Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged down-ballot candidates and grassroots Democrats to run for office at a gathering of liberals in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, saying that local elections won in 2016 will help build a national progressive movement in future races.
The Massachusetts Democrat spoke at the kickoff of an intensive four-day conference designed to train a deep bench of progressive candidates to run for local office and build a movement of liberal candidates.
“This is about building a movement,” said Warren. “We build real change in this country by putting energy on our side by bringing ideas to the front, by showing people there are choices.”
Activists on the left have long lamented the lack of a strong grassroots movement to help reshape the Democratic Party equivalent to the Tea Party, which helped elect prominent Republicans such as Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, leading to a swell of GOP victories in 2010 and 2014.
The conference in Washington, organized by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, is intended to train state legislators, state senators and school board members, building up an infrastructure of candidates to eventually match conservatives’ ascent in Congress.
Warren, a standard-bearer for the progressive left who had never run for office before her 2012 Senate campaign, told attendees from states far-ranging as Rhode Island and Minnesota, that they are a central part of the Democratic movement.
“It is so important that we secure victories at the state and local level,” Warren said. “Washington is dysfunctional. We need you to be out there, town by town, county by county, state by state across this nation.”
Warren set out a progressives’ manifesto that received repeated standing ovations.
She called for raising the minimum wage, protecting workers’ bargaining rights, fighting for debt free college and combating racism. “We believe that no one should work full time and still live in poverty,” Warren said. “We believe that black lives matter.”
Warren is much beloved among liberals, who see her as one of the few prominent voices in Congress for the Democratic left. Progressive groups including Democracy for America and MoveOn.org spent months organizing a campaign to encourage Warren to run for president.
Though Warren has declined to run, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has taken her place as the progressive candidate in the Democratic primary, attracting many of Warren’s grassroots supporters to work for his campaign.
Warren is seen as having a wide-ranging influence on the Democratic primary despite her refusal to run, challenging frontrunner Hillary Clinton to take positions on debt-free college and cabinet appointees.
Some in the audience were running for mayors of a small town, state legislature or considering running for city council. For many, the politics of left and right at the national level have few practical implications for effectively running a small town.
“At this point I’m not espousing far left, progresssive ideas. I just want to get stuff done,” Luke Feeney, who is running for mayor of Chillicothe, a town south of Cleveland, Ohio said before Warren spoke. “If the grass in the park isn’t cut, people won’t get behind the big platform.”
Still, Warren riled up her audience with a long view toward rallying a left movement.
“Victories in 2015 and 2016 are the victores of tomorrow,” she said.