U.S. Rep. Ayanna Soyini Pressley (D-MA) was the featured guest in an event held by the Martha’s Vineyard Social Justice Leadership Foundation at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. Lisette Williams, a core member of the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of Black Lives Matter, was the facilitator of the event on Friday afternoon.
New York Attorney General Letitia James and Bronx Borough presidential candidate Vanessa Gibson were also present to show support for Pressley.
The event began with introductions, one by the foundation’s vice president, Joseph Carter, for the event overall, and another by Williams for Pressley.
“Throughout her career as a public servant, Congresswoman Pressley has fought to make sure those closest to the pain are closest to the power, driving and informing policymaking,” said Williams. “When I think of Congresswoman Pressley, two words come to mind: authentic and transparent.”
Pressley described her “improbable journey” into public service, which began with an unpaid internship under former Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II. She later earned the first elected position for a Black woman on the Boston City Council. Her speech also touched on a variety of topics such as immigration issues, racial justice, and the changing electoral landscape of America, among other issues.
Pressley’s mother was a “super-voter,” and had an impact on the congresswoman’s life. Pressley was read speeches, like ones by former Texas State Senator Barbara Jordan, rather than traditional bedtime stories, because her mother wanted her to be aware of the pride in being Black, and wanted Pressley to do her part in uplifting the community. Before she passed, the words Pressley heard from her mother was “Ayanna Soyini, never forget that we are powerful.”
“I believed her then, and I still believe her today,” said Pressley.
Pressley also brought up the difficulties Americans faced with the COVID pandemic. She made a call to use this as a chance to make an “active, engaged movement” toward an improved, more equitable American society rather than just going back to normal. “At this moment. you are still confronting crises of public health, of economic inequality, of systemic racism. These are not new challenges or injustices, but they’ve certainly been laid bare and exacerbated during this pandemic. So the task before all of us now, in this moment of transformation not of our choosing, is to take and seize this opportunity to reimagine and rebuild, with intention, with our policies and our budgets, more equitable communities. It is not enough to recover to a pre-COVID, status quo, insufficient, unjust normal,” said Pressley.
Pressley herself plans to work toward the improvement of society and the lot of marginalized communities through Congress. “I always say that policy is my love language, as evidenced by the 91 bills I’ve introduced, ” said Pressley. “It is bold, precise, and intentional policy and advocacy that will undo the violence, what I would call, the policy violence that has been inflicted for generations.”
White supremacy is still a living force in America, she said The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is evidence of this, which was addressed by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) at Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on Tuesday.
Pressley is not on the U.S. House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack, but she is working to make sure something like that doesn’t occur again. “I serve on the Oversights and Reform Committee, and within hours of the Jan. 6 events, which caused great terror and trauma to all that were in proximity with it, emboldened white supremacists wearing anti-Semitic T shirts, and brandishing the Confederate flag and Trump flags, and they even erected a noose on the West Lawn of the Capitol. So, within hours of that, I called for a thorough and independent investigation to ensure that all persons, including members of Congress, who aided and abetted this insurrection which sought to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power, that they be held accountable. Just [Thursday] we had another imminent threat, and it just goes to show we have a lot of work to do to dismantle and root out white supremacy. It’s a threat to our democracy, it is a threat to our lives and my staff, and the food service workers, the custodians, and other members deserve to go to work to do the work they are compelled to do on behalf of the American people without imminent threats. So, it just goes to show how important the select committee is,” Pressley told The Times.
A question and answer session was held after the speech, led by Williams. Pressley gave answers addressing the need for police reform and decriminalization of mental health, the lasting detrimental legacy from the exclusion of Black service members from the G.I. Bill after World War II, calling for the cancellation of student debt through executive order, women’s and minorities’ evolving roles in politics and society, the voting rights bill currently going through Congress, abolition of the filibuster, the climate change crisis, and a need to give people affected by issues a voice at the decisionmaking table.
“Government is stronger when it reflects the citizenry that it serves,” said Pressley.
The event concluded with a picture session with Pressley for the eventgoers.