US Rep. Ayanna Pressley talks upbringing, activism at Brown Dems event – The Brown Daily Herald

U.S. representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA 7th District) discussed her upbringing, activism and response to the war in Israel and Palestine at a Brown Dems event on Wednesday.

Pressley was the first African American woman elected to the Boston City Council and the first African American woman elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress in 2018. Pressley is a founding member of “The Squad,” a group of progressive Congress members, and has championed legislative efforts around Medicare, housing rights, the Green New Deal, student debt relief and abortion access. 

She visited campus on Wednesday as a recipient of the John F. Kennedy Jr. ’83 Award for Inspiring Youth in Politics.

The event filled a room in Maddock Alumni Center drawing roughly 60 attendees. Brown Dems collaborated with the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity and the Africana Studies department on the event, according to Brown Dems Co-President Cecilia Marrinan ’24, who moderated the event.


Pressley opened the discussion with reflections on her upbringing. 

“I consider myself very fortunate because I saw my mother’s humanity early on,” she explained. Raised by a single parent, she praised her mother’s community involvement and tenacity amidst trauma as precedents for her political career. 

She also cited Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, her grandfather and her father as other influences. 

“When people say that they’re their ancestors’ wildest dreams? I’m my ancestors’ wildest dreams, on steroids,” Pressley joked. 

In her response to the ongoing war in Israel and Palestine and recent encampment protests on college campuses, Pressley expressed solidarity with the pro-Palestine movement and its efforts to center “the humanity and dignity of the Palestinian people.”

She supports a bilateral ceasefire, framing her cause as “pro-humanity” and “collective liberation.” Acknowledging a lack of action from the Oval Office, she encouraged audience members to retain their hope, citing building support and discourse in Congress. “That is an example of the power of movement building.”

Pressley elaborated that she “(champions) peace and diplomacy” across all acute conflicts. “I think history has proven to us that we cannot bomb our way to peace. I do not believe that vengeance is a foreign policy doctor.” 

During her freshman orientation at Boston University, Pressley said she was advised to never “forget the plot, (which) is the people.” 

“Policies are not a static document … they animate in people’s lives, they are dynamic,” she added. “I’m definitely going to operate with discernment about where I compromise, especially when it seems that the same communities are asked to compromise the most over and over again.” 

“I choose the discipline of hope over the ease of cynicism… I choose fortitude over fatalism,” she added. 


“I believe that people closest to the pain should be closest to the power,” she said. “I believe in cooperative governing. I believe in the power of stories to change hearts, minds and policy.”

She cited conversations with reproductive health care providers and patients as part of her work on the Abortion Justice Act of 2023, which she introduced.

She stressed the importance of the legislation as “a matter of life and death,” especially given “the rising maternal morbidity crisis (and) its predominant impact on Black and Brown women.”

The event was followed by a Q&A reception, where audience members conversed with Pressley on more specific matters. 

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“In a time when things are so divided, I think a lot of people are struggling to really recognize each other’s humanity,” said Maya Laur ’24, who said she was inspired by Pressley’s humanitarian ethos. 

“We have to go out and build our coalitions, and that comes through hope, through reaching out to people,” Ethan Zuzker ’24 added. “It was a very positive, affirmative mindset to take and a very inspiring and effective way to create coalitions.”

Michele Togbe ’27, who attended the event at the encouragement of her African American Politics professor, emphasized the relevance of Pressley’s comments. “Her remarks on injustice were really important to me,” she said. “Especially… with the encampment that’s going on right outside.”

Megan Chan

Megan is a Senior Staff Writer covering community and activism in Providence. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she spends her free time drinking coffee and wishing she was Meg Ryan in a Nora Ephron movie.

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