Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren announced that she was suspending her campaign for President of the United States. I knew it was coming, and yet, I was devastated. I had supported her 2020 campaign from early on. I was in awe of her plans — that she had one for everything, that they were so articulate and thorough, and that I, a mere librarian with an English degree, could understand them. I was in awe of how ungodly smart she was. So, so damn smart. I don’t know that I’ve ever known anyone that smart personally. I am certainly unlikely to ever personally know anyone that smart who was so simultaneously compassionate and personable. I thought she was one in a million, and that was merely from knowing her on paper and the occasional video. My viewpoint changed entirely when I finally saw her in person.
Prior to her visit to Edgewater in November of last year, I supported her campaign on a fairly superficial level — I donated money. Sometimes I got a sticker in return (I love stickers even though I never put them on anything), sometimes I just donated. Doing more than that — namely, canvassing or phone banking — was something I thought about, but could not quite bring myself to commit to. I grew up a painfully shy child, was a painfully socially awkward teen and young adult, and have only become “somewhat outgoing given the right set of circumstances” in recent years. Today, I think I at least come off as more quiet or reserved than shy or awkward (although I do hope that I continue to cause a slight sense of unease in people when I talk to them). All of this is to say that I still have a very hard time with doing things out of my comfort zone, especially if they involve prolonged direct contact with strangers. Prolonged direct contact with strangers that also involves trying to influence their political beliefs? More nerve-wracking than any other interaction I can imagine.
And then Elizabeth Warren did a town hall in Edgewater, which is almost-but-not-quite my neighborhood. It was free, so even though none of my friends were available to go with me, I went. I’ve seen plenty of politicians speak before. Heck, I’ve seen Obama speak twice. I thought I knew what to expect. I fully supported Senator Warren already and had for months — nothing she was going to say could surprise me. If anything, I expected to come away with the stars wiped out of my eyes. Politicians, no matter how much you may like them or support their policies, can be boring sometimes. I thought I knew what to expect.
And then Warren took the stage, and all of my expectations were blown away. I had been wrong. She wasn’t a one in a million candidate. She was a once in a lifetime candidate.
To say that I was enthralled would be an understatement. She was spectacular. She was smart, funny, and so, so genuine. A lot has been said about a good teacher’s ability to explain the complex to a layman, and Warren certainly had that ability. It wasn’t only that she made her very detailed and well-researched policy plans understandable, though — it was that she was also able to explain what effect they would have on the lives of everyday U.S. citizens. It’s one thing to teach people how multiplication works, and it’s another to both teach people how it works and explain how having it will change their everyday lives.
That night was magical. I came away completely overwhelmed. But it wasn’t just that I suddenly understood policies more deeply or that I had found Senator Warren to be immensely intelligent and likable. In the end, what drew me to Warren — what ultimately gave me the courage to finally canvass for her (although, sadly, I only got to do it once) — was best expressed today by Twitter user @NattyCranberry: “Over the past few years I feel like I’ve lost the ability to dream. And then Senator Warren reminded me how.”
That sentiment was what I had been trying to express about the atmosphere in the room that night back at the end of November. The day after the 2016 election, someone tweeted that it felt like all the color had been sucked out of the world. And it really did. It felt like the world had been knocked off its axis, like we had fallen into an alternate universe. It felt wrong. This was overly simplistic, of course — the United States was far from perfect before Trump was elected and, in hindsight, much of what has happened here since roughly September 11th (but also probably quite a bit that happened before that) made the rise of a Trump-like figure almost inevitable. At any rate, the U.S. has been a dark place since 2016, and it is safe to say that, most of the time, I felt as if there was no way out. Even if we did manage to get Trump out of office (which still seems deeply unlikely), the damage would be done. We could never go back.
And then I saw Elizabeth Warren speak at an event in Edgewater, and I felt hope. Not only could we survive Trump, but we could be better than we were before. Because this perfect pre-Trump America that I had in my head was never real, anyway. Long before Trump, American history was full of centuries of genocide, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and massive economic inequality. It’s been this way for so long that it feels like it would be impossible to ever really fix it. But Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that. And for a few magical hours on the evening of November 30, 2019, I truly believed that she would be able to make it happen.
Illinois has not had its primaries yet. When I cast my vote, it will be for Bernie Sanders. In November, I will cast my vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is. In the end, getting Trump out of office is more important than any admiration that I hold for a specific candidate. The children in cages at the U.S./Mexico border, the separated families, the millions of people who rely on the ACA for healthcare, the future of the Supreme Court: all of that is much more important than how I feel about Senator Warren. I will vote for the Democratic candidate without a second of pause, and I will be at peace with that. But there will always, I think, be a part of me that aches for the country that I glimpsed in that Edgewater gymnasium. For a country that could see a whip-smart, intensely prepared, and incredibly strong woman and acknowledge that she was the best person for the job by a landslide. I don’t know if the future that the Senator described that night is possible or not, but I do know that it is absolutely worth fighting for. I know because Senator Elizabeth Warren, a truly great teacher, showed me that it was so.
Thank you, Senator Warren. You’re my favorite teacher yet.