BOSTON, Mass. (A.W.)—Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, prides herself on her middle class roots. Warren has made it her mission to fight for financial protection for the middle class against banks and financial institutions, having herself experienced economic hardship as a young girl: Her father suffered a heart attack when she was only 12. Soon, he was demoted to a lower-paying job at the store where he worked. Warren’s mother had to find employment to keep up with the bills, and Elizabeth followed suit, waitressing at her aunt’s restaurant at 13.
A Harvard law professor, much of Warren’s career has focused on the effect of bankruptcy on people. Following the 2008 financial crisis, Warren served as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), working to hold Wall Street accountable. She proved instrumental in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. TIME magazine called her the “New Sherriff of Wall Street.”
In this interview with Armenian Weekly assistant editor Nanore Barsoumian, Warren talks about her guiding principles, and her vision for the nation. In that context, she also addresses issues that are important to the Armenian-American community, including justice for the Armenian Genocide, and freedom for the people of Nagorno-Karabagh.
Nanore Barsoumian—You believe the most important investments are in research, education, infrastructure, and jobs. You have talked about women’s rights in terms of equal pay at the workplace, the duty to provide our seniors with social security and Medicare, and overall accountability in government. In the end, you’ve argued that our choices essentially reflect “what kind of a people we are, and what kind of a country we are trying to build.”
What do you believe is the most crucial issue of the day, how would you address it, and how will it define America?
Elizabeth Warren—The most important issue today is the economic future of the middle class and working families. And that starts with jobs. In the short term, we need to get people back to work. We’ve got work that needs to be done–especially in rebuilding our roads and bridges–and we’ve got people who need work. We should be acting right now to pass jobs bills to get people working. In the longer term, we need to create the conditions for economic growth and job creation. We have to invest in infrastructure, education, and research–the building blocks for a strong future. And we have to level the playing field so that the system isn’t rigged to work against small businesses.
Ultimately, this election is about whose side you’re on and what kind of country we’re going to be in the future. Scott Brown, Mitt Romney, and the Republican Party want more and more tax cuts for big corporations and billionaires, while middle class families struggle. Washington is rigged for the big guys and I think we need a level playing field so middle class families and small businesses have a fair shot. Instead of helping the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful, we need to work to strengthen the middle class and small businesses.
N.B.—You have spoken about the predatory practices of the financial giants. You oppose the Keystone oil pipeline. You support the president’s health care law, and raising taxes on upper-income earners. In turn, the political director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—which has endorsed Sen. Scott Brown—has called you the greatest “threat to free enterprise.” What is your response?
E.W.—I’ve talked to so many small business owners and entrepreneurs all across Massachusetts and I think what makes America such an exciting country to be in is that anybody who is hard-working can get out there and start a business. But right now, the system is rigged against small businesses. Small businesses can’t afford an army of lobbyists like the big corporations can, so they don’t get to write loopholes into the law and pay zero in taxes. Think about it: Scott Brown voted to continue billions in taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies that make tens of billions in profit. So while the big guys are getting special deals, small businesses are picking up the tab. That isn’t right. I think we need a level playing field for all Americans, and part of that is that the biggest corporations have to pay their fair share.
N.B.—In the upcoming Senate race in Massachusetts, what issues could sway independent voters?
E.W.—This election is going to be about whose side you stand on. Scott Brown has made it clear he stands with Wall Street, Big Oil, and the largest corporations, against the interests of working people here in Massachusetts. I’ve fought my whole career to level the playing field for small businesses and working families. There’s a clear choice in this race, and that’s what I’m going to be talking about each day from now until the election.
N.B.—So far you have focused on a grassroots campaign. How are you reaching out to minority voters?
E.W.—I’m focused on reaching out every day to communities across the Commonwealth and hearing from families about the issues important to them. I have opened campaign offices all across the state, including in minority communities. I’ve spent my career fighting to create a level playing field, and I’ll be a strong advocate in the U.S. Senate for hardworking families throughout Massachusetts.
N.B.—The U.S. House overwhelmingly adopted a resolution in December 2011, calling on the Turkish government to honor the right of their Christian population to worship freely, and urging them to return confiscated Christian churches to their rightful owners. Similar legislation is currently pending in the Senate, introduced by Sen. Brown. Many of Massachusetts’ Armenian community received refuge in America from the horrors of the Armenian Genocide. Will you support pressing Turkey to return stolen Christian and other religious church properties?
E.W.—Yes, I support efforts urging the Turkish government to return religious sites to their rightful owners. As a country, we believe in religious freedom, at home and around the world. I also appreciate the efforts of the Armenian-American community and Senators of both parties to bring awareness and recognition to this issue and to the genocide. If we do not recognize the horrors of the past, we risk repeating those horrors in the future. The genocide of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 is an atrocity that we must never forget.
N.B.—The Massachusetts legislature recently recognized the democratic, free-market oriented society of the Nagorno Karabagh Republic. After overcoming the brutal legacy of Stalin’s arbitrary decision to place Karabagh under Soviet Azerbaijani administration, the population of Nagorno-Karabagh continues to struggle against Azerbaijan’s campaign of blockades, ethnic cleansing, and outright military aggression. Will you support the Nagorno Karabagh Republic’s right to independence?
E.W.—Yes, I support Nagorno Karabagh’s right to self-determination, and I hope for progress through the efforts of the Minsk Group and the Armenian government to seek a peaceful outcome. Too many lives have been lost already.
N.B.—And finally, if I may, a personal question: What is the most important life lesson you have learned?
E.W.—When I went to Washington to help create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I learned how important it is to stand up and fight for what you believe in, even when everyone says it can’t be done. When I first proposed a new consumer agency to protect people from the tricks and traps of big banks and credit card companies, people said it would never happen because the Washington lobbyists would stop us. But we organized and brought together a broad coalition of groups and people and won. If we hadn’t tried, we wouldn’t have changed anything, so this is a lesson in trying—even against all the odds.