'Change Can't Wait': Ayanna Pressley On Primary Win, Bid For Congress

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Ayanna Pressley addresses supporters celebrating her primary win. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
(Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley defeated incumbent Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., in the primary for Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District. She joins us to discuss what the victory means.


Ayanna Pressley, Democratic nominee for Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District. (@AyannaPressley)

Interview Highlights

On her reaction upon finding out she'd won the primary

"It was a purely authentic, organic amazement. I was stunned. I had been readying myself immediately before my aide came in to take the stage in defeat, and was sort of readying myself for what I was going to say to this room. Because I knew — I had seen and felt what we were building out there. And I saw, especially millennials, many of whom had been in a fetal position since 2016, who had come out and we had restored their hope. And then there were many who had never participated or been engaged in the process who we had given hope. And I was sitting there thinking, 'I've written one speech. It has to work either way, and I'm not sure we pulled this out. And so how do I look into this audience and find a way to maintain the hope that we have given or restored?' "

On what her blowout win, with 59 percent of the vote compared to Capuano's 41 percent, means

"It confirms some of what I already knew, which is that polling undersamples the electorate that we were working actively to engage. And, again, I knew we had a path to victory. But I was prepared to lose. But I knew we had a path to victory. And I was sitting in, the victory ultimately will be that we have changed the way electoral politics and campaigns will be done for the future. We ushered in a new paradigm shift and I think it proves that, one, you cannot gauge transformation. And there was a shift occurring. We could feel it beneath our feet out there. When I went to a shelter to spend time with women experiencing homelessness and one of them as I entered said, 'I love your number 1 bus video, and I can't wait to vote for you because change can't wait,' I said something is happening. When I had 14-year-olds there were canvassing on days that it was quite literally like walking the surface of the sun, and 250 incarcerated black men at MCI-Norfolk endorsed my candidacy and were organizing their families on the outside, I said, 'A shift is occurring.' "

"I think our victory was less a referendum against hate and more a mandate for hope."

Ayanna Pressley

On her platform and campaign

"There were policy differences between myself and my opponent, and there were campaign differences. We didn't accept corporate PAC money, we raised a million dollars in grassroots donations, I was calling for the defunding and the abolishing of ICE, I was spotlighting different issues relative to disparity in inequality. But I think ultimately this was a generational shift. Less of an ideological one, although I do think it was a style difference. I was running on bold, visionary, activist leadership as I have said repeatedly since Tuesday one week ago today, that I think our victory was less a referendum against hate and more a mandate for hope. Our campaign was not just about resisting Trump and the policies of he and his administration. I don't feel, as a Democrat, because we're in the minority, and especially sitting in the 7th seat, that we should be putting our hope and our aspiration and vision for this district on a shelf, because we're in the minority. I'm not going to treat Kavanaugh as an inevitability, no matter how sobering the landscape. We had a phone bank at my headquarters last night to lobby senators. And so I think what was deeply resonant and transcendent is that I was offering bold, visionary, activist leadership, which was giving people hope, and that was not a lot of the messaging that was happening in many other campaigns."

On the future of the Democratic party

"I think wherever you are, we are still in the midst of — I called it on the trail an identity crisis, and that might be too dramatic an offering. But we need to get it straight. I do think that we are presenting false choices to one another internally, in the party. I reject that this is about working-class white voters versus everyone else. I reject that this is about jobs and the economy or criminal justice reform. Our destinies are tied. We are a big tent. There are many seats at the table of democracy, and the silver lining of this administration has been that our organizing silos are breaking down. And so, to me, we are at a crossroads as a party. And this can be our darkest hour or our finest. And I think it's our finest if we sit in the place of coalition and movement building, we don't pawn off the hurt on one constituency at a timem we say that we're going to stand for trans rights, we're going to stand for immigrants' rights, we're going to stand for women's rights, we're going to stand for workers' rights. That is who we are. So the fight for the soul of the party is a return to who we have always been foundationally. And it is a resurrection of those foundational premises."

From The Reading List

WBUR: "A Stunner: Ayanna Pressley Topples Michael Capuano In Nationally Watched 7th District Race" — "There is a changing of the guard in the 7th Congressional District, with shockwaves sure to reverberate throughout the Democratic Party.

"Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council and a self-described candidate of change, easily toppled U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, a 10-term incumbent, in an intra-party tussle that garnered national attention on Tuesday.

"With no Republican opponent, Pressley is set to become the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress."

Vox: "In 2018, black women like Ayanna Pressley are fighting for political power — and winning" — "Ayanna Pressley pulled off an unexpected victory on Tuesday in the Democratic congressional primary in Massachusetts’s Seventh District, beating 10-term incumbent Rep. Michael Capuano with 59 percent of the vote. Barring a last-minute write-in campaign during the general election, Pressley will be unopposed in November and become the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress.

"The primary hinged less on policy differences, and more on the importance of representation and lived experience. Pressley, who was a congressional aide for years and currently serves as a member of Boston’s City Council, positioned herself as providing a political perspective that Capuano could not. She argued that it was not just her race and gender that made her a different sort of leader than Capuano, but also her experiences. Pressley has openly discussed being a sexual abuse survivor and has also spoken of being raised by her mother while her father was incarcerated.

"Her background, Pressley argued, would be particularly important for the district, which has a large population of people of color and struggles with economic inequality. Pressley has stressed that representation is important to voters, often arguing that 'the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.' "

This article was originally published on September 10, 2018.

This segment aired on September 11, 2018.



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