Ayanna Soyini Pressley (born February 3, 1974) is an American politician who has served as the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts's 7th congressional district since 2019. Her district includes the northern three fourths of Boston, most of Cambridge, parts of Milton, as well as all of Chelsea, Everett, Randolph, and Somerville.
A member of the Democratic Party, Pressley defeated the ten-term incumbent Mike Capuano in the primary election and ran unopposed in the general election. She had previously been elected as an at-large member of the Boston City Council in 2010. Pressley was the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council.
Early life and education
Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but raised in Chicago, Illinois, the only child of mother Sandra Pressley (née Echols), who worked multiple jobs to support the family and also worked as a community organizer for the Chicago Urban League advocating for tenant's rights, and father Martin Terrell, who struggled with addiction and was incarcerated throughout Pressley's childhood, but eventually earned multiple degrees and taught at college level. The marriage ended in divorce.
Pressley grew up on the north side of Chicago and attended the Francis W. Parker School. While at the prestigious private school, she was a cheerleader, did modeling and voice-over work, appeared in Planned Parenthood bus advertisements, and was a competitive debater. During her senior year of high school, she was voted the "most likely to be mayor of Chicago" and was the commencement speaker for her class.
Her mother later moved to Brooklyn, where she worked as an executive assistant and later remarried. When Pressley was elected to the Boston City Council, her mother would often attend the public meetings, wearing a hat that said "Mama Pressley."
From 1992 to 1994, Pressley attended the College of General Studies at Boston University, but she left school to take a full-time job at the Boston Marriott Copley Place to support her mother, who had lost her job. She took further courses at Boston University Metropolitan College, also known as MET.
Earlier political career
After leaving Boston University, Pressley worked as a district representative for Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II (D−MA), for whom she had interned during college. The work included assisting constituents with Social Security claims and working with senior citizens, veterans, and people with disabilities. Pressley became Kennedy's scheduler, then worked as constituency director, before becoming the political director and senior aide for Senator Kerry.
Boston City Council
Pressley was first elected to the Boston City Council in November 2009. Upon being sworn in on January 4, 2010, she was the first woman of color to serve in the 100-year history of the Boston City Council. The only woman in a field of 15 candidates, Pressley earned one of four at-large spots on the city's 13-member council with nearly 42,000 votes.
In her first year as a City Councilor, Pressley formed the Committee on Healthy Women, Families, and Communities, which addresses issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, and human trafficking. She worked collaboratively with community members to develop a comprehensive sexual education and health curriculum and update the expectant and parenting student policy. Both were successfully implemented into Boston Public Schools.
According to Erin O'Brien, a political science professor at University of Massachusetts Boston, during Pressley's time on the City Council, she did not have the reputation for being controversial or as an outsider.
In the council election of November 2011, Pressley faced a competitive re-election, and finished first among at-large candidates with 37,000 votes. She won 13 of the city's 22 wards and finished second in three others. Pressley won Boston's communities of color and many progressive neighborhoods. In all, Pressley placed first in more than half of Boston's 22 wards. Pressley topped the ticket again in November 2013 and November 2015, and placed second in November 2017.
U.S. House of Representatives
In January 2018, Pressley announced her challenge to incumbent United States Representative Michael Capuano in the 2018 Democratic primary nomination for the Massachusetts's 7th congressional district. No Republican even filed, meaning that whoever won the primary would be all but assured of victory in November.
The 7th district is traditionally Democratic and is the state's only district where the majority of residents are not white. Capuano received endorsements from civil rights veteran and U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia as well as U.S. Representative Maxine Waters of California.
Pressley was endorsed by The Boston Globe and local chapter of the hotel and electrical worker union, Grassroots movements including Democracy for America, Brand New Congress and the Justice Democrats supported Pressley. She received the endorsements of former Massachusetts Democratic Party chair John E. Walsh, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, former Newton mayor Setti Warren and Boston city councilor Michelle Wu. The nomination win in New York's 14th congressional district of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over long-time representative Joseph Crowley increased the visibility of Pressley's campaign. While some political commentators distinguished Pressley's campaign from that of Ocasio-Cortez in that Capuano was understood to have one of the most progressive records in Congress, the incumbents both represented districts in which the majority of voters are not white.
Like Capuano, Pressley campaigned as a staunch progressive; indeed, she admitted that her voting record would likely be almost identical to that of Capuano. However, Pressley contended that a reliably liberal voting record was not enough to meet the needs of a district whose demographics and character had changed over the years. She also claimed that the district needed to be represented by someone who would take a more aggressive role in opposing the presidency of Donald Trump. She campaigned with the slogan "change can't wait", and promised that she would bring "activist leadership."
In the September 4, 2018, Democratic primary election, Pressley defeated Capuano by a margin of 59% to 41%. The primary victory was a surprise, as the last poll before the election showed Capuano with a significant lead, 48% to 35%. Part of the reason the polls may have been inaccurate was a surge in the number of primary voters. According to Boston NPR station WBUR, 24 percent of primary voters in the 7th District primary had not voted in the five previous primaries. The percentage of new voters included a disproportionate number of Hispanic and Asian voters. The 7th is so heavily Democratic that any Republican challenger would have faced nearly impossible odds. With a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+34, the 7th is by far the most Democratic district in New England. Indeed, the Republicans last put up a challenger in this district during Capuano's first run for it in 1998, when it was numbered as the 8th District. The GOP has only nominated a candidate in this district five times since longtime Speaker Tip O'Neill retired in 1986. As a result, Pressley won the general election unopposed.
Pressley is the first African American woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress. With the November election victory of Jahana Hayes in Connecticut's 5th congressional district, they are the first women of color to be elected to Congress from New England.
Pressley is a member of the informal group known as "The Squad", whose members form a unified front to push for progressive changes such as the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all. The other members of "The Squad" are Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Pressley is the oldest and most politically experienced of the four, who asked her to act as spokesperson after Trump attacked them.
In May 2019, Pressley gave the commencement address to the graduates of University of Massachusetts Boston, saying they are "President Trump's worst nightmare." In her speech she said, "Represented here today are dreamers and doers, immigrants, people of every race identity, every gender identity and sexuality, sisters rocking Senegalese twists and hijabs."
In November 2019, Pressley introduced a criminal justice reform resolution that calls for decriminalizing consensual sex work, abolishing cash bail, legalizing marijuana, abolishing capital punishment, and solitary confinement, and shrinking the U.S. prison population by greater than 80 percent. The house resolution is called The People's Justice Guarantee.
- Committee on Financial Services
- Committee on Oversight and Reform
- Congressional Black Caucus
- Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues
- Congressional Progressive Caucus
- Future of Transportation Caucus (Founding Co-Chair)
During her victory speech following the September primary election, Pressley called out President Donald Trump, claiming he is "a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man." She supported the Impeachment of Donald Trump.
In May 2019, Pressley and Senator Cory Booker introduced the Healthy MOMMIES Act, legislation that would expand Medicaid coverage in an attempt to provide comprehensive prenatal, labor, and postpartum care with an extension of the Medicaid pregnancy pathway from 60 days to a full year following birth for the purpose of assuring new mothers have access to services unrelated to pregnancy. The bill also directed Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program's Payment and Access Commission report its data regarding doula care coverage under state Medicaid programs and subsequently develop strategies aimed at improving access to doula care. Pressley said the bill would provide "a community-based, holistic approach to maternal care that recognizes current disparities in healthcare and critical environmental factors impacting communities."
On March 5, 2019, Pressley proposed lowering the voting age from 18 years old to 16 in an amendment she introduced in Congress. This was her first amendment on the House floor and was intended to amend the For the People Act of 2019. She said during her speech, "Young people are the forefront at some of our most existential crises. The time has come. Our young people deserve to have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote." Her amendment was defeated 305–126–2, with a slight majority of the Democrats and one Republican voting in favor.
On December 5, 2019, Pressley, Senator Booker, and Representatives Cedric Richmond, Marcia Fudge, and Barbara Lee introduced the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act to ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.
In June 2018, Pressley called for the defunding of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying the law enforcement agency poses an "existential threat" to immigrant communities. In June 2019, Pressley was one of four Democratic representatives to vote against the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Humanitarian Assistance and Security at the Southern Border Act (H.R. 3401, a $4.5 billion border funding bill sponsored by Nita Lowey that required Customs and Border Protection enact health standards for individuals in custody such as forming standards for individuals for "medical emergencies; nutrition, hygiene, and facilities; and personnel training."
Sexual violence and sex work
As a survivor of sexual violence herself, Pressley states that she would make ending sexual violence a major priority of her work in Congress. Speaking in an article that appeared in The Nation she said, "I have dedicated my life to combating trauma in all forms—domestic, sexual, gun violence—and so the opportunity to potentially be in Congress at a moment of elevated consciousness to codify activism in policy change is certainly an exciting prospect."
Pressley supports decriminalizing sex work and prostitution saying, "Decriminalizing sex work would improve the health and safety of sex workers and put them on the path to greater stability." She argued that sex work is the only work available to some marginalized people, especially transgender women of color, and that they would be less at risk if they could self advocate and report unlawful acts committed against them.
On April 9, 2019, Pressley was one of four House Democrats to introduce the Be HEARD Act, legislation intended to abolish the tipped minimum wage along with ending mandatory arbitration and pre-employment nondisclosure agreements. The bill would also give workers additional time to report harassment and was said by co-sponsor Patty Murray to come at a time when too many workers are "still silenced by mandatory disclosure agreements that prevent them from discussing sexual harassment and longstanding practices like the tipped wages that keep workers in certain industries especially vulnerable."
On July 23, 2019, Pressley voted in favor of H. Res. 246, a House Resolution introduced by Illinois Congressman Brad Schneider that formally condemns the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. The resolution passed 398–17, and Pressley was noted as the only member of "the Squad" to vote in favor of it.
Speaking at a fundraiser with Ilhan Omar in Somerville, Massachusetts, Pressley condemned the 2020 Baghdad International Airport airstrike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, saying, "It is consistent with the impulsive, reckless, short-sighted foreign policy of the occupant of this White House who I think proceeds as if he's engaging in a game of Battleship and does not prioritize diplomacy." On Twitter, Pressley had previously voiced her dismay with Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (commonly referred to as the "Iran nuclear deal").
2020 Presidential primaries
In November, 2019, Pressley endorsed Senator Elizabeth Warren for president. Pressley, who was named one of Warren's three national co-chairs, became a prominent surrogate on the campaign circuit. After Warren's withdrawal, Pressley did not transfer her support to Biden or Sanders.
The End Qualified Immunity Act
In early June, 2020, Pressley and Justin Amash introduced the . The act would remove from law enforcement officers, and other officials, the protection of Qualified Immunity that had routinely protected them from prosecution when they could claim that acts that would otherwise trigger criminal charges had been committed as part of performing their official duties. Pressley wrote that "Qualified immunity was created by the Supreme Court in contravention of the text of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and the intent of Congress."
Honors and awards
- 2012: Aspen-Rodel Fellow in Public Leadership, Class of 2012
- 2012: Truman National Security Project Partner
- 2014: Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, 10 Outstanding Young Leaders
- 2014: Victim Rights Law Center, Leadership Award
- 2015: Boston magazine, 50 Most Powerful People
- 2015: EMILY's List, Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award
- 2016: The New York Times, 14 Young Democrats to Watch
- 2018: Boston magazine, 100 Most Influential People in Boston, #20
|Democratic||Mike Capuano (incumbent)||42,252||41.4|
Pressley lives in Dorchester, Massachusetts with her husband, Conan Harris, and her stepdaughter. Pressley rarely discusses her religious beliefs but has mentioned that she is a "woman of faith" who "grew up in the church". Pressley does not drive an automobile and has never learned how to drive.
In January 2020, Pressley revealed that she had been diagnosed with alopecia areata, resulting in the loss of all of her hair, and saying in a public announcement "I want to be freed from the secret and the shame that that secret carries with it."
- List of African-American United States Representatives
- Women in the United States House of Representatives
- Nik DeCosta-Klipa, Here's what Ayanna Pressley's first week in Washington looked like Boston.com
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On the council, Pressley did not have the controversial, outsider reputation she has now earned as part of the Squad. O'Brien said that could be because, as the only woman of color on the council earlier in her career, she did not want to jeopardize her seat.
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- Fang, Lee (August 18, 2018). "One of the Strongest Progressives in Congress is Facing a Primary Challenger Invoking Identity and Change. Will She Unseat Him?". The Intercept.
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- Maeve Duggan (January 4, 2019). "24 Percent Of 7th District Primary Voters Had Not Voted In Previous 5 Primaries".
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Republican Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, who took office in 1967, was the first black politician to be elected by popular vote after the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913.
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- Rep. Pressley, Senator Booker, Colleagues Unveil CROWN Act to Ban Hair Discrimination U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, retrieved 17 Jan 2020
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- "House passes $4.5B border funding bill". The Hill. June 25, 2019.
- "The four House Democrats who voted against the border funding bill". The Hill. June 25, 2019.
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- Schneider, Bradley Scott (July 23, 2019). "H.Res.246 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): Opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel". congress.gov. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
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- Pressley, Ayanna (May 8, 2018). "President Trump's decision to withdraw from the #IranDeal is irresponsible and shortsighted. Absent a viable alternative, the agreement continues to represent the best option for avoiding a nuclear-armed Iran..." @ayannapressley. Retrieved January 18, 2020.
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Ms. Pressley was not a part of the initial round of home-state endorsements during Ms. Warren's campaign launch earlier this year, leading to speculation that she would sit out the presidential primary or back Ms. Harris, the 2020 race's only black woman. Instead, Ms. Pressley joined Ms. Warren's cause, politically cementing the informal friendship that has existed among them for years.
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One of Warren's most visible surrogates on the campaign trail — from Boston to South Carolina to Iowa — was Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who endorsed Warren early on despite the other members of the so-called "Squad" of progressive congresswomen of color backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
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Some of Warren's prominent Massachusetts supporters are following her lead, and did not say yesterday whether they'll back Sanders or Biden.
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Though the text of the bill has yet to be released as of this writing, so the exact provisions remain unknown, Rep. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) is partnering with Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) to introduce the 'End Qualified Immunity Act.' 'Qualified immunity was created by the Supreme Court in contravention of the text of the [Civil Rights Act of 1871] and the intent of Congress,' Amash argued in a letter urging colleagues to support his bill. 'It is time for us to correct their mistake [ ... and] ensure that those whose rights are violated by the police aren't forced to suffer the added injustice of being denied their day in court.'
Nick Sibilla (June 11, 2020). "Court Rejects Qualified Immunity For Cops Who Shot A "Motionless" Black Man 22 Times". Forbes magazine. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
That proposal comes on the heels of the End Qualified Immunity Act, sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (L-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), which would end qualified immunity for all local and state government officials, not just police officers and prison guards.
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- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Profile at Vote Smart
- Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
- Legislation sponsored at the Library of Congress
- Ayanna Pressley at City of Boston
- Appearances on C-SPAN
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 7th congressional district
January 7, 2019 – present
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
| United States Representatives by seniority
|116th||Senate: E. Warren • E. Markey||House: R. Neal • J. McGovern • S. Lynch • B. Keating • J. Kennedy III • K. Clark • S. Moulton • A. Pressley • L. Trahan|