Ayanna Pressley had already been sworn in with the rest of her Congressional class when she returned to her district this weekend to share the moment with those who decisively swept her into office but could not make the trek down to Washington. At a community swearing-in ceremony in Roxbury, US Rep. Pressley called back to her promise not to deliver a victory speech “until we have realized equity, equality, and justice.”
“We find ourselves in unprecedented times,” she said, standing on the stage of Roxbury Community College’s auditorium before a packed house. “Each day we are met with a deluge of hateful rhetoric and even more hateful policies meant to divide us and make us feel small. But together we are powerful.”
Pressley again laid out her vision for the Massachusetts Seventh Congressional District and the country: a place where the often-ignored voices are heard and lifted with their elected officials, their struggles amplified through the lens of Pressley's background and priorities. Her victory in the midterms was historic, but Pressley said she was not sent to Washington just to be the first woman of color to represent the state in the US House.
During his portion of an interfaith prayer, Rev. Jack Ahern, of St. Gregory Parish in Lower Mills, said "a new day has dawned." He praised those who “dared to dream, to hope, to fight” in the midterms, the progressive wave ushering Pressley and a cohort of others into office. He spoke of immigrants waiting at the border or welcomed into cities, deserving of dignity and respect.
As the shutdown dragged on, Ahern struck a hopeful chord. "Where middle of the night, embarrassing Tweets are replaced by reason and bipartisan deliberation," he said. "And with God's grace, this country — where too many have walked in darkness these past two years — will see a new light."
Pressley is still a Dorchester resident, but perhaps not for long as she is selling her Carruth Building condominium to find a new house in Boston with her husband Conan and step-daughter Cora.
In an interview with the Reporter on Tuesday, she described an entry into her legislative career focused on addressing the impacts of a shutdown over the president’s insistence on billions for border wall funding.
The members of Congress are learning their committee assignments this week. Freshman US Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts has received an assignment to the Armed Services Committee, and “we are exploring what we can do together to support Coast Guard members,” Pressley said. “Most timely, in light of a government shutdown, what I am prioritizing is in terms of local impact is ending this shutdown and making sure that impacted workers and families, when this shutdown ends, will be made whole.”
While some furloughed workers are protected by mechanisms that would guarantee them back pay for their time worked during the shutdown, Pressley notes that federally contracted workers are not currently protected. She and US Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of D.C. have introduced legislation to support hourly, low wage service workers “certainly the most vulnerable… because there's nothing to make them whole when the shutdown ends.”
Beyond the furloughed workers’ situation, Pressley emphasized the collateral cost of the shutdown for those who worry about the winding down clock for food stamps and federally-funded housing.
Many want to return to work not only to survive and receive a paycheck, Pressley said, but “because they find dignity and value add in work they add to this country.” Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug and Administration workers need to do inspections, she noted, and the Transportation and Security Administration officials are taking sick days or bringing their children with them to work because they would be working without pay and cannot pay for childcare.
The Democrats are doing what they can without giving in to the president’s demand, she said. “All we’ve been doing is voting on funding bills, with bipartisan support. We are unwilling to yield on shared values.”
She is advocating for a gun bill that would include universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles, and closing loopholes that can pressure women to purchase or store illegal weapons for the men in their lives. Along with other representatives, she has stood in support of Planned Parenthood, hoping to repeal the Hyde Amendment and objecting to a proposed update to Title X grant funding policy that would prohibit health care providers that offer abortions or information about them from receiving federal Title X grant funding, referred to as the “gag rule.”
She and her team are also working on a new policy they call a “Survivors’ Bill of Rights” to ensure supports for not just trauma victims, but also to expand the definition of ‘survivor’ to include surviving families who have lost loved ones due to violence.
With large housing developments in her district dependent on federal funding, she wants to be in a position to “address entrenched systemic inequities and disparities,” noting that “this is why I’ve been advocating to be appointed to the Financial Services Committee. I want to have Ben Carson in my sightline. I have one of the largest housing developments in the country in the Massachusetts Seventh, and Ben Carson and this administration have all but abandoned public housing.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Pressley spoke with Mayor Martin Walsh a few hours before his State of the City address. In her final council meeting, Walsh thanked her for her time and said the federal government had not been too generous with funding lately, to which Pressley responded “give me a list.”
Walsh has not given her a list yet, she said, laughing. But it was not a one-off conversation.
“We spoke about the need to continue to partner on what are national challenges,” she said, “but really regional challenges, which require partnership and leadership from city and states in light of decisions being made, policies being advanced, the rollbacks of all civil rights protections from this Trump administration.”