“Persist, persist, persist,” those were the words on many signs held by supporters of Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren at a rally held in Salt Lake City on April 17 at The Depot concert hall. More than 1,300 people filled both floors of the hall and overflowed outside.
Supporters stood in line for three blocks, waiting for more than an hour to get in. Those who had registered online were given a sticker and when the hall was full no one without a sticker was allowed inside.
Warren had toured Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase during her visit. When she arrived at the Gateway Mall, she took time to visit with people outside before entering the hall.
I had driven down that day to attend the rally with my daughter, Gwen, who lives in Salt Lake City. She preregistered so we knew we would get inside even though we lined up with the others and made slow progress to finally get into the building. Once inside, we stood for another hour before Warren finally arrived on stage to cheers and applause.
Warren began by telling of her childhood and her working class parents who often struggled to make ends meet. Her father worked as a janitor for many years. They persisted, and their strong work ethic transferred to her. Warren went to college and law school and on to the Senate.
“What does it take to support a family of three or four? That is the question Washington should ask,” Warren said, “but instead, they only focus on what big corporations can make. Big dollars are all that count.”
Warren told of her struggle to get a college education and become a special needs teacher. When she went to law school, she had one baby and was pregnant with another. When she graduated from law school, she decided what she really wanted was be a teacher, so she went back to that profession.
When Warren ran for the senate, she was competing with a long-term Republican and people told her she wouldn’t win but that she needed to run anyway. She persisted, and she didn’t win that first time, but it motivated her to try again, and the next time she ran, she won.
Warren asked, “Why is our middle class being drowned out? Because our government is corrupt and works for big corporations. It is not working for us; it is corruption, pure and simple. Money runs Washington and touches every decision and, ultimately, all of us.”
Warren continued by talking about her plan for three structural changes. 1) End lobbying as we know it and stop the revolving door between Wall Street and D.C. 2) Make the rich pay their fair share. If the rich paid an extra two cents in taxes for every dollar over $50 million, it would pay for universal child care and guarantee pre-K for all, health care, and pay for the Green New Deal. 3) Support the constitutional amendment for all citizens to be able to vote, repeal the voter suppression bill and overturn Citizens United.
“Everyone deserves a chance to be what they can be. If we believe it, now is the time to act on it. When people say it is too hard to make changes so give it up, say this: ‘What if the abolitionists had said it was too hard? What if the suffragettes had said it was too hard? And what if the civil rights movement had said it was too hard?’ They persisted and changed history,” Warren said to cheers and shouts of agreement.
I identified with Warren, and I share her ideals and goals. But what remains with me most from hearing her speech were the words, “They persisted and changed history.”
I, too, grew up in a working class family. My father worked in radio stations for all of my childhood, which involved low wages and moving from job to job, state to state. We lived in four different states and seven different towns when I was in elementary school. When I entered junior high, we landed in Evanston and my mother refused ever to move again. She got a job at the Wyoming State Hospital and their financial lives improved a little.
During those years of my youth, I never thought it was possible for me to go to college. Only boys had those dreams in the ’40s and ’50s, and only those who came from more affluent families. But times were changing in the U.S. as I entered adulthood. Women were fighting for equal rights, there was the Vietnam War, peace marches and the ’60s sexual revolution, and my life was changing. People persisted for change, and those changes happened.
In the ’70s, I was among a handful of people called “non-traditional students” when I went to college. Because of those changes in the ’60s and ’70s, more doors were opened for the disadvantaged to attend college and improve their lives. Vietnam vets were attending college on the GI Bill; single moms were receiving help from vocational rehabilitation and were attending college — all of this happened because people with heart persisted in passing bills that changed lives in a positive way.
I was one of those single moms with four children who benefited from the new laws. I persisted, and eventually, at age 48, I earned my master’s degree and was a college professor for 15-plus years.
Even in the darkest days in our country when we enslaved and persecuted others of different races and beliefs, when we murdered and tortured and took their children away, when we stripped other cultures of their heritage and traditions, there were always those among us who had love and understanding. It was those few who persisted and risked their lives and families to stand up against evil and prejudice, and that persistence changed the course of history. We as a nation have come through a lot of darkness, but the light of human compassion and love has always triumphed.
In the troubling times of today, when worries over gun violence, climate change, drugs, a suicide epidemic, a lack of adequate mental health care and other issues confront our daily lives, we must persist in creating positive change. In the past, the U.S. rose above the evil in the world and this country was a model of basic human rights. We must return to that role.
We as a nation must persist in being a beacon of hope for those who have lost hope. We, regardless of political affiliation, must come together to resolve what is tearing us apart as a nation. We must persist in resisting bullying, lies, fear, hatred and violence wherever it originates. With open hearts and minds, we must persist in making this a better nation and world for all of our children and children to come.
This still young and immature nation must persist to achieve Lincoln’s dream that “all men (and women) are created equal,” Kennedy’s dream: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country;” Reagan’s dream: “We can be that shining city on the hill;” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream “that one day little black children and little white children will join hands.”
Hearing Elizabeth Warren speak reminded me of hope and the values instilled in me by my working class parents and others just like us. I will not let the negative words on social media coming out of Washington and out of the mouths of bigots cause me to give up on my country. There have been moments in the past year when I felt like fleeing to another country, but I didn’t and won’t. I will persist, like Warren, and those before us in history, I will persist in believing we can do better, and we will.
Mother Earth brings us hope with an annual rebirth. Through a long brutal winter, through all the havoc and destruction humans do to her, she didn’t give up — the earth persists and brings us hope in the smallest green shoot springing up from the once frozen ground. Like that little green shoot and budding leaf, Warren gave me a glimmer of hope that better things will come.
Along with Warren and others who speak and act with love for their fellow humans — regardless of race, religion, creed, sexual identity or political affiliation — we must persist. We, as U.S. citizens, and as global citizens, must persist with hope and loving actions to create a better world for all those “little shoots” who are counting on us.