Earlier tonight, hundreds of people packed the chapel of University Temple United Methodist Church to hear Senator Elizabeth Warren read from her new book, A Fighting Chance. (I reviewed the book in this week's book section.) The event, sponsored by University Book Store, felt pretty much like your standard Seattle political book event, which is to say it was a room full of like-minded people getting excited about progressive ideas, a choir eager for some preaching. But Warren's rising-star celebrity and her enthusiasm for financial reform turned the event into an out-and-out political rally, with the audience waving signs urging Warren to run for president in 2016 and dutifully deluging her with generous waves of applause.
Warren can sell the aw-shucks stump speech lines and the autobiographical anecdotes, and she's charismatic enough to pull off populist outrage, but she's at her best when she just talks about the issues. The most exciting parts of the evening came when Warren described herself as a nerd because she was getting wonky on matters like Social Security, or discussing the impact that Glass-Steagall's repeal has had on the average American family. For most of the evening, she was in full-on folksy politician mode, talking about her poor upbringing—"I like to say I was the first lawyer I'd ever met"—and grousing about the inefficiencies she's seen in her year in the Senate. "The Senate moves on Senate standard time," Warren complained, and she opened the evening with a corny joke about how glad she was to be addressing a "live audience," rather than the Senate. Warren established the premise of her book early on in the evening, that America used to invest in the middle class, but that big banks and "lobbyists and lawyers and lots of their Republican friends" have rigged the game against the American people.
Most of the audience questions revolved around what ordinary people can do to take the country back from big business. One question about Initiative 1329, which proposes a Constitutional amendment to "clarify that Constitutional rights apply to natural persons not corporations" led to a blunt response from Warren: "the United States Supreme Court has given us no other option. We are going to have to amend the Constitution." Warren referred to several pieces of legislation she's co-authored that are ready to be voted on in the Senate, including the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act and the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act. She urged people who cared about student loan reform and banking reform to sign petitions, call their congresspeople, and talk to friends in other states about why these issues are important. "We can whine about this, we can whimper about this, or we can fight back. Me? I'm going to fight back," she said. "I'm not going to say I looked the other way when big corporations took over this country."
Warren didn't take any questions from the stage about a possible presidential run, although the signs and the cheers urging her to run were impossible to ignore. Warren may have denied that she has any presidential ambitions earlier in this book tour, but if the reading tonight proved anything, it's that there are plenty of true believers out there who aren't willing to let her give up that easily.