It’s official: Democrat Ayanna Pressley will become Massachusetts’s first black member of the US House of Representatives.
Pressley, a 44-year-old Boston city councilor, made history for the Bay State on Tuesday night. She became the first black member Massachusetts has sent to the US House of Representatives and the first black woman the state has sent to either house of Congress.
Her win on Tuesday night was all but assured; she essentially won during the September primary when she defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Michael Capuano. She faced no Republican challenger in Massachusetts’s Seventh Congressional District.
Pressley’s primary wasn’t so much a fight over which candidate was more progressive; it was about who was best to represent a diverse district. Capuano voted against the Iraq War, supports Medicare-for-all, and was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House.
People of color make up the majority of the Seventh District’s residents, but as local public radio station WBUR noted, white people make up the majority of the voters there.
Pressley argued that she could represent the district’s voters from her lived experience as a young black woman. Here’s what she said in a debate with Capuano:
I’m not going to pretend that representation doesn’t matter. But it doesn’t matter about how inclusive and representative we are. It matters because it informs the issues that are spotlighted and emphasized, and it leads to more innovative and enduring solutions. That’s why it matters. You cannot have a government for and by the people if it is not represented by all of the people.
She is part of an important group of young black representatives and women of color nominated to Congress in 2018. As Vox’s P.R. Lockhart wrote, the fact that so many won the Democratic nominations speaks to the fact that black voters want their elected politicians to be responsive to the unique issues the community faces:
The call is not just for more representation. It’s also, as Pressley explained, a call for a party that better responds to the issues people of color face. Polls of black voters show that they are dealing with high levels of racial anxiety this year, and that they are looking for politicians capable of speaking to issues like health care and the economy as well as racial justice. And while Trump is someone who black voters want to stand up against, they have also indicated that opposition to Trump isn’t enough to get them to the polls.