Photo Gallery | Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks on economy and middle class at BCC
PITTSFIELD — The message was, at its core, very simple: Get involved and we can make the country better.
But U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Saturday morning galvanized an overflow crowd at Berkshire Community College with an hour-long discussion of economics, history and political policy that had the audience standing and cheering at its conclusion.
"She was exhilarating," said Karen Andrews of West Stockbridge after the event. "I really love everything she stands for."
"You can tell she was a teacher," observed June Wink of Sandisfield after the presentation. "She's just so clear. I think she should be president. Obviously not this time around, but maybe four years from now."
Warren has been a professor at Harvard.
Warren explained to the audience that Saturday's talk was a "preview" of the economic position and points she would present to the rest of the country.
The audience filled the 500-seat Robert Boland Theater at the college's Koussevitzky Arts Center. In addition, according to Director of Marketing Christina Barrett, about 100 more attendees were settled into the smaller theater across the hall from Boland.
A Warren staffer explained that the senator stopped in to visit that contingent before she spoke in the main theater.
If there was one frustration, it was that the crowd was so big that, prior to opening the doors, the line of attendees waiting to enter snaked down the main concourse into the "quad" common area. Several in line complained of excessive exposure to the heat.
Warren's discussion was, for the most part, bipartisan. Her basic position was that for the first part of the 20th century, the country and it's leaders invested in the middle class.
She used as an example her own family experience. When she was a young girl in Oklahoma, her father suffered a heart attack, leaving her mother to support her and her three brothers.
Warren's point was that although her home life was financially difficult, her mother managed to support herself and four children on a minimum-wage job.
"That would be impossible now," she said.
Warren said she believed the decline of the middle class began in 1980, "when we stopped investing in the middle class and began investing in the wealthier members of our country — with the expectation that their prosperity would trickle down to the middle class."
Warren was clearly referring to the country's immersion in Reaganomics — but she did not mention the term.
"And while this was a Republican idea," she said. "There were many Democrats who bought into it, as well."
The various legislative initiatives, said Warren, included tax loopholes for huge corporations, less regulation on Wall Street and various laws deregulating commerce in the country.
All this, said Warren, led to the richest 10 percent of the country's population accruing literally all the new wealth in the United States since 1980. This situation makes it nearly impossible for middle class families to do anything but live paycheck to paycheck and accrue crushing debt.
The irony, said Warren, is that the economy is soaring, but only for those at the top.
"But there is hope," she said. Warren urged those in the audience to "raise your hand. Get involved. Nothing is inevitable. It's about choice. If our government has been taken over by the rich and powerful, we can take it back. They have money. We have numbers."
She suggested an emphasis on investing in education, infrastructure and research.
"We need a government that works for all of us," she said. "That's the point here."
Following the event, Warren posed for selfies with several dozen members of the audience, patiently chatting with each person with whom she posed.
"She's my idol," said Eileen Lawlor of Great Barrington. "You listen to her, and you can see why she was such a great teacher. She's very clear. I wish I had taken one of her classes."
"I just want to see her up close," said Lisa Hawkins of Pittsfield, who was standing nearby, not in the selfie line. "She gives us hope that things can change."
Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.