As Ayanna Pressley rides the bus through the district to which she hopes to soon pledge a political allegiance, the Boston city councilor watches the landscape change right along with the demographics.
On Tuesday, Boston's first city councilwoman of color advanced in her trek to make history, again. In an unexpected victory, the 44-year-old secured the Democratic nomination to represent Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Change can’t wait,” the Boston City Councilwoman’s campaign slogan urged.
If elected, Pressley would be the first black woman to represent the state in the U.S. Congress. On Tuesday, she unseated Massachusetts’ 7th District Representative Michael Capuano after his 10th term. Her win adds to a heartening trend of the 2018 midterm season: candidates of color perceived as the underdogs in their respective races are unexpectedly yielding victories while being slated to make history. Nicknamed the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by the media for her perseverance to displace a long-standing reign and ability to run without superfluous donations and endorsements, Pressley’s campaign focuses on listening to her community to tackle both economic and social inequalities.
“It is my fundamental belief that the people closest to the pain should be the closest to the power, driving and informing the policy-making,” Pressley said in a promotional video. “It’s my job as a leader to lift up the stories and the struggles of the people that I represent, to harness their ideas and their motivation, and not only is it what the times require, but it’s what the residents of the 7th Congressional District deserve.”
The 7th District is the only in Massachusetts with a majority-minority population, Politico Magazine reported, and while voting for either Rep. Capuano or Pressley is a move for those on the left, the race’s conclusion on September 4 will define whether the community has a greater interest in progression or moderation.
Blavity spoke with Pressley about her rise to city council as the first woman of color ever elected, the issues she finds most pertinent to communities of color and, of course, her favorite Cardi B song.
Blavity: In 2009, you made history by being the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council. Aside from your potential to make history in the midterms this year, in what other ways do you hope to make history throughout your political career?
Pressley: I did not run for office in 2009 in an attempt to be the first woman of color to be elected to the Boston City Council; I ran because for too long, women and girls in the City of Boston had been left behind, and I wanted to lift their stories and struggles. I ran and won in 2009 on a platform aimed at eradicating poverty in all forms and for re-centering policy to account for those ignored for too long by their government. My career, whether as an elected official, aide or candidate, has been dedicated to reducing inequality through policy solutions, created and informed by the community. I hope to continue this work in partnership with the residents of the 7th District.
What’s your biggest social objective if you get elected?
The 7th District is the most diverse in the Massachusetts delegation and is among the most unequal across the whole country. If I am fortunate enough to earn the partnership of the electorate, my biggest objective is to work alongside community members and those most impacted by inequality to intentionally legislate to reduce the inequity all too common across the 7th District. Whether it is income inequality, educational opportunities, access to quality health care or transit equity, the inequalities facing the people of the 7th District are displayed across numerous social outcomes. Disparities in average median income, educational attainment, life expectancy and other factors are eating away at the potential of many in the 7th District. I believe that solutions live in the lives of those most impacted, and if I am so humbly delivered to Washington by the residents of the 7th District, I will govern in partnership with the community to change these disparate outcomes.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest crisis facing black communities right now?
In the 7th District, the median net worth for black non-immigrant households is $8, while the median net worth for white families is more than $240,000. This gulf in economic opportunity is compounded by the long history of redlining, concentrating our communities in neighborhoods with underperforming schools, food deserts and places bereft of access to reliable public transit. All of these factors combine to create multi-generational trauma -- the trauma of economic insecurity, the trauma of gun violence, the trauma of not knowing whether you’ll have a roof over your head and many other factors. This crisis is not unique to the black communities in the 7th District; it is one played over and over across the country, as a result of redlining, the war on drugs, welfare reform, unequal access to the GI Bill and so many other policy decisions that were made without consideration of their impact on communities of color.
When you read about cases like that of Nia Wilson, as a politician, what does that spur within you? In what ways are you moved to action?
Nia Wilson was robbed from us. Her death, along with the deaths of so many black and brown youth, represents a loss of potential, a loss for our collective humanity and an act of hatred on the highest order. Cases like hers break my heart, but they also strengthen my resolve to continue advocating for families like hers – ones who have experienced almost an unimaginable trauma to ensure that they have the support they deserve to continue their lives. Too many families are living without justice in this country because our systems have failed them. Homicide cases involving black victims are more likely to go unsolved than cases involving white victims – further eroding relations and trust between communities of color and police. White supremacy is among us, and displays like this one motivate me to take my work higher and farther. It seems that every day, we are losing the common threads that hold us together, that we are somehow unable to recognize the humanity in each other. There is an incredible amount of work to be done to help us rediscover we are one human family, and our destinies are tied. At the same time, we must ensure that the inhumanity demonstrated by those who perpetrate these acts of violence do not make their way into the laws that govern our country, which is when I am reminded of Dr. King’s quote that “the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless.”
While we were getting to learn more about Pressley and her goals for the 7th District, Blavity couldn't help getting to know the potential future representative on a more personal level:
Braids or twist out?
Favorite Cardi B song?
Hip-hop song that could serve as your campaign’s theme song?
"Glory" by Common and John Legend.
Favorite Black Panther scene?
The final scene when T’Challa and Shuri visit Oakland.
Most relatable meme?
Any meme with a dog!
Concert you missed out on this summer?
“Apes**t,” “Deja Vu” or “Upgrade U?”
"Who Run the World (Girls)."
Who, living or not, is #goals?
Shirley Chisholm and Serena Williams.
Let’s not use woke. We’re [fill in the blank].
Aside from voting, millennials can get their political/civic engagement life by [fill in the blank].
Volunteering, knocking on doors and talking to people.
Favorite '90s sitcom?
According to her website, Pressley's platform promises to make a stand for communities that are threatened and create an economy in the district that can benefit all of its citizens. If you're interested in getting involved, supporters can donate and volunteer.
Now, check these out: