Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren spoke before thousands of people gathered in Washington Square Park in New York on Monday evening, using a pivotal moment of her campaign to paint a vivid and at times gruesome picture of corruption -- and the history of women, specifically, who have fought back.
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"We’re not here today because of famous arches or famous men. In fact, we’re not here because of men at all. We’re here because of some hard-working women," said Warren, the only female candidate holding a top spot in the polls, as she stood before the iconic arch in the park named after America’s first president, George Washington.
It was, by campaign estimates, Warren’s largest campaign event yet. Approximately 20,000 people attended, the campaign said, and 23,000 sent an RSVP. The New York Police Department and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation did not report a crowd count and could not confirm the Warren campaign's estimates.
Warren pledged she would do the selfie line despite the crowd, telling supporters, "Some things you just don't mess with." By the time it wrapped up, the line lasted just under four hours.
The candidate used the rally to focus on the tale of "one of the worst industrial disasters in American history," the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire that killed 146 women in 1911, just blocks from the park where Warren spoke, and described in painstaking detail the "sickening thud" of bodies that hit the ground as women jumped from windows of the factory, realizing they’d been locked in "by bosses afraid that the workers might steal scraps of cloth."
"Their blood ran into the gutters," Warren said.
The century-old tragedy, Warren argued, connected to her 2020 message of tackling corruption in Washington.
"Business owners got richer, politicians got more powerful and working people paid the price. Does any of that sound familiar?" Warren asked the crowd.
2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren spoke before thousands of people gathered in Washington Square Park in New York City: "Democrats can’t win if we're scared and looking backward."— ABC News (@ABC) September 17, 2019
"We win when we meet the moment. We win when we stand up for what is right." https://t.co/LqG1eTjP7J pic.twitter.com/PZ7xp3qdW6
Her speech Monday, which marked a reset as the campaign heads into the fall, hit points she has been making on the trail with a new urgency.
At times, she directly linked recent American deaths to money spent by corporations.
"Americans are killed by floods and fires in a rapidly warming planet. Why? Because huge fossil fuel corporations have bought off our government," she said.
Warren, a candidate who has centered her campaign on the message that the prescient issues of today's political era have all been caused by corruption in Washington, has seen a steady rise in the polls and crowd sizes of up to 15,000, according to the campaign, in the final summer months.
After the rain cleared and the event kicked off Monday, she was introduced by Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, a progressive organization which endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, but threw its support behind Warren on the day of the rally.
But following her first debate on the same stage as former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner who has held his lead in the polls and who clashes with Warren on progressive ideas like Medicare for All, she also talked about an elephant in the room: electability.
"Now I know what some of you are thinking. I do," she said after listing off her plans like a wealth tax on Americans with over $50 million, cancelling student debt for the majority of those who have it and implementing universal child care. "Whoa, too much. Too big. Too hard."
Though the crowd reacted back with shouts and boos to show support for her plans, Warren continued to address the question she repeatedly gets from voters on the trail and from the press: Can she win over moderate voters?
"I know this change is possible -- and I know it, because America has made big, structural change before," Warren said, connecting her speech back to "the day of the fire" and the change that was made in labor laws.
"And Democrats can’t win if we’re scared and looking backward,” she said. “We win when we meet the moment. We win when we stand up for what is right. We win when we get out there and fight. I am not afraid. And you can't be afraid, either.”
It was a necessary issue to address for voters like Patrica Pate-Lee, who stopped by the rally while on vacation from Atlanta.
"She knows the ropes, she doesn't take any crap. So you know, I admire that in her. I just hope if she gets to be the one, the contender, I hope she can hold her own against you-know-who," Pate-Lee said, referring to President Donald Trump.
But 2016 was a surprise to many voters, Pate-Lee said, which makes 2020 hard to predict. "He beat Hillary Clinton, anything can happen," she said.
For Lisa Trombitis, a mother from Morris County, New Jersey, it's easy to think of people who Warren will struggle to get her message out to. Her husband, a Republican, is not in favor of Warren.
"She's too liberal for my husband," Trombitis said, laughing. "But I think a lot of that might be the way that the Republicans try to paint her. That's why they need to listen to what she has to say."
The challenge she sees in communicating across party lines, Trombitis said, is more a reflection of the political climate than any of the candidates.
"[My husband] won't listen to what she has to say and that's the problem with a lot of the politics in our country right now," Trombitis said. "I think she's just got to keep pushing that message and I hope as things coalesce and we have fewer candidates then I think it'll be easier also."