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May 3, 2023

Pressley Joins Boston Public Radio After Hours at Copley Library

Wide-Ranging Discussion Covered Court Reform, ERA, Student Debt, Gun Control, Female Leadership, & More

Full Episode (GBH) | Photo (Dropbox)

BOSTON – Yesterday, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan for a special after-hours edition of GBH’s Boston Public Radio at the Boston Public Library’s Copley Branch. The event featured a musical performance by a Boston Arts Academy ensemble and a wide-ranging discussion about Supreme Court reform, the Equal Rights Amendment, student debt cancellation, gun control, what’s at stake over the next 18 months, and other topics.

Rep. Pressley also took questions from the audience about protecting disability rights, funding for the arts, and more.

The full conversation can be listened to here (interview starts at 01:24:23) and highlights are available below (edited lightly for clarity):

On Supreme Court reform and Justice Clarence Thomas:

REP. PRESSLEY: The highest court in the land, which in this moment, I believe its legitimacy has been considerably undermined, both in that they are consistently overturning the majority will of the people. They are far right, extremist, unbalanced. And we have to restore [its] fairness, integrity, and legitimacy. No one should be able to be influenced. And certainly, we saw reports from Clarence Thomas, I think make that case. And I’m grateful to Senator Warren who has introduced legislation specifically around ethical standards. And then Senator Markey and I have introduced legislation to expand the courts, which sounds, perhaps to some radical, but there is precedent for this, it’s been done six times before.

MARGERY EAGAN: Senator Markey thinks that Clarence Thomas should resign…what do you think about that?

REP. PRESSLEY: I co-sign that.

On Republicans’ strategy of fear, cruelty and callousness

REP. PRESSLEY: Let me just say that it’s I mean, Democrats have two years to make the affirmative case in the House to get the gavel back and, of course, then keep the White House as well. And in 2024, and our argument certainly can’t be that we’re not them.

But I would say that they strengthen our hand, because you use the word fear, that is central to everything that they do. The chaos and the confusion and the fear mongering, and the hateful policies and legislating. I mean, are you kidding me? Everything going on in this country, everything that our families are dealing with, and still recovering not only economically from the pandemic, but psychologically, you know, the layered crisis that we’re managing, the attacks on our civil rights and civil liberties, bodily autonomy.

All these things are being threatened, and what they’re putting forward are anti- really forced birthing bills and legislation that I would consider child abuse. When you’re talking about attacking trans children. I mean, even the Utah governor had something to say he said: “Just 4,000 student athletes, right? High school athletes, and then I think four of them were girls—was like one trans girl, right?”

So anyway, so they use hate in everything. They fearmonger, they legislate pain, and the from the lower courts all the way to the Supreme Court. And that’s what’s so dangerous about this. They have become accomplices. They have become co-conspirators, proxies for this extremist MAGA agenda.

And again, because only Democrats are asked ‘are you willing to be bipartisan?’ I’m willing to sit at the table and work with anybody in the name of progress. My Post Disaster Mental Health [Response] Act bill, signed into law by President Biden, had more Republican co-sponsors than Democratic co-sponsors. I’ll sit at the table and work with anyone in the name of progress, but they have proven themselves over and over again that they govern with chaos and confusion. And that isn’t a residual effect. That’s their strategy.

On the Equal Rights Amendment and marching to the Senate:

REP. PRESSLEY: So I introduced legislation to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, it’s been over 100 years—you all should be clapping on that. [inaudible]

You know, equal rights under the law shall not be [infringed] or denied by the United States or any state on account of sex. For 100 plus years, we have been fighting for gender equality to be enshrined in our Constitution. We’re not reflected in the founding document of this country, despite all that we do to preserve this democracy, what we do on the ballot, at the ballot box, the contribution that we’ve made to the movements, to community 100 plus years.

So my legislation would do away with the arbitrary deadline. So in 1972, it was passed, but with an arbitrary deadline for ratification. Since that time, 80% of the countries of the globe have enshrined gender equality in their constitution. [38] have met the ratification and so the women of this country have done their job, advocates and activists, states have done their job, and Congress must do their job. And so I’m very encouraged by the vitality of this movement in this moment, especially from Gen Z. They’re very involved in this.

And so, Senator Durbin, who’s one of our partners in this, held a Senate hearing on the ERA, it was the first Senate hearing in forty years. And then there was a vote in the Senate. And so we went there, myself and many of my colleagues, to look them in the face, to demand that they vote yes and we lost narrowly, but I want to say, it was very demoralizing to see Republicans in the Senate, defiantly putting a thumbs down. I mean, they were just so defined and indignant, and proud to be putting a thumbs down as if they don’t have mothers or women or their family or aren’t raising daughters.

Nothing should be controversial about this. When this passed in 1972, it was bipartisan. We should not be partisan about, you know, common sense you know, gun control, voting rights, gender equality, these things should not even be controversial. And Jim and Margery, there was debate the night before equal time held, not one Republican case, not one. And so when we arrived at the Chamber, Murkowski was ostensibly filibustering, talking to an empty Chamber, because they did not even deem this vote as worthy of debate.

On staying hopeful in this moment

AUDIENCE MEMBER: With today’s climate of injustice and hate, it’s hard to turn on the news and consume media without feeling powerless to change the forces at hand. How do you stay hopeful, and what advice do you have for young people wanting to make a change and stay hopeful?

REP. PRESSLEY: I’m not sure of your age, but it’s really your generation that gives me a lot of hope, because they don’t have…a detached acceptance the face of injustice. Most of the young people that I’m proximate to are leading movements. When it comes to racial justice, climate justice, and ultimately have proven themselves successful. The President ultimately acted on student debt cancellation by executive action, because of the strength of this movement with a lot of young people who were championing issues-based activism, from bodily autonomy and gender affirming care, racial justice, climate justice, student debt cancellation.

So, you know, it’s been my experience more often than not, that government does not lead, it responds. And so it responds to pressure, it responds to movements, and holds us accountable. I can understand how exhausting it can be given the layered crises that we’re all navigating. But you are entitled to a future. A future with clean water and breathable air and pursuing higher education and your dreams without being in permanent debt for the rest of your life. Being able to if you want to purchase a home in the community in which you were raised, to build wealth, you deserve a government and a world that meets you at your needs and your dreams.

And so, I know it can be dispiriting, but I will share this with you and many people who know me know that I’m a sucker for that affirmation. I’m no poet but poetry is probably what I read the most and so it’s sort of a balm for a weary soul for me. I read a lot of Audre Lorde, a lot of Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou. But I also like affirmations. And so an affirmation that has really been anchoring me the last four years is this: I choose the discipline of hope, over the ease of cynicism. And I choose fortitude over fatalism. It’s just a reminder that hope isn’t something organic, it is a practice.

On student debt cancellation and the path forward:

JIM BRAUDE: If the Supreme Court screws this [student debt cancellation] program, what’s plan B? If they determine the President did not have the executive authority to forgive ten or $20,000 in student debt, what do you do?

REP. PRESSLEY: Well, you know, Jim, as an organizer, I certainly pride myself on making sure that there are always contingency plans. But in this instance, I think it’s important that we not cede any ground or any defeat as of yet. And maybe not ever, because the legal case is sound, the Supreme Court just needs to uphold the law.

President Biden has the authority, the same authority that was used that we organized and pushed him to do a pause on student loan payments during the pandemic. He has the authority. Congress has given him the authority and so the legal case is sound. The Supreme Court just needs to uphold the law. And in the same way that we fought for executive action, and then once you get past that, I mean, again, this is going to impact 40 million plus people. This will, for one in four Black borrowers, this will zero their debt out completely. If you’re a Pell Grant recipient, we’re talking about $20,000 worth of debt canceled, non-Pell Grant recipients $10,000.

And I always call it relief or cancellation and not forgiveness, because borrowers have done nothing wrong. They are doing what we have told them to do in what is supposed to be a meritocracy. And education is supposed to be a great equalizer, but the cost of it has increased by 150%. Putting that farther and farther out of reach. And so this is an issue of great consequence for people from every walk of life. Over 100,000 people in my district, for the Mass Seventh alone stand to benefit from this relief. And so we’ve been at the Supreme Court, organizing rallying to keep that pressure up, but the legal case is sound.

On Senator Dianne Feinstein:

SARAYA WINTERSMITH:  Good evening, Congresswoman. I want to revisit the conversation about age and lucidity and your eyes on the Senate. Your sister in service asserted that California Democrat Dianne Feinstein should resign, given her extended absence from the chamber. She is recovering from shingles. She’s quoted in CNN, AOC, as saying that’s causing harm to the Judiciary Committee. Where are you in that discussion?

REP. PRESSLEY: Certainly, I wish the senator, who’s a trailblazer in her own right and has ably and faithfully served in the Senate for many decades, I wish her well in her health and her recovery. But I do think that if it is impacting her ability to do the job, then I would support a resignation. Again, these are very consequential times, the numbers in the Senate are very slim. The work of the Judiciary Committee, just as one example, like all committees, is very important. But again, especially in this moment.

On the important role of the arts:

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You mentioned yourself that art is political but so often we professionals can become entrenched in our own practice that we lose sight of our particular positionality in the larger landscape. So my question is, what role do you think the arts can and should play in the wider societal, cultural and political conversation?

REP. PRESSLEY: I think it should be integrated. In my time on the Boston City Council, briefly, I chaired the committee on what was then called Arts, Film, Humanities and Tourism. And I worked with the state legislature to establish several cultural districts in the city of Boston.

I want the arts to be integrated and everything, both in our economy, in our culture. But let me just say this, I think that we’re selfish when it comes to the arts. We want to benefit from artistic contributions, but we don’t support the artists and many artists are living below the poverty line. And so we need housing that is affordable for artists and artists and their families, because people often treat artists like they are just solo in the world. And so if there are housing and workspaces or performance spaces that are affordable that they can live in, it’s usually just for them. And it doesn’t see them outside of that.

So I think art is integral to everything, our culture, our civic life, our politics, our economy. And, you know, I will say of my colleagues across the aisle, that they have no appreciation for the arts and in fact, you know, maybe they’re all a bunch of actors, bad ones. They’ll appreciate the bad. But through this most recent funding, community project funding, what used to be called earmarks, they banned a lot of the eligibility for artistic and cultural institutions. They don’t see it as an imperative. They see it as, I don’t even know if they see it as additive, but they definitely don’t see it as mandatory, and I do in every way. That’s why it’s not STEM, it’s STEAM. There can be, there’s no innovation without the arts.

On gun violence prevention:

MARGERY EAGAN: Fox News, all people that said that over 80% of Americans… they want background checks, they want waiting periods. They want ages raised, you can’t be 18 and buy weapons, they want red flag laws, all these things. So, I just want, you talked about the impact of young people, you think about those Parkland kids that went to the mat to fight for gun legislation. What do you think are the prospects, with those kinds of numbers?

REP. PRESSLEY: Again, whether you’re talking about bodily freedom, whether you’re talking about gender equality in the Constitution, whether you’re talking about voting rights, whether you’re talking about the public health crisis that is gun violence, this is a moral issue. This is an urban issue. This is a suburban issue. This accounts for—it’s the number one killer, accidental killing of children in the home, killing by way of domestic violence, suicide, community-based violence, and of course, school shootings.

America for all of its desire to be exceptional, this is not the way in which we want to be a pace-setter for the globe. We are an anomaly. This tragic phenomenon does not occur anywhere else. And so we have to do something and you stole my talking points, because those are all the things we want: universal background checks, banning assault weapons and military grade weapons, increasing the age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21, red flag laws. I mean, we know what the commonsense reforms are, we know what needs to happen. And it’s just so sad that the NRA lobby and the influence of that on our colleagues across the aisle has been more committed to protecting guns than protecting our kids.

On female leadership and the changing political landscape in Massachusetts:

JIM BRAUDE: With women running the political show [in Massachusetts] is it over for men?

REP. PRESSLEY: Not as long as they support us. [laughter]

No, no, it does not. I do want to say, it is incredible, the sea change, the paradigm shift. But bear in mind when we say that the number of women, particularly in our Commonwealth, serving in these elected leadership and influential roles are unprecedented, that doesn’t mean that we yet have parity.

It’s unprecedented, but we still don’t have leadership parity when it comes to gender and race. And I think it’s also important to note that this sort of representation was decades in the making.

This has nothing to do with waves or flukes or magic. None of us is here by way of magic. We’re here because we’re damn good.