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In Great Barrington, Warren Calls On Citizens To Fight, Deflects On 2020

Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren held a town hall in Great Barrington Sunday.

Such was the turnout for Warren’s town hall at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in downtown Great Barrington that an overflow crowd formed around a nearby gazebo equipped with speakers to hear from the Democrat.

“You come out on a Sunday afternoon, there’s a lot of things you could be doing, and what you decide is to talk about politics and policy and what we’re doing in this country and how we make this a government that once again works for the people. Thank you! Thank you! I’m so glad you’re here," said Warren to those among the approximately one thousand who stood in line for hours for a spot but didn’t make it into the historic theater. After taking a few questions flanked by Congressman Richard Neal and State Senator Adam Hinds, Warren headed inside.

Warren blamed Republican inaction for many of the concerns of the audience. She fielded questions on topics ranging from infrastructure to immigration. On the former, she drew a comparison to a global rival.

“So China right now is investing 9 percent of its GDP in infrastructure and clean energy, by the way, and transportation," said Warren. "They are giving their businesses an advantage, next year and 10 years from now and 20 years from now they’re making those investments. Here in the United States, we are currently spending less than 3 percent of our GDP on infrastructure.”

Warren responded to a question about the Trump Administration’s immigration policies by describing her experiences touring a detention center in McAllen, Texas in June — first talking about men and women in cages within a warehouse.

“And then you go on through, and you thought that was hard — there were bigger cages of little girls. 10 years old, 11, 12 — there’s just a cage full of them. They have nothing, they have no books, they have no toys, they’re just there,” said Warren.

Mary Evans, who said she came from New York for the event, bemoaned the Democratic Party as ineffectual before begging Warren for clarity on her intentions to run in the 2020 presidential election.

“I look at a Democratic Party that way too often has abandoned its great union FDR coalition that won elections and made things good," said Evans to Warren, "and I’m just saying, we’re all here because we sense in you a connection to that. And I’ll be honest, most of the Democratic Party, the leadership, the way they’ve reacted to the Republican domination and the pathetic way — they have no strategy! Who is going to run in 2020? They’re not promoting new people. They’re sticking with the old.”

Warren, who is running for a second Senate term in November, deflected, calling for concerned citizens to join the fight to realign American values.

“It is a huge task in front of us, because as a country we have turned our backs on working people year after year after year after year for way too long now, so yeah, I know why I’m in this fight, and I gather up as many people in this fight as I can,” said the Senator.

In addition to her opioid bill, Warren told reporters later that she has other projects in the works.

“Trying to prevent the Trump administration from building more low-yield nuclear weapons, and trying to make sure that our service people are protected from the effects of blasts," she said. "I’m working hard on a bill for the National Guard to make sure that when they get promoted they get full recognition and pay as of the time they’re promoted, instead of delayed by Washington bureaucracy.”

Warren said she’s working on what she framed as an overdue infrastructure bill.

“If America had been making the investments in transportation infrastructure over the past 30 years that we should have been making, then there would already be high-speed rail out through the Berkshires, and that in turn would help develop the local arts economy,” the Senator told the assembled press.

Warren also said she’s working on a bipartisan bill about how the federal government interacts with marijuana on a state by state basis. Currently classified as a schedule one drug alongside cocaine, heroin, and LSD, it’s been legalized for medical use in 30 states and recreationally in nine, including Massachusetts.

“I have a bill with Republican Cory Gardner that says when states have acted to develop their own marijuana laws the federal government should recede and let the states make their own determinations,” Warren said.

Warren also hinted at a forthcoming bill on corruption, saying that “this is one that’s still in the workshop phase, but it basically has to do with all the ways in which government works for the rich and the powerful and not for everyday citizens.”

Liam Forland, 18, is a recent graduate of Monument Mountain High School. He came with his mother and shared his unasked question for Warren with WAMC.

“Actually, I run a program for students of color, and I was gonna say, with racism, the racism that we see in the current administration, it’s almost become acceptable, so how can we model or how can we represent that this isn’t acceptable and how can we get a change for these students — people that I’m working with and the younger people, so,” said the teen.

Bonnie Silvers, of Sheffield, said she wanted to see how far Warren would go in her statements about the country’s current condition, which she characterized as “awful, heading to abysmal.”

Her expectations were ultimately met, but only after some consideration.

“I wavered," said Silvers. "At first, I thought some of her responses were pat, but I really believe at the end her call to the fact that we all have to really take this on as our fight.”

Here's the full audio of the town hall:


Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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