Elizabeth Warren is not the leader of the Democratic Party in any formal sense. She is not the 2016 presidential nominee, nor even a contender for the spot—at least for now. She is not the head of the party’s caucus in the Senate. She does not even chair a key committee.
Yet, she is setting the course for the party as it approaches the 2016 election. She is focusing its agenda and exciting its base at a point when the question of leadership is a critical one for Democrats who are in the process of selecting a nominee, choosing new congressional leaders and framing an agenda for post-Obama era.
That was evidence over the weekend as she delivered a striking speech on racial justice and hit the campaign trail for an old ally who hopes to join “the Elizabeth Warren caucus” in the next Senate.
The speech on racial justice was presented as a part of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate’s “Getting to the Point” series. And Warren did, indeed, get to the point.
“Economic justice is not—and has never been—sufficient to ensure racial justice,” declared Warren, as she addressed the accomplishments of the civil-rights struggle of the 1960s, of how her predecessor, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, embraced that struggle, and of how she sees the work that is yet to be done. “Owning a home won’t stop someone from burning a cross on the front lawn. Admission to a school won’t prevent a beating on the sidewalk outside.”
Like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has spoken on the presidential campaign trail of parallel struggles for racial and economic justice, Warren noted that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote of the “the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice” and marched in 1963 for “jobs and freedom.”
Warren argued that the great strength of the civil-rights movement and the legislation that extended from it was an awareness that the need to struggle on many fronts: “In the same way that the tools of oppression were woven together, a package of civil-rights laws came together to protect black people from violence, to ensure access to the ballot box, and to build economic opportunity. Or to say it another way, these laws made three powerful declarations: Black lives matter. Black citizens matter. Black families matter.”
Unfortunately, she explained, the need to struggles has not passed, explained Warren, who said: