miss junior integrated marketing communications major from Booneville, Mississippi, attended Sunday’s town hall as a volunteer.
She said Warren’s stance on DREAMers connected with her personally because she has friends who are considered a part of that system.
“I have several friends who were brought here illegally at a young age and are now DREAMers,” Stevens said. “They have feared deportation and have parents who have been deported.”
Stevens said one of her friends who moved here illegally at the age of 3 has been fighting for citizenship ever since, but after the 9/11 attacks, the process halted. Her friend continues to go through routine background checks and still fears deportation.
“He’s scared to go back to a place he hasn’t been to in decades,” she said.
The town hall’s audience that evening represented a variety of Democratic voters, including four Arkansas State University students who described the senator as down-to-earth and representative of their values as young voters.
Ethan Williams, an ASU student who works on the congressional campaign for Chintan Desai, a Democratic candidate for Arkansas’ 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House, said he could agree with Warren on four “basic principles” in society: raising the minimum wage, protecting healthcare, strengthening democracy and overturning Citizens United.
“Those are things I think everyone should be able to agree with,” he said, shrugging.
Alyson Clyburn, an MBA graduate student at ASU, said she works full time as an accountant in Little Rock in addition to going to school. One recent incident at work that involved expectant mothers gave her a reason to support Warren.
“I know a lot of people who I work with, after they have children they stop working because it costs (the amount of) their salary to pay for childcare,” she said. “To hear her talk about that and say that’s something we need to look at and fix is so powerful.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s JSU town hall will be aired tonight at 8 p.m. via CNN. For more information on the senator’s platform and campaign, visit her website.
Anna Grace Usery, Editor-in-Chief, contributed to this story.