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The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

‘We have to demand more;’ Ayanna Pressley speaks at Suffolk

‘We don’t live in big check boxes,’ Pressley told Suffolk students
Leo Woods

Suffolk University’s Black Student Union and Suffolk Votes invited students to hear from Representative Ayanna Pressley (MA-7) during an event Thursday.

During activities period, students gathered in the basement of Samia or Zoomed in for the opportunity to listen to Pressley answer questions curated by Suffolk Votes.

In 2009, Pressley became the first woman of color to be elected to Boston’s City Council. In 2018, she was the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Her district, the MA 7th, covers parts of Boston, Cambridge, Milton, Everett, Chelsea, Randolph and Somerville. 

She moved to Boston from Chicago in 1992 to attend Boston University. While she was a student, she remained a strong activist and political force in the community. Pressley became an intern to Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, volunteered for former Mass. Senator John Kerry’s reelection campaign and worked for Kerry for 13 years. She now occupies the district seat that Kennedy held. 

“It’s very surreal that that internship ultimately led to a paid position in the office of that congressman. Twenty-five plus years later, I am a congresswoman for that seat that I began in as an unpaid intern,” Pressley said. 

Pressley attributed her success to her late mother. A community builder and activist, Pressley’s mother, Sandra Pressley, told her there was a difference between a job and work, the latter being “the upliftment and enhancement of the community.” She also encouraged Pressley to do her part in liberating Black individuals and all marginalized people.

Representatives from Suffolk Votes and the Black Student Union gave brief presentations prior to Pressley’s arrival. They also fielded questions from students about being effective allies to the Black community and how to become more involved in the political process.

After Pressley’s opening remarks, the Q&A began. Questions were presented by Gloria Bouquet, a representative from Suffolk’s Center for Community Engagement, and Ahria Ilyas, the vice president of BSU.

The first question asked Pressley how the U.S. can achieve a multiracial, inclusive democracy. Pressley spoke about the importance of advancing inclusive legislation by voting for progressive candidates. However, she noted that marginalized communities often experience difficulty connecting with politicians on intersectional issues, as some politicians only ask certain groups about issues that affect their communities.

When some politicians go to marginalized communities, they often only speak about a singular issue the community faces, such as only speaking about immigration reform to the Hispanic and Latinx communities, or mass incarceration with the Black community, Pressley said. 

She said as a voter, she was disappointed by this approach as it effectively tokenized these communities.

“We have to demand more. We don’t live in big checkboxes, we live in intersectionality, we live in nuance, we live in complexity and our policies have to reflect that,” Pressley said.

She stressed the importance of challenging the status quo and the efforts of organizers of political movements, especially those who are young people. Pressley said she does not single-issue young voters because they care about all issues, not just the ones that affect them. 

In 2021, Pressley introduced an amendment to H.R. 1, the For the People Act, in the House to change the voting age for federal elections to 16 years old. She said she was surprised by the amount of pushback she received after its introduction.

“A 16 year old in 2021 possesses a wisdom and a maturity that comes from 2021 challenges, 2021 hardships, and 2021 threats,” said Pressley in a statement on her website. “Now is the time for us to demonstrate the courage that matches the challenges of the modern-day 16 and 17-year-old.”

The Q&A ended with Pressley speaking about the importance of rent stabilization to guarantee affordable housing, especially in Boston, and especially for students.

“[For] Black students, and I was one of them, 85% of us feel like we have no choice but to take out loans to pursue higher education because of practices like redlining, which obstructed our families’ ability to build generational wealth,” Pressley said. She also insisted on the need for student loan forgiveness and wage increases.

After the event, students reflected on the conversation with Pressley as a group. 

“I think it’s amazing to see representation, finally,” said Suffolk Votes Scholar Syeeda Rahaman. “The way she carries herself with confidence, she’s very eloquent in the way that she speaks and conveys her ideas. It makes you feel like maybe you could also get there.” 

“I think that’s so important for young people, for people of color, for women of color, to have someone in office doing the work that they care about.”

For future events, follow BSU and Suffolk Votes on Instagram, @su_bsu and @suffolkvotes.

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About the Contributor
Leo Woods
Leo Woods, Photo Editor | he/him

Leo is a senior political science major with a minor in journalism from Clinton, Connecticut. He has photographed political events, protests, performing arts groups and documented Boston Pride for the People for the History Project. Outside of Suffolk, Leo is an avid Dungeons and Dragons player and podcast listener. After graduation, he plans on attending law school and working in politics.

Follow Leo on X @leowoods108

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‘We have to demand more;’ Ayanna Pressley speaks at Suffolk