'Donald Trump is corruption in the flesh': Elizabeth Warren unveils sweeping anti-corruption plan in Washington Square Park rally

In calling for strong anti-corruption measures, Massachusetts Democrat highlights century-old tragedy block away at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

Clark Mindock
New York City
Tuesday 17 September 2019 15:00 BST
Elizabeth Warren at Washington Square Park

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Louise Thomas

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Framed by the iconic marble arch in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, Elizabeth Warren unveiled a sweeping anti-corruption plan as she sought to continue the momentum that has thrust her campaign into the national spotlight and placed her name among the frontrunners to challenge Donald Trump in 2020.

Looking out on the crowd, which bulged with thousands of eager supporters who had in some cases waited for hours in the rain to see the insurgent Massachusetts senator, Ms Warren described a US economy beholden to special interests and big business that is leaving the average American behind.

Ms Warren promised a better way — no longer would lobbyist meetings with officials remain secret from the public, and government officials would no longer be allowed to jump into the influence sector that seeks out those very meetings, she said.

And, addressing the metaphorical elephant in the public park, Ms Warren said that Mr Trump was perhaps the most painful symptom of that very corruption disease, even if he is not the cause itself.

“Donald Trump is corruption in the flesh,” Ms Warren said, to cheers from the crowd, which her campaign said surpassed 20,000 in attendance.


In the crowd before Ms Warren’s lectern spread out a sea of signs proclaiming “I’m a Warren Democrat”, and blaring lights that shone down on the candidate who has become perhaps as well known now for her willingness to stand for hours for selfies with supporters after events — a major driver of social media outreach, and a signal that the 70-year-old has stamina to spare — as she is for having “a plan for that” on a long list of issues, from military housing to student loans to climate change.

On Monday, she hit on many of those notes, but began by emphasising the insidious nature of corruption.

Noting that the old Triangle Shirtwaist Factory — where 15 mostly Jewish and Italian female workers died in a 1911 workplace fire — Ms Warren illustrated the dangers of lax regulations, and the human toll that can come as a result of business running free without the constraint of worker protections.

Ms Warren said that, on that day, “blood ran into the gutters” from those who jumped from the building as it was engulfed in flames, but found no exit as doors were locked by the owners.

“Firefighters would later find a pile of burned bodies,” she said of those who had apparently been trapped in staircase leading to those locked doors.

"We’re not here today because of famous arches or famous men,” Ms Warren said, referring to the arch behind her that was named after George Washington, America's first president. “In fact, we’re not here because of men at all. We’re here because of some hard-working women. Women who, more than a hundred years ago, worked long hours in a brown, 10-story building a block that way.”

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Ms Warren told the crowd they “wouldn’t have to dive very deep” to see the lingering affects of loose government. From corporations polluting and contributing to climate change, to the heavy financial burden felt by Americans from simply going to school or to the doctor, she described a country in which corporations have put Americans at risk in a variety of ways.

And, employing her catchphrase, she said she has a “plan for that”.

“Haven’t you heard?” a supporter, carrying one of those Warren Democrat signs, joked to her partner upon hearing the line.

For many of those in attendance, Ms Warren’s unrelenting attack on special interests is the sign that they agree with them on something of a spiritual level as the Democratic primaries barrel closer this winter. But, her plans are what seal the deal, they said.

“She really does a good job of straddling big, important — you know, as she says, big structural change ideas — but also having the pragmatic, practical plans to make that happen,” said Ron Gaskill, a 32-year-old publicist from Brooklyn.

Mr Gaskill said he supported Bernie Sanders in the New York primary in 2016, but said he will vote for Ms Warren this year if he has the chance. He said that he believes her plans are a continuation of previous American policies of investment in social programmes and infrastructure that was more acceptable 80 years ago, and that he doesn’t buy the argument that Ms Warren is too liberal to take on Mr Trump in a general election.

“Her way of moving forward is deeply American. It is deeply rooted in ideas that are very American, and it is not something that is outlandish or far left, it’s just a really good way of making our economy strong again,” he said.

Whatever the case, Ms Warren has been doing a good job proving that point for the past several years, as her campaign has continued to gain steam and drawn national media attention. After a campaign launch that was described in the media as faltering, Ms Warren has seen improving poll numbers, and frequent praise for her debate performances.

She remains roughly nine points behind Joe Biden in an average of national polls, with 17 per cent support and in second place. But, those numbers have only been going up.

Carolyn Lynch, a 31-year-old nurse from New Jersey, said she had never been to a political rally in her life, but that she felt inspired to see Ms Warren and become involved.

And, when asked what she likes about Ms Warren, she noted one of the most disruptive ideas Ms Warren has floated, and said she loves the idea. Beyond her plans, Ms Lynch said she likes to hear the Democrat say she plans on getting rid of the Senate filibuster — a procedural tool that requires much more than 50 per cent support in that legislative body for a bill to become a law.

“You can’t get anything passed. It’s so dumb. Nothing ever happens. So I’m just really excited she wants to get rid of it,” she said.

Ms Lynch said that she voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 because she just thought she could win. But, she said that she thinks that the very forces that allowed Mr Trump to win in 2016, show that Ms Warren can win, and is not to liberal a candidate as many worry.

“I think the whole reason everyone voted for Trump is … that they wanted change in the 2016 election, and then there was none,” she said. “People want change. But people are just scared for things like that. They’re like oh that’s too big, that’s too progressive, but people want that.”

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