Somerville, MA

Ayanna Pressley, “The Squad” rallies supporters in Somerville

The Tufts Daily
Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley are pictured at a campaign rally on Sept. 24.(Aaron Gruen / The Tufts Daily)

By Aaron Gruen

Members of the congressional ‘Squad’ spoke to a crowd of supporters at the Somerville Theatre on Saturday evening. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who represents Somerville in the U.S. House of Representatives, was joined by Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush at the sold-out event.

Ibram X. Kendi, the bestselling author of “How To Be An Antiracist,” moderated a discussion between the congresswomen, primarily asking how their past experiences influence their political identities.

“I’m excited to be moderating this conversation this evening, for us to talk about policy … and for us to also learn about how [the Squad’s] lived experiences shaped their fight, the movement they’re trying to build [and] the policies they’re trying to institute,” Kendi said.

The discussion began with each congresswoman offering their interpretations of intersectionality.

“Foundational to our work is the idea that we are one human family, and that our freedoms and our destinies are inextricably tied,” Pressley said. “What happens to one of us had better be the business of all of us.”

Ocasio-Cortez added that intersectionality “challenges us to think about the many different multitudes in which we exist.”

“When we think of ourselves so much more interdimensionally, it gives us so many ports of connection with others,” she said. “And what that does, is it dismantles the systems that rely on our isolation and disconnection.

Shortly before the event, attendees lined around the theater. Paige, a Boston University student who volunteered on Omar’s 2018 congressional campaign, said she convinced her friends to come along with her to the theater in Somerville to support the progressive congresswomen.

“I like the Squad because they’re very forward about how they’re feeling about reproductive rights,” Paige said.

While supporters for the group of congresswomen waited in line, Donnie Palmer, a Republican running against Pressley, shouted at eventgoers, suggesting they should be placed on a white supremacist watchlist for supporting Pressley. Later that night, Palmer was involved in a fight behind the theater, which is now under investigation by the Somerville Police. Palmer declined the Daily’s request for comment.

Inside the theater, Pressley talked about staying accountable to voters.

“Sometimes people will make you feel in your advocacy that you are appealing for charity or benevolence,” Pressley said. “This was never about that; this was about accountability and reciprocity because this movement delivered the Democratic majority and a mandate informed by issues-based activists.”

Earlier in the day, Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib rallied a smaller group of volunteers in Roxbury for a canvass. Among those in attendance was Michelle Wu, the mayor of Boston.

Greg, a student at Boston University who attended the rally, said he is most concerned about preserving democracy. “We have to preserve Democratic majorities in both chambers because our way of government is at stake at this point.”

“People closest to the pain should be closest to the power, driving and informing the policymaking,” Pressley said to the crowd of volunteers. “I believe, if they can legislate hurt and harm, we can legislate equity, healing and justice.”

Mikey Myles, a Boston resident who has been a supporter of Pressley’s congressional campaign “since day one,” also attended the morning rally. She told the Daily she is passionate about “anything around student debt … housing the community [and] keeping the young people out of incarceration.”

In the morning and at the theater, Pressley spoke about her push to convince President Biden to cancel all student loan debt, following his decision in August to relieve some borrowers of up to $20,000.

“In Massachusetts, there are over 800,000 federal borrowers,” Pressley said. “100,000 of my constituents will be eligible for this relief … for Black borrowers, one in four will have their debt zeroed out completely.”

Later in the evening, Ocasio-Cortez addressed misconceptions around prison abolition and the American carceral system.

“It’s important, I think, for all of us to acknowledge abolition is not about the destination,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The destination is to have a society that doesn’t need prisons … [what] if we start asking ourselves the question of, instead of ‘how do we punish?’, but ‘how do we change?’”

At the end of the discussion, Bush opened up about struggling to raise her children and pay her bills before getting elected to Congress.

“I was working full time as a nurse, but spending so much money on childcare that I couldn’t make it work,” Bush said. “So many other people are going through these things, and nobody hears us. … We shouldn’t have to dig into our trauma to be able to help, but we allow that to happen because we know somebody is hurting.”

Following her personal story, the crowd gave a standing ovation to a visibly moved Bush. Pressley then closed out the event by reflecting on the role of community and sisterhood in her campaign and in Congress.

“The Squad is big,” Pressley said. “You cannot deny the power of this moment, the radical love in this room. In 2018, I ran on the mandate that change can’t wait. It still can’t.”

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