What We Lose When We Lose Elizabeth Warren
Warren was the rare candidate who led with both her head and her heart.
"My name is Elizabeth and I’m running for president, because that’s what girls do." This is the introduction that Sen. Elizabeth Warren gave to countless little girls at campaign events, as she locked pinkies with them and asked them to promise to remember her words when they grow up.
Hopefully, one day, one of those girls will also run for president. Hopefully, one day, one of those girls will win. But anticipating some distant moment in the future has become psychologically exhausting for so many women who believed in Elizabeth Warren. It’s hard not to feel anger and despair after Warren’s disappointing Super Tuesday, when it became painfully clear that she would not be our first woman president. After facing pressure to withdraw and seeing no path forward, Warren is ending her presidential campaign.
"We didn’t reach our goal, but what we have done together — what you have done — has made a lasting difference," Warren said today in remarks to staff. "It’s not the scale of the difference we wanted to make, but it matters — and the changes will have ripples for years to come."
Among Warren supporters, there is palpable frustration and anger that they’ve been short-changed; that the woman who is near-perfect on paper, with the stellar résumé, standout debate performances, and extraordinarily well-thought-out policy plans that address so much that ails America, is not the one. Part of this rage comes from, once again, being told that the lack of support for Warren had nothing to do with this country’s deeply ingrained misogyny, and feeling frustrated that there’s no way to conclusively prove why she lost.
No wonder many Warren supporters hold a deep-seated fear that they will never live to see a woman president, and no wonder it’s struck such an emotional chord.
In no small part, the emotional connection to Warren is there because she has built it, and even made it an active part of her campaign, something very singular to her. She’s the kind of person who, in spite of everything else she had to do, took the time to remember staff birthdays, had in-depth conversations with voters, and spent hours on face-time with people during her famous selfie lines. She made her supporters feel seen and heard, something that was especially important after almost four years of feeling dismissed and disregarded.
"Senator Warren made me sit up straighter, think about if I could approach something in a better way, and modeled goddamn excellence in a way that made me rethink my expectations of myself," music writer Caryn Rose wrote on Twitter, adding #ThankYouElizabeth, which is trending today.
But that’s not all. For Warren’s supporters, she was a once-in-a-lifetime candidate who had not only the vision, but the plans (over 80 of them) to carry it out. When they lost her, they lost somebody who they believed best presented both the diagnosis and the cure not only to the assaults and indignities of the Trump era, but to the financial problems that disproportionately affect women and other marginalized groups. "A year ago, people weren’t talking about a 2-cent wealth tax, universal childcare, cancelling student loan debt for 43 million Americans while reducing the racial wealth gap, or breaking up big tech. Or expanding Social Security. And now they are," Warren said in her remarks to staff.
For them, Warren was the rare candidate who led with both her head and her heart, and their connection to her policies was heartbreakingly emotional. That’s because her campaign was rooted in listening to and understanding women’s experiences and then translating those experiences into concrete policy plans. It energized those who believed in progressive policy and the fundamental overhaul of our government’s structures, and her supporters saw her as the only one who stood a chance of getting change done rather than the choices we have now: a man who has promised a mountain of appealing progressive change but who many doubt has the ability to follow through on those promises, and a man who has sneered at large-scale proposals for progressive change.
For her supporters, Warren was the rare candidate who led with both her head and her heart, and their connection to her policies was heartbreakingly emotional.
This trust in Warren to get it done was evident at a Women for Warren rally in Charleston, SC, last Monday, where Warren and campaign co-chair Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley addressed an approximately 90% female crowd in a large ballroom. "Oh man, I really don't want to leave!" Khrystin Harshaw, 47, said to no one in particular as she walked out of the event. When asked why she prefers Warren over other candidates, she brought up Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying, "A lot of people, especially younger voters, are caught up in the hype of him, but I don't think he has much substance; he really can't articulate his plans…and Elizabeth Warren can. Plus, I just naturally think women make dynamic leaders. I work for an all-female team and we're so efficient and effective."
Part of the emotional connection to Warren’s policies, from her labor-rights plan to her plan to address Black maternal mortality, stems from their thorough intersectionality, as well as the understanding of a whole person rather than simplifying them to a demographic. "I need somebody to get it when I say I’m making 68 cents [for every dollar] the guy next to me is making," Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza said at the Charleston rally, which was the week before the primary that Joe Biden swept. "I need someone to understand that as a Black woman, I care about more than criminal justice reform."
Rep. Pressley echoed Garza’s sentiment, saying in an interview with Refinery29 just before the South Carolina Democratic presidential debate that Warren earned her endorsement partially because she looks at the totality of a human being when she builds her policies. "As a Black American, yes, I care about you telling the truth about the role that the federal government has played in creating income inequality, racial injustice, and the Black-white wealth gap, but she is equally committed not only to reversing the hurts of the past but to investing in Black genius and innovation and excellence," Rep. Pressley said. "And that's rare, very often elected officials define a community by a single issue."
As part of her intersectional perspective, she wasn’t afraid to fight for a certain kind of justice, one to which she had a personal attachment. Warren made a mark on the #MeToo movement by confronting Michael Bloomberg over alleged mistreatment of women at his company, and even writing sample contracts for his women employees to get out of their NDAs. She went out on a limb to do that — no other candidate did. It cannot be underestimated that she helped bring down veteran MSNBC host Chris Matthews. It’s hard to see a male candidate taking on a fight so personal to women.
That is what we all lose when we lose Elizabeth Warren. Both Biden and Sanders could learn from her when it comes to the specificity with which she has studied and understands women’s experiences; the way she listens to women in frank, intimate conversations, never dismissing our concerns; and her humility and willingness to admit she’s wrong and learn from it. Both of them, in different ways, have a long way to go when it comes to acknowledging intersectionality or the thoughts and feelings of female voters. One thing’s for sure: The candidates who remain have some Elizabeth Warren-sized sneakers to fill.