Ayanna Pressley was born on February 3, 1974 in Chicago, where her mother was a tenants’ rights advocate with the Urban League. After attending Boston University from 1992-94, Miss Pressley worked as a senior aide for Democrat Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, and then as political director for Senator John Kerry. She subsequently went on to serve in leadership positions with groups like the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, Young Professionals Preventing Child Abuse, and the Children’s Trust Fund. She was also a mentor with the Young Black Women’s Society and the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. Moreover, Pressley became a member of the NAACP and sat on the boards of Emerge Massachusetts (a state affiliate of Emerge America) and the UMass Boston Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, among others.
In 2009 Pressley was elected as an at-large representative on the Boston City Council, a post she went on to hold for 9 years.
In 2011 she keynoted the launch event of Women’s Pipeline for Change, an organization that seeks to bring more “women of color” to positions of “public leadership in Massachusetts.”
In 2018 Pressley ran for Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Endorsed by the Boston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and by Justice Democrats, her campaign promoted a so-called “Equity Agenda,” which characterized income disparities between blacks and whites in her district as “the legacy of decades of policies that have hardened systemic racism, increased income inequality, and advantaged the affluent.” In an effort to address the issue of racism, Pressley spoke out in support of the National Football League players who had chosen to kneel during the playing of the pre-game national anthem as a gesture of protest against police brutality and racial injustice allegedly aimed at African Americans. “It is necessary that we are disruptive right now and making people feel uncomfortable,” said Pressley.
Also during her congressional campaign, Pressley:
In June 2018, Pressley announced her support for defunding the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, in light of what she viewed as the agency’s central role in enforcing immigration policies that were deeply destructive. Said the congresswoman in a statement: “Our immigration system is fundamentally broken and ICE’s role in supporting the existing system – including separating families seeking refuge in the United States and conducting indiscriminate deportation raids in our communities – is creating an atmosphere of toxic fear and mistrust in immigrant communities…. [W]e must remove the existential threat facing immigrant communities by defunding ICE … [and its] draconian enforcement methods.” Pressley further condemned “the deplorable conditions in ICE detention facilities.”
In the September 2018 Democratic primary, Pressley defeated ten-term incumbent Michael Capuano by a margin of 58.6% to 41.4%. Two months later, she ran unopposed in the general election. After taking her oath of office in January 2019, Pressley joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Rep. Pressley was quick to announce her support for fellow congressional freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s “Green New Deal,” environmental legislation designed to rapidly eliminate all fossil-fuel use from the U.S. economy, create a basic income program and a federal “living-wage” jobs guarantee, implement a government-run health care system, and replace free-market capitalism with a socialist economic framework.
At a February 2019 press conference organized by groups like MoveOn.org, Indivisible, United We Dream, and CASA, Pressley joined Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib in demanding cuts to federal funding for the Department of Homeland Security. “We are here to draw a line in the sand, in the name of love and in the name of justice,” said Pressley. “It is clear that we must reduce and not increase funds for the DHS.”
In an interview with Boston Public Radio that same month, Pressley argued that President Trump should be impeached immediately because “the occupant of the White House … has lost all moral authority and the high ground, and certainly it appears there could be evidence of obstruction of justice and other things.”
In February 2019 as well, Pressley’s husband, Conan Harris, paid off a $17,430 government lien against him for unpaid federal taxes during 2014-16.
In March 2019, Pressley proposed the so-called “For The People Act,” an amendment advocating that the legal minimum voting age be reduced from 18 to 16. “Across this nation,” said Pressley in a statement explaining her rationale, “young people are leading the way – from gun violence, to climate change, to the future of work – they are organizing, mobilizing, and calling us to action…. I believe that those who will inherit the nation we design here in Congress by virtue of our policies and authority should have a say in who represents them.”
Speaking at a Netroots Nation convention in July 2019, Pressley exhorted minorities to embrace group-think and identity politics: “[W]e don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice.” At the same event, Pressley refused to refer to Donald Trump as the president, saying: “I will always refer to him as the occupant.”
After a self-identified Antifa activist attempted to carry out a terror attack against an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Tacoma, Washington on July 13, 2019, a reporter from Rebel Media repeatedly asked Pressley, who had often characterized ICE’s treatment of migrants as brutal, if she planned to condemn the incident. For nearly two minutes, Pressley ignored the questions, refused to answer, and walked away as the reporter followed her in hopes of getting a response. (See video.)
During an interview with MSNBC host Al Sharpton on March 14, 2020 — when many Americans had grown highly concerned about a deadly outbreak of contagious coronavirus — Pressley said that she and other congressional Democrats were lobbying the Bureau of Prisons to consider offering “compassionate” releases to many convicts, so as to protect them from contracting the virus:
“[W]hen we are talking about our most vulnerable, our low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness, our seniors and that we are also including the incarcerated men and women, who are amongst one of the most vulnerable populations, and given the crowding and overpopulating in our prisons for a confluence of other reasons we won’t get into in this interview, Reverend, but you are certainly well aware of, are an ecosystem and a petri dish for the spreading of this pandemic, which is why I partnered with my colleagues, Representatives [Nydia] Velázquez, [Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez, and [Rashida] Tlaib, to lobby the Bureau of Prisons [BOP] to use their full power to communicate guidance for how we will contain and mitigate this epidemic behind the wall…. I think now would be the time to commute some sentences, to exact clemency and to take care of our most our vulnerable. Ten percent of those incarcerated are over the age of 60 and already have an underlying condition. We should be using compassionate release.”
In the aftermath of the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd — a black man who had died after being abused by a white police officer in Minneapolis — a number of U.S. cities were overrun by violent riots in which Antifa and Black Lives Matter played a major role. One outgrowth of the chaos was a movement calling for the defunding of police forces in cities across the United States. On June 25, 2020, Pressley told TIME magazine that she supported efforts to defund police departments nationwide and to pay blacks a “refund” and “true reparations.” “This is about investment in communities,” she added. “There’s a reason why the Congressional Black Caucus submits an alternative budget every year. Because we know that our communities have been historically under resourced, underinvested in and divested [from].” Asserting that police “needn’t play a role in every part of society,” Pressley argued that communities should invest more money in social workers, counselors, and school nurses instead.
That same day (June 25), Pressley delivered a speech from the floor of the House of Representatives in which she said that the Black Lives Matter movement was a mandate from the people, and that it was “time” for Americans to “pay us [blacks] what you owe us.” Added the congresswoman:
“I rise today on behalf of every Black family that has been robbed of a child. On behalf of every family member that has been forced to see their loved one lynched on national television. Driving while Black. Jogging while Black. Sleeping while Black. We have been criminalized for the very way we show up in the world. Under the harsh gaze of far too many, my Black body is seen as a threat, always considered armed.
“Centuries of institutionalized oppression will not be undone overnight, for racism in America is as structural as the marble pillars of this very institution. With the power of the pen we must legislate accountability, dismantle these systems, and move in the direction of justice and healing…. Our Black skin is not a crime, it is the beautiful robe of nation builders.”
In July 2020, Pressley and fellow congresswoman Rashida Tlaib partnered with the Movement for Black Lives — a coalition closely tied to the Black Lives Matter movement — in promoting the BREATHE Act, a bill that called for:
While Democrat-led American cities nationwide were being overrun by violent riots sparked by the aforementioned May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd — riots in which Antifa and Black Lives Matter played a major role — Pressley said: “This is as much about public outcry, organizing and mobilizing and applying pressure, so that this GOP-led Senate and these governors that continue to carry water for this administration, putting American people in harm’s way, turning a deaf ear to the needs of our families and our communities – hold them accountable. Make the phone calls, send the emails, show up. You know, there needs to be unrest in the streets for as long as there’s unrest in our lives.”
In a December 20, 2020 appearance on CNN’s Inside Politics, Pressley, who a day earlier had been among the very first Americans to receive a coronavirus vaccine, pushed for the incarcerated to also be prioritized as recipients. Said the congresswoman: “I did have the vaccine administered yesterday in order to maintain the continuity of government, but also because I live with, like millions of Americans, two preexisting conditions, and doing my part, both to keep myself safe so that I can continue to do my job to fight for my district and the American people, keeping my family safe, but also stopping the spread of this virus which has raged out of control, which has everything to do with the willful criminality of Donald Trump…. I’m going to continue to fight for our most vulnerable communities who have been disproportionally impacted by the virus, for our health care workers, for our essential workers, for our incarcerated men and women to be prioritized in the distribution of the vaccine.”
On January 14, 2021, Pressley took issue with President-elect Joe Biden‘s recent call for a return to a brand of normalcy which he described as “the way of democracy — of lawfulness, and of respect — respect for each other, and for our nation.” “There will be no reset button. No return to normal,” Pressley tweeted. “The status quo was unjust in the first place.”
In January 2021 as well, Pressley was one of dozens of elected Democrats who signed a letter to both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, recommending that in any future coronavirus relief proposals, the federal government should be required to issue recurring payments not only to American citizens, but also to “all immigrant workers, refugees, and their families.” “Recurring direct payments until the economy recovers will help ensure that people can meet their basic needs, provide racially equitable solutions, and shorten the length of the recession,” said the letter.
Pressley revisited this theme in a February 11, 2021 tweet in which she exhorted fellow congressional Democrats to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt and provide $2,000 monthly payments to American citizens, non-citizens, and illegal aliens alike in the next coronavirus relief package: “We can cancel at least $50K in student debt right now and send families, including our immigrant neighbors, $2,000 survival checks a month until this crisis is over. Let’s make it happen.”
During a February 7, 2021 appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Pressley spoke about the infamous January 6, 2021 incident where several hundred people claiming to be Trump supporters had temporarily occupied the Capitol building to protest what they viewed as a stolen presidential election. The fact that a number of black custodial workers had been subsequently tasked with cleaning up what Pressley called the “mess left by that violent white supremacist mob,” was, in her words, “a metaphor for America”:
“He [Trump] will forever be the twice impeached president by the Democratic majority, and now the Senate must hold Donald Trump accountable but also to bar him from running for public office ever again. We know that he had accomplices who told on themselves in broad daylight. They aided and abetted this insurrection by perpetuating this big lie, and they must be expelled. Then we must continue investigating so that any individuals or agencies that enable this insurrection are taken into account.
“Let me say this, for those who continue to feign great surprise about what happened on January 6, as a black woman, to be barricaded in my office using office furniture and water bottles, on the ground, in the dark, that terror, those moments of terror is familiar in a deep and ancestral way for me. I want us to do everything to ensure that a breach like this never occurs at the Capitol. I want us to address the evil and scourge of white supremacy in this nation. This is not only about securing the Capitol to ensure that members and our staffs and custodial staff, and food service are safe in the Capitol. It is that we’re safe in America. And one of the images I’m haunted by is the black custodial staff cleaning up the mess left by that violent white supremacist mob. That is a metaphor for America. We have been cleaning up after violent white supremacist mobs for generations, and it must end.”
On February 18, 2021, Pressley introduced a resolution calling for a federal job guarantee. Said the congresswoman: “It’s time to establish a legal right to a job for all people in America. For years, we have legislated hate, harm and injustice in this country. It’s long past time to pursue bold, intentional policies that affirm equity and recognize the dignity and humanity of all people. A federal job guarantee is an important investment in the American people, our communities, and an equitable economy that works for all. It affirms the right to meaningful, dignified work and a living wage. I’m proud to build upon and honor the legacy and work of generations of Black women Civil Rights leaders by introducing this historic resolution.”
In a tweet which she posted four days later, Pressley said: “A reliable job. A living wage. A federal job guarantee lays the foundation for economic justice & freedom.” The jobs advocated by Pressley would pay at least $15 per hour as a starting wage and would also include health insurance, paid sick days, paid family medical leave, paid vacation time, and retirement benefits.
Pressley was outraged by an April 11, 2021 incident where a white female police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota accidentally shot and killed a young black man named Daunte Wright, who was resisting arrest and attempting to flee. Suggesting that police forces should be abolished altogether because they were too racist and corrupt to reform, the congresswoman tweeted: “From slave patrols to traffic stops. We can’t reform this.”
When Israel launched a military bombing attack targeting infrastructure strongholds of Gaza-based Hamas terrorists who had recently fired nearly 2,000 Iranian-made missiles into the Jewish state, Pressley went to the House of Representatives’ floor on May 13, 2021 and said: “Palestinians are being told the same thing as black folks in America: ‘There is no acceptable form of resistance.’ […] The pain, trauma, and terror that Palestinians are facing is not just a result of this week’s escalation, but the consequence of years of military occupation. […] We cannot remain silent when our government sends $3.8 billion of military aid to Israel that is used to demolish Palestinian homes, imprison Palestinian children, and displace Palestinian families. A budget is a reflection of our values. I’m committed to ensuring that our government does not fund state violence in any form, anywhere.”
In mid-May 2021, Pressley was one of 35 House Democrats (led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) who wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Tae Johnson, demanding changes to immigration policies allegedly rooted in America’s “discriminatory legal system.” According to the 35 legislators, an interim enforcement memo issued by ICE: (a) did “not adequately protect the liberty interests of asylum seekers,” and (b) unjustifiably presumed that illegal migrants who had been convicted of aggravated felonies should necessarily be regarded as “border security and enforcement and removal priorit[ies].” “This blanket presumption will effectively mean detaining an untold number of people who have fled persecution,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter further claimed that the “definition of an aggravated felony” was nothing more than a “relic of the racist War on Drugs.” “‘Aggravated felonies’ as a category have been designed to ensure that people have as few rights as possible to fight detention and deportation,” wrote Pressley and her colleagues. “Moreover, we are concerned that the memorandum only requires ICE officers have a ‘good faith belief’ that someone has an aggravated felony conviction even while acknowledging that such a determination is ‘a complex question.’” The lawmakers also claimed that the ICE memo “invites racial profiling” by designating migrants convicted of participating in gang activities as “public safety enforcement and removal priorit[ies].” “We are in a moment of racial reckoning in this country, with communities across the country calling for an end to mass incarceration and racist policing,” the letter said. “It is time to end the carceral approach to immigration, which relies on these same flawed systems.”
Pressley believes that: