Liberal sweetheart and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will deliver the keynote address to an expected crowd of 10,000 Sunday at the Detroit Branch NAACP’s 62nd annual Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner at the Cobo Center.
It will be Warren’s first time in Michigan since she visited in 2014 to speak at the Netroots Nation conference and campaign for Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, who was running to succeed Carl Levin.
The former Harvard law professor’s academic career brought her to Michigan when she served as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School in the 1980s.
Warren, 67, began touring this week to promote her 11th book, “This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class,” though her appearance in Detroit is separate from that tour, a spokeswoman said.
Some observers have said the book is a soft launch for Warren’s presidential campaign to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in 2020, but in interviews this week Warren sidestepped questions about whether she’d run.
Appearing Tuesday on “The Tonight Show,” Warren told host Jimmy Fallon that she and the Democrats plan to keep up their resistance to Trump. “We’ve got to be in this fight. We cannot lay down and play dead,” she said. “We’ve got to keep the focus on what he actually does to working families across the country ... because that’s what he’s got to be held accountable for.”
That spirit is in part what prompted organizers of the Fight For Freedom Dinner to invite Warren to speak. They cited her record of speaking out in Congress as an advocate for consumer protection, financial oversight, aging and labor issues.
She “is a senator without a need for any kind of introduction,” said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP branch.
“She is a firebrand. She is a people’s person. She’s concerned about all the things we are concerned about: Health care, education, finance, foreign policy, so she is the right person for this task at the right time.”
Earlier this year, the Republican-led Senate voted to silence Warren after she began reading aloud on the Senate floor a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, widow of civil-rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., opposing the nomination of Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship.
King in the letter claimed Sessions had used his position as a federal prosecutor to intimidate African-American citizens.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell interrupted Warren, saying she had violated rules against impugning other members of the chamber. Sessions, until his confirmation as attorney general, was a Republican senator representing Alabama.
Anthony said the episode cemented Warren’s status as a fighter. “And she did not sit down, so we want to lift her up, because her spirit has lifted her up,” he said.
The Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner is the largest fundraising event for the Detroit branch and helps support initiatives like fighting voter suppression, Anthony said.
While in town, Warren will attend two campaign fundraisers: A joint fundraiser with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, at Cobo Center and another at Café Muse in Royal Oak. Both Warren and Stabenow are up for re-election next year, and Warren raised $5 million in the first quarter of 2017 for a total $9.2 million in the bank.
Also at Sunday’s dinner, the NAACP branch will honor U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, with its James Weldon Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award.
Like Warren, Waters is a frequent critic of Trump and his Cabinet. She is being recognized for her decades of work on issues ranging from international affairs to drug trafficking, Anthony said.
“Maxine has been a voice crying in the wilderness. She takes no prisoners. She has just been a champion,” he said.
Women attending the dinner have been encouraged to wear white in a nod to the suffragette movement.
The branch also plans to honor Sally Yates, the former acting U.S. attorney general. Trump fired Yates in January after she ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend his initial travel order temporarily suspending the U.S. refugee program and banning entry to the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.
Also receiving awards at the dinner are Jane C. Garcia, board chair at the Latin American for Social and Economic Development (LASED); Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, vice president for the Detroit Public Schools Community District School Board; Jared Johnson, president of the Eastern Michigan University Black Student Union; and Darius Anthony, who leads the college chapter with the EMU NAACP.
Organizers also plan a special tribute to women performed by the Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner Youth Entertainment Corp.
“As we looked at the political landscape, where we are and the contributions women have made, we thought this would be a great moment to honor them,” said Donnell White, the branch’s executive director.
The Detroit Branch NAACP is partnering with groups to bring about 200 disadvantaged women to the event.