Amid protest, Warren stresses voting rights, student debt cancellation at Northampton town hall event

  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sits down with the Gazette to discuss the congressional $3.5 Trillion Budget plan and how it can benefit families in Western Massachusetts, Sunday at the Forbes Library in Northampton, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • A coterie of protestors gathered along the Forbes Library fence in an attempt to disrupt the Elizabeth Warren Meet and Greet with chants and noise, Sunday in Downtown Northampton, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • A protester who gave the name Patrick Henry brandishes a Confederate flag along with pride flags on a pitchfork at the Elizabeth Warren meet-and-greet in Northampton, Sunday. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren and State Representative Lindsay Sabadosa call out raffle numbers to determine who will ask a question during a meet and greet event at the Forbes Library, Sunday in Northampton, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Audience member Sam, an Ada Comstock scholar at Smith College, asks a question of Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a town hall event Sunday in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren takes questions from the audience, talking about congressional Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget, as well as political developments in Texas and California, during a town hall event Sunday at Forbes Library in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

Staff Writer
Published: 9/12/2021 8:56:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — U.S. Sen Elizabeth Warren addressed an audience of several hundred people and was greeted by several dozen noisy protesters in a town hall Sunday, touching on topics that included voting rights, student debt, child care and the environment.

“It’s a day for clapping, it’s a day for cheers,” said state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, in introducing Warren outside Forbes Library.

Western Massachusetts has strongly supported Warren in both her senatorial campaigns and Northampton was one of the few communities that voted for her for president in the 2020 Democratic primary. Asked about her thoughts about the region in an interview prior to the town hall, Warren said it’s “like dessert” because of how engaged people are in democracy here.

“I try to drag all kinds of people through discussions about policy and budgets and the kind of America we want to build,” she said. “I come out here and people say ‘More!’”

Asked about the $3.5 trillion infrastructure package that Democrats are trying to pass, and what passage would mean locally, Warren pointed to capping the percentage of income parents have to spend on child care, adding dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare, investing in fighting climate change through things like funds for electric school buses and researching pulling carbon out of the air, and immigration reform.

“We’ve got a lot of pieces in this bill,” she said.

At the town hall, Warren hit on the issue of child care.

“You want women to be able to go back to work, you want daddies to be able to go back to work, then let’s invest in child care,” she said.

On federal voting rights legislation, Warren said, “I think the single most important thing we can do is protect the right to vote.”

She said that protecting the right to vote, getting rid of gerrymandering and curbing the influence of dark money are all important. After infrastructure legislation is passed, Warren said Democrats will agree on a voting rights bill and then put the need to pass the bill to senators who are reluctant to change the filibuster.

“That’s the discussion I expect that we’ll be having in October,” Warren said.

Asked about Afghanistan, Warren said that she supported President Biden’s decision to withdraw troops, saying that year after year she said that generals had testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and said that the corner was being turned on a number of issues.

“We’ve turned the corner so many times we’ve just been going in a circle in Afghanistan for years now,” she said.

She also said it is important for the United States to accept refugees and those seeking asylum from Afghanistan.

Those who got to ask questions were chosen via the drawing of numbers by state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, and a number of Smith students got to address the senator.

“Smithies got me elected back in 2012,” Warren said. “They showed up early and often.”

Smith student Rachel Shelner found it difficult to hear because of the protests. But she said she “felt inspired” by Warren calling on the crowd to contact President Biden to cancel student debt.

Warren said that canceling student debt is a racial justice issue, and expressed her support for the canceling of $50,000 of debt for each borrower.

“There is not another single step that the president of the United States can take by himself that would have such a profound impact on the racial wealth gap,” she said.

Morgan Kelner, of Northampton, also appreciated Warren’s call to action. And her sister, Liz Kelner of Greenfield, found Warren’s visit to be inspiring.

“She’s just great,” Liz Kelner said.

Not everyone shared this view, as a group of protesters chanted and made noise throughout the event.

“I’m here to protest the tyranny that Liz Warren supports,” said Mike Mercier, of East Granby, Connecticut, who protested the senator with a drum while wearing a tricorn hat.

Don Kelley, of Northampton, also chose to protest, doing so with a Trump flag.

“I don’t agree with what’s going on with our country right now,” he said.

A man who only gave the alias of Patrick Henry, from eastern Connecticut, showed up to the protest with a Confederate flag atop a pitchfork, which also had transgender pride and LGBT rainbow flags on it, although he was told to leave by police because of the pitchfork, he said.

The man said he considered the Confederate flag to be stupid, but displayed it because he thought there would be counterprotesters and he was against “cancel culture.”

“I have no Southern pride,” the man said.

The man later returned without the pitchfork but with a Moroccan flag, which he said he flew to protest the police arresting members of the Moorish sovereign citizen movement earlier this year.

Despite the disruptions, Warren finished the town hall by expressing how happy she was to there, and appreciated those who showed up.

“I go to Washington D.C., I am really proud to be the senior senator from the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and this is the reason why,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at
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