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Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Squad rallies Pressley’s volunteers in Roxbury
Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar entering Marcella Park in Roxbury. Banner photo

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, the first Palestinian American elected to Congress, soundly beat a primary challenge from a Democrat who benefitted from $700,000 in funding from a pro-Israeli political action committee.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar won a five-way race for the Democratic nomination in her Minneapolis-based district, despite attack ads from the American Israel Political Action Committee equating her positions on foreign affairs with support for terrorism.

In New York, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had an easier time with her four-way race for the Democratic nomination, beating the closest of three challengers by nearly 50 points.

So why were the three of them stumping for fellow “Squad” member Ayanna Pressley during an appearance in Roxbury last Saturday?

Ocasio-Cortez, rallying a group of volunteer canvassers for Pressley’s campaign at Marcella Park, pointed to two of the four referenda on this November’s ballot — Question 1, the so-called millionaire tax, and Question 4, which would enable immigrants without legal status in the U.S. to obtain a driver’s license in Massachusetts.

Noting that the state has often led the nation in passing progressive reforms, such as legalizing same-sex marriage, Ocasio-Cortez urged Pressley’s supporters to keep pushing for change.

“They know that you’re fighting for a better world,” she said. “It’s not easy being the tip of the spear, and Boston and Roxbury — y’all are the tip of the spear in this country in many ways. And they want to blunt that so bad, because what happens if we actually construct a world where we tax the rich, where we distribute things equitably?”

The fight for the ballot questions Ocasio-Cortez alluded to — both of which poll favorably with voters — will likely be a closer contest than Pressley’s re-election will be. In the race for the 7th Congressional District, Pressley is facing Trump supporter Donnie Palmer, a Dorchester boxer who made headlines most recently for his involvement in a brawl outside of the Somerville Theatre where the Squad rallied for Pressley. Palmer, who has a balance of $00.0 in his campaign account, according to the most recent filing with the Office of Campaign and Public Finance, won the Republican nomination in September with 4,657 votes versus 114 write-in votes. Pressley won the Democratic nomination with 69,227 votes versus 893 write-ins.

Pressley’s supporters say that even with token opposition, she still needs a respectable showing at the ballot box.

“If she’s not getting the numbers, it’s a disappointment,” said volunteer Mikey Myles, a Roslindale resident who showed up Saturday to canvass. “She says ‘Change can’t wait.’ [But] she can’t change things by herself.”

During her nearly four years in office, Pressley has prioritized issues including criminal justice reform, immigrant rights, equitable distribution of COVID relief funds and other progressive causes. She told her supporters she needs their support to continue such advocacy.

“I thank you for the role that you are playing in ushering in what we all believe in and seek — to make real a politics not of transaction, but of transformation, where we can usher in a world where people’s lives are defined by joy and possibility, and not by trauma, hardship and oppression.”

Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar addresses political activists at Marcella Park. Banner photo

In addition to stops in Roxbury and Somerville, Pressley took her congressional colleagues to the Cambridge restaurant La Fábrica. Omar noted that on a past visit to the district, Pressley took her and other Black Caucus members to meetings with inmates in a state prison, with entrepreneurs working in the community and with a group of young girls interested in public policy.

“I always say in a representative democracy, the people that represent you should have fluency in your day-to-day struggles, so that they can seek to find solutions that will get rid of those struggles,” Omar said. “Having someone whose community-centered policy focus allows for your voices to be translated into positive policy in Washington.”

Pressley said she and other Squad members have been engaged in what she calls “deep canvassing” — engaging communities in conversations about policies including student debt cancellation, unionization and fare-free public transit.

This organizing is working, she said.

“We are more powerful than we realize, and we are winning,” she told the Roxbury gathering. “If that was not true, fare-free transit would not be a part of a national conversation. Climate justice would not be a part of a national conversation. We would not see those advancements.”