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 …
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 2015, EMIILY’s List presented Pressley, who believes that there should be no room in the Democratic Party for anyone who opposes abortion rights, with its Rising Star Award.
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:
- characterized the disproportionate number of incarcerated blacks in the U.S. as a manifestation of “modern day slavery”;
- advocated a plan that would allow all students to attend public colleges and universities free of charge, with taxpayers picking up the full tuition tab;
- pushed for the passage of paid family leave legislation for employees needing to take extended time off from work in order to help an ailing family member;
- called for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hour;
- derided the 2017 Republican tax-cut bill as a measure that unfairly gave tax breaks to the highest earners and corporations;
- condemned President Donald Trump’s proposed barrier along America’s southern border as “Trump’s hate wall”;
- advocated the defunding of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), on grounds that it represented an “existential threat” to “immigrant communities”; and
- spoke out in favor of both the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would establish a path-to-citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, and former President Barack Obama’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) program, which had been enacted via a 2012 executive action protecting hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens from deportation.
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.
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.”
Pressley believes that:
- the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) should serve as a stepping stone toward the eventual implementation of a government-run healthcare system, which Pressley describes as “Medicare For All”;
- all employers, public and private, should be legally required to implement affirmative-action hiring and promotion policies that give preference to nonwhites and women, as compensation for historical injustices;
- U.S. defense spending should be scaled back dramatically;
- wealthy people should be required to pay much higher tax rates than those who earn less;
- capital punishment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and is never justified, under any circumstances;
- federal spending on infrastructure projects and job programs is crucial to the success of any economic recovery plan; and
- the nationalization of failing banks and companies is more appropriate than government bailouts on their behalf.
Further Reading: “Ayanna Pressley” (Ballotpedia.org, Votesmart.org, Keywiki.org, OnTheIssues.org); “‘Activism Is No Longer an Option’: Could Ayanna Pressley Be the Next Progressive Upset?” (Rewire News, 8-31-2018, re: Pressley’s abortion stance and her Equity Agenda); “Emerging Border Security Deal Will Be First Big Test of Democratic Unity” (Roll Call, 2-8-2019, re: Pressley’s quote on DHS funding); “Off the Rails: In Wild Interview, Freshman Democrat Rep. Ayanna Pressley Pushes for Impeachment” (Breitbart.com, 2-22-2019); Ayanna Pressley’s Positions on Key Issues (OnTheIssues.org); “Rep. Pressley Introduces Amendment to Lower Voting Age” (3-6-2019).