Pressley launches grassroots campaign

Yawu Miller | 8/10/2011, 12:09 p.m.
At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley talks to supporters during a fundraiser last week. Pressley is campaigning for re-election to her second term in the City Council. Yawu Miller

“I learned that the school department had not updated its pregnant and parenting teens policies since 1989,” Pressley says.

Her office produced a report with recommendations for policy changes ranging from not punishing mothers for coming to school late when their daycare opens late, to offering on-line classes and tutoring support for mothers at home with their babies.

“I believe we have a moral imperative to help that young mother and her child,” Pressley says. “The life and success of the child is linked to the success of the mother. If they don’t complete their education, at best they’ll make $14,000 annually.

Pressley, who heads the council’s newly-formed Women and Healthy Communities Committee, often cites her own upbringing as the child of a single mother as the motivating force for her focus on social change. The death of her mother, who succumbed to cancer last month, seems to have given Pressley even more of an imperative to fight for social justice.

“I was an only child,” Pressley says. “My mother raised me by herself.”

Each of the four at-large councilors has an issue area in which they specialize. Arroyo focuses on youth issues. Connolly on education. Murphy is known for his thorough knowledge of the city’s budget. Pressley’s focus on women, children and family issues has helped her stand out on the council.

“She’s been an advocate for all women who live in Boston and has done a particularly good job,” says Prithi Rao, executive director of the Massachusetts Women’s Caucus.

Other issues she has championed include a requirement that all construction projects governed by the Boston Residents Jobs Policy be listed on the Boston Redevelopment Authority website along with a detailed accounting of how many Boston residents, people of color and women are working on the site.

Pressley’s career in politics has taken her from the world of national and international policy to the nuts and bolts of city departments. Success for her is not only changing policy, but also packing a hearing room full of affected constituents who understand they have the power to effect change.

“I want people to understand the impact of municipal government,” she says. “This is the form of government closest to the community.”

With plans for an aggressive, grassroots, get-out-the-vote effort, Pressley will have to bring the gospel of civic engagement to the people.

“It’s going to take a grassroots effort,” Venay says. “It’s going to take a lot of knocking on doors. She’s going to have to be out there, hitting the pavement, telling her story.”