In town hall, Warren urges people to stay engaged, calls for a ‘people’s army’ to combat attacks on democracy

  • U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks Friday at Springfield Technical Community College. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks Friday at Springfield Technical Community College. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks Friday at Springfield Technical Community College. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks Friday at Springfield Technical Community College. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Published: 3/9/2018 10:14:34 PM

SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren hosted an open house at Springfield Technical Community College Friday afternoon where she urged the audience to be involved and engaged on issues “every single day, not just every four years.”

Warren, who joked with the audience throughout the event, began by saying, “I’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about,” before taking audience questions and snapping photos with audience members.

A first-come, first-served event, seats filled quickly and a line of people stood outside in the hallway in case an audience member happened to leave early. Several legislators and local officials attended, including Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChappelle.

State Sen. Jim Welch, D-West Springfield, said it was his honor to introduce Warren because he had been one of her earliest supporters. He praised her for work helping the hardworking people of western Mass. and for supporting the middle class and fighting for health care.

“What I really want to talk about is what’s happening to democracy right now,” she told the packed auditorium. “Republicans have been hacking away at democracy even before President Trump.”

Warren said that she is concerned by Russian interference in the 2016 election, which she called an attack on the United States of America, and added that there are “foundational pieces in democracy” that she said are under attack.

She said that Republicans work to restrict people who would vote against them from voting, said that the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court resulted in the court seat being “stolen” from Democrats and condemned Trump’s attacks on the free press.

“These are foundational pieces in democracy, and if we lose them, we are in big trouble,” she said. “But I am here today because I am fundamentally optimistic.”

A ‘people’s army’

In response to these attacks on democracy, she said America needs a “people’s army,” an idea she was struck by after witnessing the large number of people who protested in women’s marches after Trump’s inauguration.

Rumors that Warren herself may run for president in 2020 were fueled earlier in the week when she announced at a Democratic National Committee dinner that she had donated $5,000 to every state Democratic Party in the country to help the party win during the midterm elections.

At the event she refused to comment on those rumors when an audience member asked or later when speaking to the press. She is up for re-election this year after the end of her first six-year term as a U.S. senator.

One of the audience questions came from Fred Rosenberg, of Longmeadow, who thanked Warren and her team before asking about net neutrality.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission approved net neutrality, or rules governing that all types of digital traffic should be treated equally. Those rules were repealed in December by the now Republican-led FCC, a repeal that is being challenged in court.

“Thank you to all the people in your office who answer the phone when I call,” he said to laughter from the audience.

In return, Warren thanked him for continuing to speak up about an important issue.

“Let me just get everyone up to speed on net neutrality,” she joked. “Basically it’s an issue of access to basic infrastructure.”

A recurring theme in the senator’s talk was the idea of keeping issues at the forefront of people’s minds and government conversations.

“I’m going to keep saying this: it’s so important to keep the heat up on the fire,” she said. She encouraged the audience to continue to speak up on issues and bring attention to them in order to effect change.

Heyda Martinez, program director for the student development program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, thanked the senator for her support of Puerto Rico and for a trip Warren took to Puerto Rico to focus attention back on the U.S. territory and relief efforts there. Martinez studied at the University of Puerto Rico before coming to the U.S., according to her UMass bio.

“Now what do you want me to do for you?” Martinez asked.

Warren again replied that Martinez should keep doing what she is doing: showing up to town hall events, raising the issue again and again and not allowing it to be forgotten, she said.

Q&A session

She responded to a variety of questions on issues such as in-state tuition for undocumented students, particularly non-Dreamer students who receive no scholarships or financial aid; lowering the voting age to 16; and how to keep health insurance mandates from dictating the type and length of care patients receive.

To close the event the senator shared an anecdote about bipartisanship and working across the aisle with Republicans to pass a new hearing aid bill which will allow certain types of hearing aids to be sold over the counter.

The Senate voted 94 to 1 to pass the bill and it was signed into law by Trump two weeks ago, Warren said.

She spoke of her humble beginnings as a janitor’s daughter and said she didn’t think it was only her hard work that had brought her from there to where she stands now as a U.S. senator.

“I grew up in an America not of just first chances, but of second chances,” she said to applause and cheers from the audience. “My chance was in a commuter college that cost 50 bucks a semester.”

M.J. Tidwell can be reached at

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