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.”
Pressley believes that: