U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., tells a group of protestors to quiet down after they erupted in chants at the start of Elizabeth Warren's speech during her campaign stop at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Thursday, November 21, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Elizabeth Warren courts black women at Clark Atlanta University rally

Evoking the names of Stacey Abrams and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the plight of domestic workers, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren delivered a fiery speech at Clark Atlanta University that tapped into the city’s rich history of civil rights while promoting what will prove to be a key demographic – black women. 

“As a white woman, I will never fully understand the discrimination, pain and harm that black Americans have experienced just because of the color of their skin. I’m not here to tell you about a painful history that black Americans experienced and know all too well. I am here today for a different reason,” Warren said. “I’m here to make a commitment: When I am president of the United States, the lessons of black history will not be lost. Those lessons will live in every part of my presidency – and I will ask you to hold me accountable for that promise every single day.” 

But the gist of her speech was not without controversy. 

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The senator’s speech was constantly interrupted by protesters who stomped on the bleachers and chanted 

“Our children, our choice,” in response to Warren’s plan to end federal funding for charter schools. 

Wearing black T-shirts with “Powerful Parents Network” printed on them, they demanded a meeting with Warren’s team, before several of them were escorted out.

School choice activists interrupt Elizabeth Warren’s campaign rally at Clark Atlanta University on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) 

As Warren smiled and waited and tried to continue, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who had introduced her, took the mic from Warren to defuse the situation. 

“No one is here to silence you. You are welcome here, but the senator is here to talk about the contributions of fighters just like you,” said Pressley, who like Warren represents Massachusetts. “I am going to appeal to you to not dishonor that history. We are grateful for your activism and voices, but these women have been ignored too long. This is their moment, and we are going to hear their stories.” 

It was no secret that Warren’s speech was designed to appeal to black women. Aside from Pressley introducing her, women throughout the gymnasium wore “Black Women for Warren” buttons and shirts, although the crowd was diverse. 

“The fighters I want to talk about tonight are black women,” Warren began.

Warren also used her speech to mourn the death of CAU student Alexis Crawford, who police say was killed by her roommate in a tragedy that has shaken the city. 

“When it comes to protecting black women, we need to face the hard truth that black women and girls are being brutalized at alarming rates by people they know and trust,” Warren said. “The murder of Alexis Crawford, a Clark Atlanta student, is an unspeakable tragedy… Alexis’ story happens every day across this country. We need to take meaningful action to protect women, especially women of color.” 

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Warren said that on her first day in office, she will take executive action to protect women by boosting wages for black and brown women. 

“Think of what we can do together, think of what we can do for each other,” Warren said. “Child care. Health care. Free college. Paychecks. Entrepreneurship. The list goes on. African Americans have gotten the short end of the stick generation after generation, but we have a chance to change that, a chance to build an America where that’s no longer true. 2020 is our chance to build a better tomorrow for every American.” 

Touching on last year’s race for governor, Warren said that “Brian Kemp is sitting in Stacey Abrams’ chair,” as a result of voter suppression and the abolishment of the Voting Rights Act, which was designed to protect voters. 

“And we are all grateful to Stacey for what she’s doing to make sure that never happens again in this country,” Warren said. “Voter suppression is just one more relic of Jim Crow, and we need to say so. That’s why I have a plan to strengthen voting in America. It starts with restoring the Voting Rights Act.” 

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One of the Democratic front-runners as the campaign barrels into the holiday season, Warren stayed in Atlanta on Thursday after Wednesday night’s debate. 

“I wanted to stick around after last night’s debate because this city has been at the heart of America’s fight for justice,” Warren said. “Atlanta is a city that honors fighters. I’ve learned that no matter what fight you’re in today, no matter how steep the climb feels, there are fighters who were here before you. Fighters we can learn from.” 

It might be too early to consider it Warren’s race speech, but the bulk of her message centered on Atlanta’s civil rights history, going as far back as the 1881 strike of domestic workers and weaving its way through Jim Crow, civil rights and criminal justice. 

“Even in the face of racism, hatred, bigotry and corruption – black history, American history, teaches us how to confront this moment of challenge,” Warren said. “Black history teaches us how to stand up when we’re told to sit down. Black history teaches us how to speak out when we’re told to be silent. Black history teaches us how to march on even when the road gets rough.” 

Bringing up Donald Trump, which brought a chorus of boos, Warren said that while the president didn’t create this divide-and-conquer system, he wouldn’t be in power without it. 

“After eight years of progress under President Obama, Trump’s embrace of white supremacy, white nationalism and corruption threaten to break our democracy beyond repair,” Warren said. “Divide and conquer is an old political tactic – and it comes in all sorts of ugly flavors: racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic. It’s the phobic – that’s the key part. Because it’s all about fear. Politics based in fear. The rich and powerful want us to be afraid of each other. Why? Because they’re afraid of us. Afraid of our numbers. Afraid of seeing us stand together. Afraid that we will take up each other’s fights as our own.”

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