U.S. Senate candidate Shannon Liss-Riordan speaks to students at UMass

‘I think we need new leaders in Washington who have the courage and the guts to take on these big powerful institutions’

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(Collegian File Photo)

By Irina Costache, Assistant News Editor

U.S. Senate candidate Shannon Liss-Riordan spoke to students at the University of Massachusetts on Wednesday about her top issues for the upcoming 2020 race.

Liss-Riordan, who announced her candidacy in May and was the first challenger to Markey’s seat, has spent the past 20 years as a labor lawyer “fighting in the trenches for workers.” Prior to that, Liss-Riordan worked as an activist in the women’s movement.

She recalled working for former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug, a known feminist and civil rights advocate, during the infamous Anita Hill hearings, where hearings to confirm Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were reopened after Hill brought allegations of sexual harassment against Thomas. Liss-Riordan described this as a “turning point” in her life.

“I saw this all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, staring down in Anita Hill who was trying to come forward to speak the truth about an experience that happened to her … and then watching how she was just basically ignored,” Liss-Riordan said. “And so I took the opportunity to try to do something about it. I organized a conference on sexual harassment [and] brought together women’s groups from all around New York.”

During her work as a labor lawyer, Liss-Riordan gained the nickname of “Sledgehammer Shannon,” as she was “sending [a] powerful force down on corporate America on behalf of working people.” The candidate has fought in the courtroom on behalf of workers against corporations including Starbucks, FedEx, Uber, Amazon and American Airlines.

“I think that is the fight and power that we need in Washington today, because I think that working people are not getting a fair shake,” she said.

“There are plenty of senators…who’ve been part of corporate America, or who are career politicians,” she added. “I think we need someone who understands from the trenches what those battles would look like and how the laws need to be reshaped to make sure we have a fair playing field.”

Continuing to speak of the influential role of these corporate powers in Washington D.C., Liss-Riordan said, “I think we need new leaders in Washington who have the courage and the guts to take on these big powerful institutions. I think it is of paramount importance that we get corporate money out of our political system.”

“I am the only candidate in this race who can say that I’ve never taken a dime of corporate PAC money, and I never will.”

Liss-Riordan also touched on the intersection between women’s rights and workers’ rights, saying that “workers’ issues are women’s issues.”

“Women’s issues are very central to my work and what I’ve done,” she continued. “I fought against sex discrimination and against sexual harassment.”

During the question and answer period, Liss-Riordan addressed her recent signing of the People’s Pledge, a pledge that works to limit outside spending in the race. Liss-Riordan and Kennedy are the only two candidates in the race who have signed it thus far, to which she stated, “I’m disappointed that Sen. Markey hasn’t signed it. I hope he will.”

Also during the Q&A period, many attendees asked the candidate about her stance on other pressing national issues, during which she affirmed her support for common sense gun control and the repeal of the second amendment, loan forgiveness, single-payer health care and an overhaul of the current immigration system, among other issues.

The event was hosted by the UMass Democrats and is the first in what the group hopes to be a chain of talks with the candidates in the Massachusetts Senate race. According to Andrew Abramson, political director for the UMass Democrats and an economics and political science double major, the group is planning to host candidates Rep. Joe Kennedy and incumbent Sen. Ed Markey.

Timothy Ennis, president of the UMass Dems and a political science major, noted, “We have a competitive Senate race in Massachusetts for the first time since the 2012 Elizabeth Warren [and] Scott Brown race.”

He continued, “We really want to give students at UMass the ability to interact with the people that are going to be representing them in the town of Amherst, whether that’s meeting with our town elected officials statewide, or even on the national level, whether it be presidential candidates, or Senate candidates here in Massachusetts.”

Irina Costache can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @irinaacostache.