Sunday, October 14, 2012

169: The Self-Empowered Woman: Elizabeth Warren

Dear Followers,

The picture above was taken on September 5th at this year's Democratic National Convention, when Elizabeth Warren spoke just before Bill Clinton delivered his 48-minute speech. She told the audience that this was the first National Convention she had ever attended, and that she'd never dreamed that she would be the "opening act" for President Clinton (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

Elizabeth Warren is receiving a lot of attention these days because she is in the middle of a tight Massachusetts Senatorial campaign against Senator Scott Brown. She hopes to unseat him for the office that was held for so many years by Senator Ted Kennedy.

Warren was actually born in Oklahoma, and during her speech she spoke poignantly of her family's life "on the ragged edges of the middle class." She had three older brothers, and her family never seemed to enjoy any sense of financial security. Her father had been a self-taught pilot who worked as a civilian instructor during World War II, but after the war he lost his life savings to a business partner in a car dealership.

 The bad luck continued and when Elizabeth was twelve years old, her father (who then worked as a janitor) had a heart attack, which changed everything--for the worse--for the entire family. It's a story--much like Starbucks' Howard Schultz's life story--about how one unexpected medical event can have a long-lasting negative ripple effect on an otherwise productive (if struggling) family.

Warren's father was unable to work the same hours he had before the heart attack, so his salary was cut (1: No Paternal Safety Net). When the medical bills were added to his pay cut, the family lost its air-conditioned bronze Oldsmobile, used an old off-white Studebaker instead, and Warren's mother became a telephone catalogue order employee at Sears. Those (and other) sudden lifestyle changes were the only way for them to hold onto the family home.

Warren's family (like most of their community) was deeply religious, and her mother taught Sunday school at the local Methodist Church (3: Belief In The Unbelievable).

To this day, Warren remembers the discomfort she felt because her family was so much less financially secure than her classmates'. That sense of financial worry (i.e., the fear of not having enough) left a deep impact on her value system. As one observer noted, " has, in her mind, always been much more than dollar bills. It has been shorthand for security, acceptance, and family stability" (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).

Fortunately, Warren managed to channel her energies into scholastic achievement, and she even skipped sixth grade (10: The Critic Within), which made her a year younger then her other classmates. She brought the same sense of discipline and achievement to the debate team, and by the age of 16 had been named "Oklahoma's top high-school debater." Her hard work paid off when she won a full debate-team scholarship to George Washington University.

She only attended GWU for two years before marrying, and transferring (with her husband) to the University of Houston. By 1970 she had graduated with a degree in speech pathology and audiology, and worked with children with disabilities. The next move was to New Jersey (for her husband's work), and a two-year stint as a stay-at-home mom. In 1976 she received a J.D. from Rutgers School of Law, Newark, and then she began to teach law. She and Jim Warren--the parents of Amelia and Alexander--divorced in 1978 (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

In 1980, Elizabeth married Harvard Law professor Bruce Mann, and continued teaching at various universities. She has lived in (or been on the faculty of schools in) Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Washington, DC (14: Selective Disassociation).

Warren has devoted her professional career to the concept of economic inclusion, and has written several books on the subject as well as serving on a variety of commissions that focus on financial issues (7: Magnificent Obsession). Her commitment to protecting consumers has ruffled feathers among financial institutions and several Republican members of Congress who feel that she is engaging in "class warfare" (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). Below is an excerpt from her most famous pro-middle class speech:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own--nobody....You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless--keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

Looking forward to your comments...

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