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 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 a June 25, 2020 speech she delivered from the floor of the House of Representatives, Pressley 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.”
Later that same day, Pressley told TIME 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.
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:
- defunding police departments nationwide;
- abolishing the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and the Customs & Border Protection (CBP) agency
- decriminalizing illegal border entry by foreign nationals into the United States
- eliminating state gang databases
- establishing a commission to design a reparations plan for African Americans
- “enfranchising all formerly and presently incarcerated people in federal elections”
- drastically reducing the U.S. Department of Defense budget
- “incentivizing States to pass laws that expand voting access”
- “allowing local and State resident voting for undocumented people”
- ensuring “full and free access” to a “lifetime of education for undocumented people”
- creating a jobs program to aid the “most economically disadvantaged individuals, including groups that disproportionately include Black cis- and trans women, formerly incarcerated people, undocumented people, and disabled people”
- ending life sentences in prison
- repealing all existing state juvenile offenses
- decriminalizing and retroactively expunging state drug convictions
- abolishing the “three strikes” criminal law
- prohibiting pretextual stops and “consent” searches
- eliminating tools to track parolee location such as ankle monitors and smartphone applications
- closing all federal prisons and immigration detention centers
- “removing police, armed security and metal detectors and other surveillance equipment from schools and government offices that provide social services”
- “eliminating all fees and surcharges within the criminal-legal system and forgiving outstanding court debt”
- developing school curricula that “examine the political, economic, and social impacts of colonialism, genocide against indigenous people, and slavery”
- establishing commissions that “design reparations for mass criminalization—including the War on Drugs, the criminalization of prostitution, and police violence; border violence; and the systemic violation of the U.S. Government’s treaty obligations to Tribal nations”
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.
During an interview with MSNBC host Al Sharpton on March 14, 2020 — when many Americans had grown highly concerned about an 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:
“[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.”
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); “Ayanna Pressley Calls for Defunding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)” (6-25-2018); “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); “Rep. Pressley Introduces Amendment to Lower Voting Age” (3-6-2019); “Pressley: Democrats Don’t Need ‘Any More Black Faces That Don’t Want to Be a Black Voice’” (The Hill, July 13, 2019); “Meltdown: Far-Left Congresswomen Implode At Press Conference on Trump Tweets” (Daily Wire, 7-15-2019); “Ayanna Pressley Blatantly Refuses To Condemn Antifa Firebomb Attack” (RedState.com, 7-16-2019); Ayanna Pressley’s Positions on Key Issues (OnTheIssues.org).