Not afraid

Dear President Trump,

Whether you care at all, I’m sure you’ve heard that Cokie Roberts died yesterday from complications of breast cancer. She was only 75. I heard clips of some of her interviews on NPR driving home last night and when they aired the one where she interrupted the other broadcaster and told him something like ‘no, men didn’t grant women the right to vote – that right was always there,’ I wondered to myself where she went to school and whether it might have been Wellesley. Sure enough, in her WP obituary it notes that she graduated from there in 1964. Whoot! Go Wellesley. Again. Very cool. The not so cool thing about the obituary though, is that it contains a very unfortunate typo (the article is quoting Roberts here):

“Men come up to men on the street and say, ‘We like your common sense,’ ” she once said, recalling her early “This Week” years. “But women say, ‘We love the way you don’t let them interrupt you, and that you hand it right back to them.’ I get the feeling that the country is full of women who’ve never gotten a word in edgewise when men talk about politics.”

I included the whole quote because what she had to say was so important, but geez, she doesn’t even get to be her own “me” here – she’s turned into “men.” Arg. I hope they fix that soon.

I wonder whether Roberts was awake and had the energy to watch Elizabeth Warren’s speech in NYC on Monday. I hope so. And I hope it gave her a measure of comfort and some hope for the rest of us, including her six grandchildren since she must have known her own work was done.

Did you listen to Warren’s speech? And what about Maurice Mitchell’s introduction (Mitchell is the National Director of the Working Families Party)? In case you missed any or all of it, here’s the C-SPAN link: You should get comfy in a cozy lounger because it’s long and while you might want to throw things at the screen, you won’t even want to get up to pee because there’s a good chance you’re going to have to meet her on a debate stage in the near future. Plus, it’s just flat-out a great speech.

I watched it last night with Laura who’d already watched it on Monday and we were enthralled with both Mitchell and with Warren. They both have a natural ease with crowds, they are able to talk clearly and cogently with terrific levels of energy and enthusiasm. Warren kept it up for nearly an hour and then went on to do four more hours until every last selfie-seeker got their moment with her. We couldn’t tell whether she was using a teleprompter because she was so engaged and natural (turns out she did for the first time, probably because it was a long policy-focused speech), nary an “uhm” or “like” or hesitation or mis-speak the whole time. What a refreshing experience to listen to a politician who is intelligent, articulate, engaging and by turns funny and serious. You sir, will be burnt toast if you have to debate her.

And the content of their remarks. Holy cow, their content. Mitchell painted a picture of our future together that resembles Dr. King’s beloved community, one where society’s driving concerns are dignity, solidarity, generosity, and love for each of us. Warren opened with the terrifically tragic story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, which happened just a few blocks away from Washington Square Park where she was speaking. She painted a horrible picture of how over a hundred people, mostly girls and women, were locked into the workrooms when the fire started and how they subsequently either jumped to their deaths or perished in the fire. It was a grim story, but Warren drew out how this tragedy laid bare the twin evils of greed and unfettered power (to include bought politicians), and led to changes in working conditions almost immediately and a host of other reforms over the next several years.

She likened what happened at the Triangle Factory to what is going on in our country today and connected the dots between the many major challenges and ills we are facing (e.g., inaction on climate change, unprecedented gun violence, lack of affordable healthcare, mass incarceration in private prisons, etc.) to the same evil twins of greed and unfettered power (again, to include bought politicians). She described her plans for getting money and influence out of politics, essentially using you and your administration as the anti-poster children for political integrity and ethics.

I loved her crisp, no nonsense statement that a country that would elect Donald Trump is already in severe trouble. Check, that. Of course she acknowledged that you’ve made virtually everything (except civic engagement – my aside) much, much worse, but damn if we weren’t already on the skids to have allowed the likes of you anywhere near the Oval Office.

Warren closed the speech by circling back to the Triangle Factory fire and introducing Francis Perkins, a worker’s rights advocate and sociologist who was nearby when the fire started and witnessed the women jumping and dying. Warren described how Perkins came to work for the NYC on safety, then moved to work for NY State on labor, and eventually was the appointed Secretary of Labor by FDR (the first woman Cabinet member). She described how Perkins persistently worked the issues from the inside in concert with millions of Americans in towns and cities across the country to establish laws and regulations that support worker’s rights and safety. She drew the parallel between Perkins and herself and the millions then and the millions now that want, need things to change. She inspired with the message that this inside/outside combination can move mountains.

Near the end of her speech she said something incredibly important – she said “I am not afraid.” She paused and then said we can’t be afraid either. She was nominally talking about not being afraid of pushing to make big structural changes, but it sure sounded to me like she was sending an even bigger message along the lines of “bring it on – I will not be intimidated and I will not shut up.”

May we all be safe when we push to shake up unjust power structures.
May we persist in our fight for integrity and for human dignity.
May we see that a healthier future for our children and their children is possible.
May we never make peace with acquiescent comforts at the cost of the beloved kindom.

Tracy Simpson

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