Boston City Councilor and candidate for Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Ayanna Pressley held a college media roundtable at the More Than Words bookstore in Boston last night. At the roundtable, Pressley took questions from student journalists from Tufts, Harvard University, Boston University and Northeastern University. Directly following the media conference, Pressley held a larger public event in the bookstore, which focused on helping immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, sexual assault policies, affordable housing, improving school safety and student debt.
Pressley gained national attention for her primary upset of incumbent Rep. Michael Capuano. Many of the questions students asked Pressley focused on the current political state in America and how she will conduct herself if she is elected to Congress.
One student asked Pressley on how being a woman of color plays into her campaign and if it means she is better qualified to represent the 7th District.
“I don’t think it’s for me to say that I’m better,” Pressley said. “That’s ultimately up to the electorate.”
Pressley said that diversity, especially in thought, is extremely important.
“I do think that our democracy is strengthened by an engagement of new and different voices,” Pressley said. “When you have that cognitive diversity … that is shaped and informed by lived personal and professional experiences, it makes a difference … The issues that are raised around decision making tables are different, and ultimately … the solutions are more innovative and more enduring.”
Pressley also cast doubt on the national rhetoric of a “blue wave” referring to Democrats’ chances of winning elections in November.
“When I was elected to the Boston City Council in 2009, the media was saying that I was the beneficiary of [former president] Barack Obama’s post-racial America and that a number of post-racial candidates who were transcendent of race were running and getting elected,” Pressley said. “There are some that would summarily dismiss and marginalize our win as a fad or a trend or who would summarily dismiss it and define it as a fluke and an anomaly.”
She noted that regardless of election trends, every election requires real effort by the candidates that is not to be discredited.
“I would never give short shrift to a blue wave or a black girl magic wave or a women’s wave,” Pressley said. “Victory is not magic — it’s work. And we worked hard.”
Pressley said in August that she was unsure about her support for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Before any leader earns Pressley’s support, she said that the Democratic Party must convene and establish its values and identity.
“What’s top of mind and a priority is after the midterms, having a discussion within the party about who we are. What are our values?” Pressley said. “[That] to me is so much deeper and anchoring and enduring and redeeming than a platform. Platforms are malleable and have the potential to be shifted based on the winds of change, but values are guiding and anchoring.”
Pressley rejected the idea, however, that the Democratic Party must agree on one single message or nationwide effort.
“I think [the Democrats], post-2016, have created this narrative that we have to choose whether or not we are the party of jobs and the economy or of criminal justice reform, as an example,” Pressley said. “These are false choices and I reject them … I can’t begin to think about who should be the leader until we have a conversation about who we are as Democrats.”
The congressional candidate also touched on her campaign and how it relates to President Donald Trump.
“I think people responded to our campaign because we were talking about more than just resisting Trump. We were telling the truth about systemic inequalities and disparities that plague the Massachusetts 7th,” Pressley said.
Nevertheless, Pressley noted Trump’s ability to rally supporters and suggested that the Democratic Party must do better in organizing its elections and turning out voters.
“How are we going to run and win elections? We can remove all the barriers to voting and make it more convenient, but ultimately we also have to give people a reason to vote,” Pressley said. “Even when I disagree with [Trump], he is authentically and unapologetically himself, and he makes people feel something. I don’t like what he fans the flames of and what he makes them feel, but he makes them feel something.”
Students questioned Pressley about her opinion on the recent release of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test revealing Native American ancestry and the anger it sparked from Cherokee communities. Pressley maintained that it was not an issue of real importance in her campaign or nationally.
“When I’m spending time with people on their front porches or around their living rooms or at an early vote polling locations … no one is talking about this,” Pressley said. “There are too many issues of real consequence, like gun violence.”
Pressley also talked about the #MeToo movement and her personal relation to it, saying she herself was a survivor.
“I survived a near decade of childhood sexual abuse and also campus sexual assault, and I have been very transparent about that, not for the purposes of telling my story, but for the purposes of creating space and dignity for others who are survivors to feel seen and also to know that someone is fighting for them,” Pressley said.
She reminded students at the roundtable that with any national movement, the hefty work is done by organizations at the local level. Pressley asserted that if elected to Congress, she will fight for funding for these organizations.
“Organizations like the Victim Rights Law Center don’t have the pro bono legal counsel to support these survivors and give them the justice they deserve,” Pressley said. “Organizations like the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center don’t have the staffing or the counselors they need to answer the hotline or to support people in their health and wellness in the wake of trauma.”
Following the media roundtable, Pressley headed an event that focused on five main issues: DACA, sexual assault, affordable housing, school safety and student debt. People who attended the event were divided into groups and invited to share their personal experiences with that specific issue. There was a discussion facilitator for each issue, and Pressley went around to each group to listen to people’s stories.
At the event, Pressley affirmed her commitment to being inclusive of all voices and her objection to the rhetoric around “tolerance.”
“People and their lived experiences are not to be tolerated. They are to be understood,” Pressley said. “We foster that community when we come together in spaces like this.”