Elizabeth Warren Disappoints Progressives Again With Late Statement On Standing Rock [Opinion]

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is often touted as a leader of the progressive ranks of the Democratic Party establishment. She has undeniably done some good and important work for progressive causes, especially regarding speaking out on Wall Street reform and the struggle for living wages.

However, when her fans and supports often need her most, she’s nowhere to be found.

Let’s talk Bernie Sanders and Standing Rock.

When Elizabeth Warren refused to endorse Bernie Sanders as the Democratic candidate during the presidential primary, many progressives who had adored her for years were heartbroken. How could anyone who claims to be progressive not instantly endorse Sanders over the neoliberal (at best) Hillary Clinton?

After Clinton won the Democratic primary, “rabid” Sanders supporters “trashed” Elizabeth Warren on social media for not having endorsed him, as Forward Progressive put it. Sanders supporters were particularly upset by the fact that Sanders lost Massachusetts, Warren’s home state, by only 1.2 percent. Warren enjoys strong support in Massachusetts, and many believed she could have swung that state, and the trajectory of the primary, in Sanders’ favor.

Some progressives still defended her, however.

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks gave Warren the benefit of the doubt, saying she made a calculation early on that Clinton was going to win the Democratic primary and then the presidency, and that endorsing Sanders would diminish any leverage she may have had in pushing Clinton on progressive issues while she was in the White House.

In other words, Uygur is willing to grant that Warren believed she was making the better long-term decision for progressive causes by not endorsing Sanders. Uygur acknowledged both that he may have been giving Warren too much credit and that, at any rate, not endorsing Sanders was a miscalculation on her part because she could have possibly helped Sanders win the primary and because the Clintons respect power. In his view, the power play of endorsing Sanders would have actually earned Warren more leverage if Clinton were to take the White House.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s call Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to endorse Sanders a wash here. Let’s assume her heart was in the right place. Besides, everyone gets a pass now and then, especially if they have a good record in general.

Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline is a different story. For progressives, there is no gray area there. There is no long-term strategy when the endgame is literally right around the corner, both physically and temporally.

However, Warren failed to issue a statement on Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline until Sunday, the same day the Army Corps of Engineers refused to grant an easement permit for the completion of the pipeline. The timing of Warren’s statement seemed curious, as did the fact that she issued the statement via Facebook.

Critics said it was too little, too late.

“Thank you for finally speaking up after months of silence,” begins the top comment, by a Matthew Cooke, on Warren’s post.

“I’m glad to see that you finally decided to say something in support of their effort,” reads the next comment, which is by one Richard Skaff. “It sure would have been good if you and other politicians had stood up months ago in protest of the oil company and local sheriff.”

The comments continue in much the same vein, with more criticism of Warren’s inaction than support for her belated statement.

The Inquisitr ran an opinion piece a couple of weeks ago, in which they argued that “President Obama and the Democratic Party need to do something about the Dakota Access Pipeline right now if they want progressive votes in 2020.” Oddly enough, they didn’t even mention Elizabeth Warren when discussing Standing Rock in that piece. After months of her remaining silent on the issue, many seemed to have given up on her.

In a November article for Counter Punch, Michael J. Sainato notes that Warren had never publicly spoken out against the pipeline, at least not regarding giving an official statement.

“Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who has claimed to be Cherokee, said she opposes the pipeline when questioned by a supporter, but has avoided making any public comments on the issue,” Sainato writes.

Indeed, Warren has been targeted even by Native American activists for not taking a stand on issues that affect them.


In July Simon Moya-Smith, the culture editor of Indian Country Today Media Network, criticized Warren in a segment with CNN‘s Michael Smerconish.

His comments got a bit personal as he called Elizabeth Warren a “convenient Indian.”

When pushed on that statement, Moya-Smith elaborated.

“She’s convenient in the sense she’s claiming to be Native American, but she’s not addressing [Native] issues. I don’t hear her say anything about, for example, that Native Americans are statistically more likely to be killed by police. I don’t hear her talking about domestic violence [against] Native American women, 3.5 times more likely than any other women in any other demographic. We just don’t know where she’s at. She uses this heritage, then she’s gone.”

It was an awkward moment.

The fact that Warren remained silent on an issue like Standing Rock, which for many progressives is the most pressing social issue of the moment, raises serious questions about the relationship between progressives and the Democratic Party in the future. If you can’t speak out on Standing Rock — as Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, and only a handful of other Democrats have — then where are the party’s values when it comes to progressive issues?

The Democratic Party needs to decide what the lesson from the 2016 election was — the election in which they lost to Donald Trump. Should they keep dishing out more of the same, talking the talk but always coming up short when it comes to policy, moving more and more towards neoliberalism? Or do they want to actually work with progressives, and maybe even inspire them to come out and vote next time?

Standing Rock was a test that Elizabeth Warren needed to pass, for her own sake and for the sake of the party. She failed it miserably.

[Featured Image by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]