By Toni Piccinini/July 1, 2014
Photos Below: Courtesy Elizabeth Warren
“I believe in us. I believe in what we can do together, in what we will do together. All we need is a fighting chance.” Elizabeth Warren
Women of a certain age chatted and waited politely in the golden light of a late May afternoon. The line to enter Angelico Hall at Dominican University in San Rafael, California snaked down the wide steps and onto the lawn. I took an unscientific polling of the eager attendees and with certainty can report that the women outnumbered the men by at least a factor of four.
Perhaps because it was the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend and tickets to hear Elizabeth Warren, the first female senator from Massachusetts, speak about her book, A Fighting Chance (Metropolitan Books), made for a lovely date with Mom. Or because we women like these kinds of things—sitting and listening to an author talk about her book.
But most likely the sold-out crowd came to hear Senator Warren because her reputation preceded her. In political speak she is surely a rising star.
I had a general, non-specific, idea of who she was. Something to do with the Obama administration, finances…I knew she had won a tight race in November 2012, and thus became the people’s unlikely outsider representative. But it’s not like she worked in a diner.
Prior to the Senate she was a Harvard Law School professor and the chief designer of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Still, the first elected office she ran for and was elected to was the senatorial seat from the storied Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She legitimately owns the “not a career politico” mantle.
I registered to vote—ferociously Democrat—in 1971, the year I turned eighteen. That was the year that the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series, Sofia Coppola was born, and Coco Chanel died. It was, also, when the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was passed, which changed the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen.
It was a big deal to vote, a surprise gift given to me three years early. A gift that came with earnest responsibility. For forty plus years I voted in every election. That is until the last one. Fool me once, fool me twice, but fool me dozens of times? Nope. I’ve reached the age of acquired wisdom.
I know politicians say anything to get elected. Put on country clothes and practice some country talk to get that middle of the country vote. Well, I’m done with seduction. My disappointment has led me to a silent protest and a bumper sticker: Don’t Vote—It Just Encourages The ********.
But Lo and Behold, miracles do happen and here I am to testify. I am born again. Senator Warren (@SenWarren) had me at “Here’s the deal,” a get-to-the-bottom-line phrase that resonates with this country girl. She must have said it half a dozen times during her talk. This phrase—Here’s the deal—comes to her naturally because she knows what’s wrong and how to fix it. If FDR was the New Deal, Elizabeth Warren is the Real Deal.
She strode onto the stage at 4:23 and promptly engaged the back balcony rows with “Don’t think you back there will get away with anything. There will be a quiz after the talk.” She told us about her teaching years and that she, a daughter of a maintenance man, grew up to become a United States Senator.
She grew up in an “America that was investing in its kids.” And her main concern is that she doubts the America of today can support the mobility she enjoyed because the America we love is broken.
She reminded us of our financial history particularly The Great Depression and how we (led by FDR and the Democrats) dug ourselves out of it. During those challenging years, “We didn’t know what the next great thing would be, but we figured it would need to plug in, so we improved the electrical grid.”
In a conversational voice, that felt as if she were talking to us over a glass of lemonade on a covered porch, she continued to retell the facts of history. Even though Washington didn’t know where the next ingenious American invention would come from, the administration knew the product would need to go from Point A to Point B, so we improved the nation’s infrastructure.
We put people to work and we strengthened the country from the inside out. After the 1929 crash America did another important thing—got to work in Congress. Laws were passed to create and enforce strong financial rules, allocate funds for roads, bridges, and dams, and earmark monies for research. All of these pointed to securing our future and the future generations of Americans.
I know the America she comes from. I am the first of my family to go to college. I couldn’t have done that without a scholarship. My parents (my Dad an Italian immigrant) could not have built and owned their home—the quintessential American dream—without the help from a local bank and a loan that made sense.
How could this MacBook (the instrument I use to write and share my stories) exist without the inherent American opportunities and innate optimism afforded to a poor young visionary named Steve?
Senator Warren spoke for only thirty-one minutes. Her talk was focused, concise, and no-nonsense. A Fighting Chance is part memoir, part history, and part economic thesis. Her greatest fear is that as the economic divide grows in our country America will fundamentally change and that shift will fundamentally change what it means to be an American. She doesn’t believe that has to happen.
From the last page of her book: “I believe in us. I believe in what we can do together, in what we will do together. All we need is a fighting chance.” I believe in Senator Warren. And now I, too, have some work to do. I have some bumper stickers to recycle and a voter registration to update.
*** About the Author: Toni Piccinini’s writing path has meandered from the scholarly examination (or scary horror story) of antibiotic use in The Journal of Clinical Pathology to her personal essay “House Affair” which was a Narrative magazine Story of the Week.
Along the way she opened a San Francisco “Top 100″ restaurant and published recipes and cookbook reviews in local and national newspapers, magazines and cookbooks. The Goodbye Year (Seal Press 2013) is her first book.