From the Book A FIGHTING CHANCE by Elizabeth Warren. Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Warren. Reprinted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company LLC.
A Fighting Chance
I’m Elizabeth Warren. I’m a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. For nearly all my life, I would have said I’m a teacher, but I guess I really can’t say that anymore. Now I’d have to introduce myself as a United States senator, though I still feel a small jolt of surprise whenever I say that.
This is my story, and it’s a story born of gratitude.
My daddy was a maintenance man and my mother worked the phones at Sears. More than anything, my parents wanted to give my three older brothers and me a future. And all four of us have lived good lives. My oldest brother, Don Reed, served twenty years in the military, with 288 combat missions in Vietnam to his credit. In good years, my brother John had a union job operating a crane, and in leaner years he took whatever construction work he could get. My brother David had a special spark; he started his own business, and when that didn’t work out, he started another business, because he couldn’t imagine a world where he wasn’t living by his wits every day. I went to college and became a teacher, first for special-needs kids and then for law students; only much later did I get involved in politics. My brothers and I all married and had children, and my parents plastered their walls, their refrigerator, and their tabletops with pictures of their much-loved grandchildren.
I will be grateful to my mother and daddy until the day I die. They worked hard—really hard—to help my brothers and me along. But we also succeeded, at least in part, because we were lucky enough to grow up in an America that invested in kids like us and helped build a future where we could flourish.
Here’s the hard truth: America isn’t building that kind of future any longer.
Today the game is rigged—rigged to work for those who have money and power. Big corporations hire armies of lobbyists to get billion-dollar loopholes into the tax system and persuade their friends in Congress to support laws that keep the playing field tilted in their favor. Meanwhile, hardworking families are told that they’ll just have to live with smaller dreams for their children.
Over the past generation, America’s determination to give every kid access to affordable college or technical training has faded. The basic infrastructure that helps us build thriving businesses and jobs—the roads, bridges, and power grids—has crumbled. The scientific and medical research that has sparked miraculous cures and inventions from the Internet to nanotechnology is starved for funding, and the research pipeline is shrinking. The optimism that defines us as a people has been beaten and bruised.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
I am determined—fiercely determined—to do everything I can to help us once again be the America that creates opportunities for anyone who works hard and plays by the rules. An America of accountability and fair play. An America that builds a future for not just some of our children but for all of our children. An America where everyone gets what I got: a fighting chance.
My story seems pretty unlikely, even to me. I never expected to run for office—but then again, I never expected to do a lot of things in my life. I never expected to climb a mountain. I never expected to meet the president of the United States. I never expected to be a blonde. But here I am.
The story starts in Oklahoma, where I grew up, and it tumbles through a life built around husbands and babies and setting the kitchen on fire. I made my way to a commuter college, a teaching job, a public law school, and, eventually, a professorship. As I started weaving in academic research, I became more and more worried about what was happening to America’s families, and the story shifted to Washington, where I picked my first public fight. In 1995, I agreed to take on what I thought would be some part-time public service for a couple of years, and I quickly got caught up in a battle over our nation’s bankruptcy law. I know that sounds a little obscure, but underneath it was a clash about whether our government exists to serve giant banks or struggling families.
The battle lasted much longer than I’d expected—a full ten years, in fact. My own life threaded through, of course, with graduations and funerals and grandchildren of my own. When that battle ended, I picked up another, and then another and another—a total of five big fights in all. They ranged from fighting for a fresh start for families who had suffered a job loss or a serious illness, to trying to force the government to be transparent about what was really going on with the bank bailout, to tangling with the big banks over dishonest mortgages. But the way I see it, even as they took me this way and that, all five battles were about a single, deeper threat: America’s middle class is under attack. Worse, it’s not under attack by some unstoppable force of nature. It’s in trouble because the game is deliberately rigged.
This book tells a very public story about fraud and bailouts and elections. It also tells a very personal story about mothers and daughters, day care and dogs, aging parents and cranky toddlers. It’s not meant to be a definitive account of any historical event—it’s just what I saw and what I lived. It’s also a story about losing, learning, and getting stronger along the way. It’s a story about what’s worth fighting for, and how sometimes, even when we fight against very powerful opponents, we can win.
I never expected to go to Washington. Heck, for the most part I never even wanted to go. But I’m here to fight for something that I believe is worth absolutely everything: to give each one of our kids a fighting chance to build a future full of promise and discovery.
Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Warren
Listen to the prologue of “A Fighting Chance” below. Audio courtesy of Macmillan Audio.
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