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U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren Holds Lively, Crowded Town Hall at FHS

Feb 14, 2018 05:22PM ● By Pamela Johnson

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Keeping promises--to our veterans, to the Dreamers--was one of the important themes for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) at her February 10th Town Hall gathering at Franklin High School.

The event, which attracted over 1,100 people, was opened by Jeffrey Roy, the state representative for Franklin, who noted that the last time a sitting U.S. Senator visited Franklin was in the 1990s--Sen. Ted Kennedy.  After a brief appearance by Senator Jeff Merkeley (D-Oregon), who described Warren as "..the most amazing, energized direct advocate for the people," Warren spoke for roughly an hour about her top priorities--helping students with crushing loan debt, taking action on climate change, improving our health care system and making government work harder for all, not just the "thinner slice at the top," and then took questions from the audience via a lottery.

She praised portions of the federal budget that invest in child care and child-care workers; allocate funds to bring down student loan and establish a debt-forgiveness program for those working in the public sector, such as firefighters, police, etc.; provide limited funding for infrastructure repairs (not enough, according to Warren); provides additional funding for mental health and opoiod addiction treatments; and invests in research at National Institute of Health (NIH).

One promise Warren says must be kept is the one made to the Dreamers, undocumented individuals who were brought to this country as children by their parents. "We promised 800,000 people they could go to school, get a job, join the military, become the next wave of the American dream--Trump broke that promise and it's up to Congress to fix it." The priority, she says, is a budget that works for all and keeping America's promise to the Dreamers.

Warren has been criticized by Republicans for voting against the recent tax plan (locally there are several Republicans who plan to challenge her for the Senate seat) but she criticized the tax cuts for the 1% and huge corporations.

The questions that followed her talk were a microcosm of national issues. Newly married gay man Charlie Grafton asked Warren if she would support a non-discrimination in employment act. Congratulating him on his marriage, she said, "I'm already on it." Warren says she feels that Donald Trump is turning Americans against Americans and encourages people to speak out, noting that every time he and the Republicans remain silent, they just empower the bullies. She quoted Martin Luther King, who said "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."

Regarding Medicare for all and seeming lack of support for it among Democratic leadership, Warren noted that she co-sponsored a bill with Bernie Sanders proposing just that, but explained that the real energy of today's Democratic party is at the grassroots level. Several plans have been proposed, including one where employers can buy in to Medicare for their employees. She feels that the 3 important criteria are universal coverage for all, at the lowest cost and with lowest aggravation, and for Congress to not let competing ideas keep them from hammering out a consensus.

The event turned emotional when it was Stephanie Lambert's turn to ask a question. Lambert was there with her husband, Brian, both of whom had served in the U.S. military for over 20 years. Lambert's emotional pleas for help to get the health care she needs touched Warren as well as the audience. "The contract we signed with the military promised us medical care for life." Lambert spoke of losing coverage, of being put on hold, one time for 4 hours, when calling to try to get help. "We served our country and took care of you and now we need help," Lambert said, her voice cracking with emotion. Since she cannot get her medication, she is probably going to end up on disability, which she says, "will cost more than if they just fix me now."  Warren asked the Lamberts' to give one of her aides their contact information, and then spoke of her three brothers, all of whom served this country. One of them has cancer and finds himself facing similar health-care problems.

"If Donald Trump wants to honor our military, then honor our promises [to them]" she remarked, to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

Larry Grant of Wrentham had a 2-part question. When asked if she would work to eliminate super delegates [to the electoral college], she responded with a simple resounding "yes!"  The second question was a bit more complicated. Grant explained that his son, who is 30 years old, has been fighting a long battle with alcohol and drug addiction, describing the downward spiral that includes short-term rehabs and half-way houses, and often jail time. Grant drives by Wrentham State School (now called the Wrentham Developmental Center) and sees the buildings falling into disrepair. "Why can't we get some federal funds and set up a drug treatment facility and get these people some help?"

Warren agreed wholeheartedly that something must be done about the substance-abuse problem that the entire country is facing. She noted that Massachusetts lost over 2,000 people in 2016, plus however many are among "the walking dead," noting that children are losing their parents and grandparents are now raising babies.

Warren pointed to a 3-pronged approach that includes cutting down on the number of opioids in circulation (she co-sponsored a bill to dial back the number of pills to just what the patient needs so that unused painkillers are not sitting in medicine cabinets); putting more resources into rehab so that when someone is ready to change their life, they have a place to go; and investing in medical research into painkillers that don't require opioids, along with methods/medications to wean people off opioids and help them stay off.

Warren believes the best way to effect change is not for someone in Washington to decide how substance abuse treatment and prevention funding should be spent, but rather to make the funds available to local communities so that they can determine how to make the best use of it, which may or may not include turning Wrentham Developmental Center into a rehab facility.

When 16-year-old Allie Cervantes, a member of Medway High School Democrats, asked what she and her friends could do to make an impact in the community since they are not yet able to vote, Warren encouraged them to get out there, talk to people, and knock on doors, adding that she wanted to get a "selfie" with the girls.

Susan Smith of Franklin asked what was those not working in the public sector could do about student debt relief, Warren said, "We've got to take back the House and Senate." She explained that the U.S. has $1.4 trillion in student debt, and, because of the high interest rate, that figure is growing at the rate of $100 billion per year. "Young people can't buy homes, or start businesses, etc." she said. "Paying off debt is not the way to build a future." The Senator said that the very first bill she filed when she arrived in Washington was to reduce the student loan interest rate to what the big banks pay. 

Suzanne, also of Franklin, asked how to "best engage to help creative solutions make sense to others." Warren advised, "Join a group! Organize. We can't just talk to each other, we have to talk to people who don't agree with us. Try to make it personal, talk about values. And make a commitment--that's how we change the outside world and that's how we change ourselves."

Regarding the polarization in Washington, the Senator used hearing aids as an example of a small idea that gained traction on both sides of the aisle in both chambers, and when the bill was attached to a another bill, Trump signed it. Very soon, people will be able to buy hearing aids over the counter which will drive the exorbitant price down.

Still, Warren is optimistic: "If you can get away from the big ugly stuff, there's a real hunger on both sides to make life better for people. You just can't give up."
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