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Elizabeth Warren: “All We Got Is Our Voices”

Monday, October 6, 2014

Senator Warren spoke about her personal and political journey, and encouraged students to get involved in public life.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont

On September 15, Tisch College launched its Distinguished Speaker Series with United States Senator Elizabeth Warren, who spoke in front of a capacity crowd of students, faculty, alumni, and members of the community at Tufts University.

The senior senator from Massachusetts, Warren rose to national prominence as the driving force behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and has emerged as a paladin of the American middle class who speaks eloquently about the struggles faced by working families. During her engaging, interview-style talk with Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont, Warren shared how her own life experiences had shaped a desire to ensure that current and future generations would enjoy the same opportunities that had propelled her to success in life.

“I grew up in an America that was investing in kids like me,” she said. “I grew up in an America that was making those things possible. I grew up in an America that had strong public schools, I grew up in an America where my mother could work a minimum-wage job and support a family of three … That was an America that was building a future for its kids, and that’s what gets me up every day: we are losing that America and we’ve got to fight to get it back.”

Senator Warren also shared war stories of some of her tough political battles: as chairman of the Congressional Oversight Panel of the financial bailout’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), as Special Assistant to the President and architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and as a candidate in the historic election that saw her become the first female U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.

The fight over the CFPB, she said, was a particular example of the persistence necessary to effect change—one of her key messages to the assembled audience.

“Almost uniformly, people say two things to me. The first one is: ‘that’s a great idea; you could actually make a difference,” said Warren. “And the second thing they all said to me was ‘don’t do it.’ And the reason they said don’t do it was ‘because you cannot possible win; you will never win, because the financial institutions will make it their number one goal to kill this agency.

“Now, I heard that as ‘try harder,’” she said.

Her other key message: that every one of us has the responsibility to be an active citizen—perhaps now more than ever.

“This country really is at a crossroads,” said Warren. “This country works incredibly well for people who have lots of money. It works incredibly well for big corporations. The rich and the powerful, they’ve got what money buys: that means access in Washington, that means opportunities, that means the point of view of the rich and the powerful always gets fully and articulately represented.

“What’s on the other side? All we got is out voices and our votes. And if we don’t use them, this country fundamentally changes,” she said.

Senator Warren’s talk, which also touched on topics like higher education and foreign policy, launched the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series, which brings leaders from a range of fields and perspectives to engage the Tufts community in discussions on pressing public issues. The Speaker Series continues on October 28 with former Secretary of Health & Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius; and on December 2 with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.