Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during the National Action Network convention in New York Friday. (Seth Wenig/AP)
Opinion writer

Over three days a steady stream of presidential candidates — including Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — have appeared at the convention of the National Action Network, headed by Rev. Al Sharpton, to make their case. It was obvious the candidates had been advised to come with proposals that would interest African Americans.

Buttigieg came with a four-point plan on entrepreneurship, education, health and justice. He also pledged to abolish the death penalty.

Harris came with a plan for economic justice (a $500-per-month tax credit for any family earning less than $100,000), housing justice (a tax credit for those who have to spend more than 30 percent of their salary on rent and utilities), education justice (her plan to massively increase teachers’ pay), and justice plain and simple (doubling the size of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, enforcing consent degrees, focusing on domestic white nationalist terror). She was relaxed and conversational, with more data and specificity than she usually deploys. It suit her well.

And then there was Warren, who was greeted as a rock star and supercharged the audience. As those who care about policy know, she’s got a bucketful of proposals — on Big Tech, on taxes, on housing, on ethics and more. On Friday, however, she did something smart, namely focus largely on one topic with depth, data and personal biography.

Her topic was affordable child care. The issue affects African Americans on both ends: Its lack of availability affects black parents disproportionately, and child-care workers, horribly underpaid, are disproportionately nonwhite. Warren made child care personal, telling of her own struggles and the times her education and career were nearly derailed.

She shared how, in desperation and in fear of having to quit teaching for lack of child care, she called her Aunt Bee and began to sob. “Then Aunt Bee said 11 words that changed my life forever. ‘I can’t get there tomorrow, but I can come on Thursday,‘” she said to warm applause and knowing laughter. “Two days later, she arrived at the airport with seven suitcases and a Pekingese named Buddy — and she stayed for 16 years.”

She added, “Now, if every working mom in the country had an Aunt Bee, we’d all be good. But that’s not the case. I know how lucky I was to have Aunt Bee save the day. But think about all the moms in America who don’t have an Aunt Bee.”

And with that she had the audience in the palm of her hand. She spelled out her comprehensive plan (expanding the existing health-care system, increasing the pay of child-care workers), paid for with money to spare by a wealth tax (2 percent on net worth over $50 million).

Throughout, she demonstrated that she knew African Americans faced the highest hurdles and would benefit the most from her plan. (“It’s the legacy of decades of systemic discrimination against black women. Discrimination in pay. Discrimination in housing. Discrimination in finance. Discrimination in health care,” she said. “Pile all that together, then make high-quality child care expensive and hard to find, and it’s little wonder that child care — or the lack of good child care — holds back one generation after another in communities of color.”)

Toward the end she veered into a brief discussion of voter suppression. “They’ll fight anyone who tries to stand up and push back,” she said of Republicans’ tactics. “They’ll do whatever it takes to stop a full and fair count. Because they know that there’s more that unites us than divides us.” She proposed a new amendment guaranteeing the right to vote and have votes counted.

She ended with a powerful argument to end the filibuster.

Last year the Senate passed a bill that would make lynching a federal crime. Last year. In 2018. Do you know when the first bill to make lynching a federal crime was introduced? 1918. One hundred years ago.

And it nearly became the law back then. It passed the House in 1922. But it got killed in the Senate ― by a filibuster. And then it got killed again. And again. And again. More than 200 times. An entire century of obstruction because a small group of racists stopped the entire nation from doing what was right.

For generations, the filibuster was used as a tool to block progress on racial justice. And in recent years, it’s been used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything. . . .

We can’t sit around for 100 years while the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful, and everyone else falls further and further behind. We can’t sit around for 100 years while climate change destroys our planet, while corruption pervades every nook and cranny of Washington, and while too much of a child’s fate in life still rests on the color of their skin.

The crowd was ecstatic.

Warren showed us a few things. First, focusing in depth on one or two plans with personal stories is much more effective than reeling off a new, complex plan every week. She certainly can connect with African American voters; she does that best by sharing her own life. And finally, her fiery speech — promising to fight and sparing no criticism of Republican racism — lit up the crowd. This is not the emotion of empty platitudes or of personal venom. It’s the voice of righteous indignation. And, boy, is it effective.

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