ATLANTA ― Chanting protesters drowned out Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) moments after the presidential candidate kicked off her speech Thursday at a rally at Clark Atlanta University, one of the oldest historically Black colleges and universities in the country.
“We want to be heard! We want to be heard!” the demonstrators, wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Powerful Parent Network,” shouted from a set of bleachers in the school’s gymnasium.
The group, reportedly funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the mega-wealthy family that founded Walmart, is a proponent of charter schools, which are privately operated but publicly funded.
Warren has been critical of such schools, and her proposed education plan calls for enacting a ban on for-profit charter schools and ending a federal program that gives money to some nonprofit ones. Charter schools would be subject to the same transparency and accountability rules as other public schools, according to Warren’s plan.
Fellow Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has also criticized charter schools.
Warren, standing on a stage near the center of the gym on Thursday, tried to continue speaking over the protesters but eventually fell silent after a few minutes. Several hundred people packed the gym around her. Many of them chanted back at the protesters, “Warren! Warren! Warren!” and “Let her speak!”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who endorsed Warren earlier this month and introduced her at the rally on Thursday, came back onstage to ask the protesters to let the senator continue her speech, which focused on Black washerwomen in the 1880s and their fight for workers’ rights.
“No one is here to quiet you, least not this Black woman,” Pressley, referring to herself, told the protesters. “The senator is here to talk about the contributions fighters like you have made to history.”
“In this moment, there are many people that do not know this story because we have been rendered as a historical footnote in history, so I’m going to appeal to you to not dishonor that history,” Pressley continued, adding that Warren would meet them after the rally to hear them out.
Some of the protesters then left the gym. Others stayed behind and refrained from chanting. A spokesperson for Warren’s campaign confirmed to HuffPost that the senator met with the group following the rally.
“I’m not against [Warren] ― I’m against her education plan,” Sarah Carpenter, the group’s executive director, told reporters outside the rally. “We’re going to blow social media up because ... Black women vote, y’all.”
In Warren’s remarks, which came a day after the fifth Democratic presidential debate, she told the story of Atlanta’s Black washerwomen, who formed a union in 1881 called The Washing Society, to demand better wages and rights.
Warren also acknowledged the recent death of Clark Atlanta student Alexis Crawford, whose roommate has been charged with her murder.
“My heart goes out to the Crawford family,” Warren said Thursday. “Alexis’ story happens every day across this country. We need to take meaningful action to protect women, especially women of color.”
The progressive icon drew major applause when speaking about her support for reparations, canceling student debt and investing in HBCUs across the country.
Zomia Echols, a student at Clark Atlanta, said Warren’s performance left her feeling energized. She said Warren and Sanders are her top two picks.
“The protesters today were very disrespectful people,” Echols, 20, told HuffPost. “If you don’t support her, why would you come in the first place? That really triggered me a lot.”
Warren handled the situation well though, she said.
“Really classy. I like that,” Echols said. “She let them do what they had to do.”
HuffPost’s Rebecca Klein contributed reporting.