When Elizabeth Warren announces to the country she is running for president, her stage will be the working-class city of Lawrence. The setting offers vivid examples of the intersecting themes of labor, immigration, and gender that appear likely to dominate the 2020 Democratic race.
Nicknamed the “immigrant city,” Lawrence was in 1912 the scene of one of the country’s most notable labor strikes, started and dominated by female textile workers.
She will start her speech talking about the strike, according to a campaign aide. She will deliver it from the steps of the Everett Mills, which is where the first workers —
a group of mostly Polish women — walked off the job in protest of wage cuts.
“Lawrence has a history of working people coming together to make change,” Warren says in a video teasing her big announcement, “where the fight was hard, the battle was uphill, and where a group of women led the charge for all of us.”
Of course, Lawrence, one of the state’s poorest communities, is also about as far away as one can get — at least metaphorically — from Cambridge and the Harvard campus where Warren once taught and still be in the state. (Helpful in shaking off that image of ivory tower academic? Check.)
It’s minutes from New Hampshire, home of the first in the nation primary, of course. But Lawrence helps Warren tell a much deeper story about her campaign.
“We are facing tons of the problems that America faces — education and immigration reform, the loss of the American financial power of the middle class,” said the city’s mayor, Dan Rivera, the son of a single mother who came to the city from the Dominican Republic. The loss of a time when “you could work really hard, send kids to college, have a better life. Lawrence is a microcosm for those things.”
Lawrence is “a really useful place” for Warren to talk about “where America is right now and where she wants America to be under a Warren presidency,” said John Cluverius, a political scientist at University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Lawrence is still very much an immigrant city, and as such provides Warren a ready opportunity to draw a sharp contrast between herself and the current president. More than 73 percent of the city is Latino, according to census figures, driven by immigrants from the Dominican Republican and migrants from Puerto Rico coming to the city starting in the 1960s.
The makeup of the city is a result of immigration policies — those that help refugees and allow family members to sponsor relatives — that immigration hard-liners in the Trump administration oppose, said Cluverius.
“It’s going to show the real face of immigration. It’s hard-working people,” Rivera said of Warren’s event in his city. Referring to his own mother’s journey to Lawrence, he said, “for all intents and purposes, she gave me the American Dream. Her son is the mayor of the city that she went to as a worker in the mills.”
It’s likely Warren will need to make Hispanic voters a key part of the coalition,
along with organized labor, that she needs to build to win both the Democratic nomination and a general election, said Cluverius, the political scientist. That calculation is especially true once voting gets beyond the lily-white early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Warren has largely avoided referring to President Trump directly on the campaign trail, but he will be lurking in the background nonetheless. Trump has attacked Lawrence by name, blaming city residents for the region’s drug epidemic and linking the problem to its status as a so-called sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants. New Hampshire’s Republican governor, Chris Sununu, also has charged Lawrence and its “undocumented drug dealers” with causing his state’s opioid scourge.
Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, has previously responded to Trump’s attacks on Lawrence by saying his “statements denigrating entire cities are plain wrong.”
The appeal to America’s labor movement is noteworthy, too, observers say.
“The Democratic Party has recently remembered that unions are vital to their success,” said Annelise Orleck, a political historian at Dartmouth College, noting that former Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams of Georgia gave her response to Trump’s State of the Union in a IBEW union hall outside of Atlanta. “And they are particularly motivated in that regard by Trump’s success in 2016 at selling himself as a ‘working man’s defender’ ” in the 2016 campaign, she said.
The 1912 Bread and Roses strike that took place in Lawrence is historically significant because “it’s one of the first times in labor history in the country that so many different nationalities, different languages, religions, cultures, were able to figure out a way to unify themselves and fight for the common good of all workers in the city,” said Robert Forrant, a labor historian at UMass Lowell who has written about the strike and Lawrence.
The immediate cause was wage cuts, but the strike also happened against a backdrop of workday hardship and dangerous working conditions. It was started by women, and much of the activism was led by women, said Forrant. The walkout quickly swelled to 25,000 immigrant laborers hailing from dozens of countries. After nine weeks of highly organized and collaborative resistance, they won concessions from the powerful mill owners.
Women’s anger over Trump’s election and subsequent activism are a key force in the current political climate, too, credited with helping flip the House to Democratic control and bringing in an historic number of women to office in 2018.
Warren, meanwhile, has made appeals to that sentiment. In Iowa she noted that some doubted a woman could beat Scott Brown when she was mulling challenging him for Senate in 2012. At the town hall where she first acknowledged she was thinking of running for president last fall, Warren embraced the fury so many women on the left were feeling over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. “I’m angry and I own it,” she said.
Much more recently, Lawrence was at the center of the gas explosions and fires that ripped through homes and businesses served by Columbia Gas last fall, and thus enables Warren to showcase her trademark stance as fighter of corporate misconduct. Warren helped push for a congressional hearing investigating the explosions, at which she told the presidents of Columbia Gas and its parent company to take personal responsibility for the disaster.
After her event in Lawrence, Warren will host a late afternoon rally in Dover, N.H., followed by stops in the coming days in key states on the presidential nominating calendar: Iowa, South Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, and California.