To launch her campaign, back in January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren had a number of locations to choose from. She could have started in Norman, Oklahoma, the setting of her ragged-edge-of-the-middle-class origin story, where her prairie populism could have been brought to the fore. She spent years in Houston, Philadelphia, and Boston, too, all chock full of their own useful imagery for a campaign. Instead, she chose Lawrence, Massachusetts, for her opening salvo, linking her campaign to the Bread and Roses strike, led in 1912 largely by radical immigrant seamstresses and other garment workers.
It would be the first of three speeches setting up what Warren sees as the driving force of her campaign: the labor movement — more precisely, the women- and immigrant-led labor movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries. She continued this narrative arc in September in New York City’s Washington Square Park, chosen for its proximity to the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist factory fire, and finished on Thursday night before a crowd of roughly 2,000 at Clark Atlanta University.
“I’ve learned that no matter what fight you’re in today, no matter how steep the climb feels, there are fighters who were here before you. Fighters we can learn from,” she said, summoning the history of the 1881 washerwomen strike in Atlanta. Like much of the history of black resistance outside the 1960s, this moment has mostly been obscured by popular history, which favors narratives focused on black victims and white heroes.
Instead, the speeches tell a different history, and situate her campaign in 150 years of conflict between the working class and the dominant power structure, inextricably tied up with issues of race and gender exploitation. [Continue reading…]