Warren presents ambitious plans to voters in rapidly changing small-town Iowa
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, left, stands with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., after introducing her during a campaign event, Jan. 12, 2020, in Marshalltown, Iowa. | Patrick Semansky / AP

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa—”When you see government working great for those with money and not working much for anyone else, that is corruption pure and simple,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren at a packed campaign event here on Jan. 12, with the Iowa Caucuses looming Feb. 3. The Caucuses are the first in a string of state contests that will choose the Democratic nominee for president.

“We’re not going to be able to change this by nibbling around the edges, it’s going to take big structural change. And I have a plan for that!” Warren laid out her big plans for everything from taxing the rich to the climate crisis.

Julián Castro, who endorsed Warren after ending his presidential campaign, joined her in Marshalltown. In his introduction, he described how both rose from similar working-class roots, eventually serving in government and running for the presidency.

Julián Castro speaks at the event for Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Marshalltown, Iowa on Jan. 12. Castro recently ended his own campaign for the Democratic nomination and endorsed Warren. | John Bachtell / PW

Castro expressed his political kinship with Warren and recalled working with her as HUD Secretary during the Obama administration. “She meant business every time we met. I’m a proud Democrat. But she wasn’t afraid to push us as Democrats, because it was the people she was concerned about.”

Marshalltown is a destination for all the Democratic candidates. This town of 27,000 residents in Northern Iowa rises amid endless cornfields and gently rolling hills covered in light snow. Economic life revolves around agriculture, manufacturing, and meatpacking.

It was here in 2006 that over 100 undocumented workers, mostly from Mexico, were rounded up during an ICE raid at the Swift & Co. meat processing plant. The workers, many still in clothes splattered in blood, were detained and later deported.

Once a nearly all-white community, today Latinos make up almost a third of Marshalltown and 70% of kindergarten students. Statewide, the Latino share of the population is 6% and growing. This transition to diversity has been bumpy, and anti-immigrant attitudes ripple through this community along with acts of solidarity and an embrace of increasing diversity.

Trump campaigned here in early 2016, appealing to anti-immigrant sentiments alongside disgraced former Maricopa Co. Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Warren and other Democratic candidates are appealing for unity. Her stance on immigration reform mirrors that of Castro, who championed the most progressive position of any candidate, which is one reason why he supports her.

“Let’s start by expanding legal immigration,” said Warren. “People who are here to stay, who are part of our families and neighborhoods, our schools, our friends. Dreamers and aunties and uncles and friends and people who came to work in agriculture and stayed, all need a pathway to citizenship. And I will bring it.”

Warren called for ending the Trump-made crisis at the border, including the destabilization of Central American governments and cuts in aid. “On day one, I will close down for-profit detention centers, and issue orders to ICE and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) to treat people with respect,” she said

As she does with immigration, Warren seamlessly integrates racial justice into every answer. For example, on criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization, she said, “African Americans and whites use marijuana at the same rates. But African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested. It is one more example of a criminal justice system that has a race edge right through the middle. It is time to legalize marijuana and stop this.” She called for the release and record expungement of all those incarcerated with marijuana convictions.

Recently, Warren issued a platform on disability rights. The scope and scale of her plan stunned many disability advocates, including those involved in drafting it. Among the many aspects it addresses are the encounters people with disabilities have with the police and how disability and racial justice intersect.

“Typically, if you look at who people focus on when it comes to disability in politics, it’s a disabled white man or white woman,” said Vilissa Thompson of Ramp Your Voice and a member of Warren’s disability rights working group.

Warren called for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and updating it to include dealing with the crisis of abuse and murder of Native women. She also called for adding LGBTQ equality and ending the placement of trans women into prisons where they are at risk of assault.

Attending the rally were Kathy Byrnes and Ed Fallon of the environmental group Bold Iowa. Byrnes and Fallon, a former lawmaker and host of the Fallon Forum, have committed to Tom Steyer, who they think has the best approach to climate issues. If Steyer doesn’t make the 15% support threshold each candidate needs, Fallon will switch his support Sanders. But Byrnes is wavering between Warren and Sanders.

“We still want to know if she would be willing not to wait until she tackles corporate corruption before she tackles the climate crisis. We need to hear it will be a day-one climate emergency,” Byrnes told People’s World.

Warren’s plan has been lauded by the Sunrise Movement even though Sanders won the group’s coveted endorsement. “What scares me the most is every time scientists collect more data, the problem is worse than we thought, and we have less time than we thought. We cannot overstate the urgency of the moment,” said Warren.

“Think of the fires, the droughts, the floods. But toxic waste dumps and polluting factories have been placed next to communities of color. We have to take responsibility as Americans to clean up the places we collectively destroyed and make sure environmental justice is a central part of this,” said Warren, whose plan commits $1 trillion to clean up efforts.

Warren is an original sponsor of the Green New Deal but also advocates a Blue New Deal to deal with the crisis of the oceans and pledges to aggressively use executive orders to do so.

Warren’s plan also calls for a government-supported green manufacturing plan backed by research and technological development. It calls for making new offices, homes, automobiles, light trucks, and electricity production all carbon neutral by 2035 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the latest Des Moines Register poll, Sen. Elizabeth Warren narrowly trails Sen. Bernie Sanders, followed closely behind by former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden, making for a wide-open race.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to members of the press after a campaign event in Marshalltown, Iowa. | John Bachtell / AP

Many who came to hear Warren are still undecided. Forty-five percent of caucus-goers who have a top choice say they could change their minds. Another third are either undecided or support a candidate who doesn’t meet the threshold and will thus need to choose another candidate.

Barbara Town from Newton County is one of those undecided voters. She is “trying to narrow down who I’m voting for,” and that’s between Warren and Biden. “I’m hoping to hear how they will turn things around after (Trump) has destroyed and reversed a lot of things. I hope they can bring people together and get this country back on track.”

Town said she was looking for a candidate that was not only good on the issues, but one she felt could defeat Trump. “Elizabeth Warren, being a woman and a thinker, I believe she can out-think (Trump), and she won’t back down. Neither will Biden.”

With the divisive media controversy about a supposed disagreement between Warren and Sanders over electability and gender, the impact of sexism on the race is getting another look. The elephant in the room for some voters in Marshalltown is whether or not a woman can be elected president. It’s a question many voters are weighing, and Warren it took head-on during the Jan. 14 Democratic Debate at Drake University.

Warren pointed out the success both she and Sen. Amy Klobucher, D-Minn., have had running for office, along with the record number of women elected to Congress in 2018. “The real danger we face as Democrats is picking a candidate who can’t pull our party together or someone who takes for granted big parts of the Democratic constituency. We need a candidate who will excite all parts of the Democratic Party, bring everyone in, and give every Democrat a place to believe in. That’s my plan, and that is why I’m going to win.” she said.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.