In 2018, Ayanna Pressley was elected to the US House as the representative for the 7th Congressional district —which includes large parts of Dorchester and Mattapan. From the beginning of her term last year, she has not been shy about letting people know where she stands, and recently she has been a leading voice in Congress calling for an equitable legislative response to the Covid-19 pandemic while strongly urging her colleagues to support funding and protections for the United States Postal Service.
In talking to the Reporter last week, Pressley, who has no opposition in this week’s primary balloting, shared her thoughts about campaigning against the backdrop of the ongoing viral scourge and the hardships it has brought for many of her constituents.
“Everything about the moment we find ourselves in is unprecedented, and that unprecedented set of affairs means that we’re also having to campaign and to organize in ways that are unconventional, and we have no reference point,” she said.
“Each of us are sort of our own analog in this moment,” she added, “many of the fundamentals and tried and true things that have been effective for engaging new voters, expanding the electorate, keeping folks engaged… and all of those efforts are now against the backdrop of the people we represent experiencing a lot of hardship and uncertainty.”
Throughout the pandemic but especially since its onset six months ago, Pressley said, her first priority has been checking in with her own constituents and conducting wellness checks through her district office.
“The first thing I wanted to prioritize was just checking in with people, and those wellness checks turned into informing people about resources available and to better understand the extent of their needs,” she said.
“What I was fighting for relative to the Covid response was to ensure that the response is one that is equitable,” Pressley said, noting that she was able to successfully push for the inclusion of the Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure Act in the federal relief package.
Pressley was also an original co-sponsor of the Essential Workers’ Bill of Rights, which outlined health and safety protection for those working during the pandemic. She noted that she has had many conversations with essential workers in the district.
“In those conversations, we were able to better understand which things we were fighting for and had secured in Washington in terms of relief that were impactful, and to understand where the gaps were in the types of things people were or were not accessing,” she said.
She noted that she also worked to make constituents aware of the testing resources available to them in their communities and pushed to secure federal funding for Community Health Centers.
“I guess technically – because that has been occurring within the context of my re-election – those are things that could be considered a part of my political engagement, but it’s really just me doing my job,” said Pressley.
“I think the case to make to the people that I humbly represent and serve is that it is year round, not just within that six to nine month or year period that would be characterized at the election. So for me, how I’m making that case is how I legislate. I focus on legislating in partnership with the community, and any bill I author is informed by those closest to an issue.”
Pressley’s team is also phone banking and hosting different constituent calls via Zoom to gather input on a variety of issues.
“We talk about more specific issues, so [that] those who might want to do a deeper dive regarding my work to cancel student debt or advocacy to stop the dismantling of the USPS, to support small businesses, or to address the black maternal mortality crisis can get the chance to do so,” she said.
Pressley said that much of her work to secure protections for the USPS has also been informed by the realities shared with her by her constituents.
“The United States Postal Service is a public institution and a public good. It is one of the largest, if not the largest, employer of veterans and it also has one of, if not the most, diverse work forces in the country, she said, “For many, the USPS was their best access to a living wage job. It changed their life by affording them social and economic mobility. I’ve received hundreds of calls from dedicated letter carriers who are concerned about the impacts, given this defunding of the USPs.”
She added: “In the Massachusetts 7th district alone, nine mail sorting machines were removed. I’ve received hundreds of calls from constituents who have not received mail-in ballots that they requested weeks ago, from seniors and veterans who have not received life-saving medication, from small business owners who rely on the USPS to move goods to their customers and freelancers who cannot receive payments.”
A week ago Saturday, the US House, in an emergency session, passed and sent on to the Senate the Delivering for America Act, which would provide $25 billion in emergency funds to support the USPS and prohibit agency officials from implementing or approving any changes to the operations or service levels in effect on Jan. 1, 2020, that would impede prompt, reliable, and efficient service. The Senate has yet to act on the bill.
“It would restore and offer redress for the harm that has been caused by Postmaster General Dejoy, something he refused to do when he came before the oversight committee,” said Pressley, who is a member of that panel and who last week questioned Louis Dejoy and later called for his resignation.
She said she was “very alarmed” by what she learned after questioning DeJoy. “All he has said is that he will not continue to do what he was doing, but not that he would reverse the harms that he has already caused. I learned that the number of Covid-impacted workers and letter carriers was much higher than had originally been reported, and in fact that there have been 83 fatalities from Covid,” she said, adding:
“I’ve requested that all of that data be collected according to congressional districts and shared back to the committee so that we know how many workers have tested positive, been quarantined, or have hospitalizations.”
Pressley said that Donald Trump’s comments and USPS’s efforts to dismantle and slow the delivery of mail in the midst of a pandemic knowing that there will be a higher proportion of people voting by mail is “voter suppression and intimidation. We need to not take the bait and we need to show up and participate because this administration has caused us hundreds and thousands of American lives and is a threat to our democracy. Period.”
This is why, she said, it is crucial for everyone to vote. “They are doing all of those things – in rhetoric, policy, and procedure – to compromise and undermine people’s faith and confidence in the USPS, and in these dedicated letter carriers and postal workers, as a way to dissuade you from showing up in person to cast a ballot.”
To Pressley, “the hypocrisy of that is that Donald Trump himself has requested a mail-in ballot, so clearly he has some semblance of faith despite his rampant charges of fraud in the mail process.”
Looking ahead, Pressley said she’ll be focused on continuing to connect with her constituents, working to grow a majority in the House, flipping the Senate and “electing Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris –that’s the number one.”