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Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley visits Durham and discusses the current Civil Rights Movement


U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) reminded the people of Durham that the Civil Rights Movement has continued on to today and emphasized how powerful the movement is at a campaign event in Durham, NH on Oct. 29.  

The congresswoman thanked the three women who introduced her, Organize N.H.’s Lily Jackson, founder of the Manchester Black Lives Matter movement Ronnelle Tshiela and N.H. State Senate candidate Rebecca Perkins Kwoka. Then Pressley said that in Congress when a colleague says something that they agree with they say, “I associate myself with the comments said by my colleague.” Pressley then paused and said, “I associate myself with the comments said by all three of my colleagues.” 

Congresswoman Pressley came to New Hampshire to encourage N.H. student voters to vote Biden for president and tell everyone they know to vote – whether that be a relative, friend, or stranger. She reminded everyone of what she believes are the failures of the Trump administration and why Biden is the right choice for positive change in the country. However, she said to the crowd that they already know that, “so I guess I’m preaching to the choir.” 

She also joked that she’s not usually good at “sticking to text” for speeches and would speak of how she feels at the moment. She spoke of Donald Trump’s “cavalier disregard for human life” and of the “tsunami of hurt” she believes he has caused during his presidency. But she didn’t focus solely on Trump. Instead, she spoke on the future and the importance of voting for Biden and Kamala Harris on Nov. 3.  

She talked of what people have experienced in what she called Donald Trump’s America, but also of how happy she is with all of the strength that’s been on display and the commitment. She explained the pandemic and the economic hardships happening now, didn’t have to happen. “All because of the willful criminality of a science denier,” she said. 

The congresswoman continued, “It breaks my heart that we keep having to come together to protest, to demonstrate, to mobilize.” She said that despite everything, what everyone needs to be in the next few days is determined. “This is an unprecedented moment,” she said, which demands unprecedented mobilizing and voting.  

“But what I’m most emboldened by is the unprecedented hope,” she said to the crowd, encouraging them to keep that hope and remember how powerful the movement is. Pressley explained that this movement is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement. She also reminded everyone that the start of the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t that long ago.  

Pressley said the Civil Rights Movement was not “sanitized,” it was not as simple as “Martin marched, John crossed the bridge, and Rosa sat.” She said, “We are writing the next chapter in our civil Rights Movement right now.”  

She then listed off the lengths of several Civil Rights Movement events such as the 37-day Birmingham movement, the seven-month Freedom Ride, the five-month Greensboro sit-ins, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted 381 days. She said, “if those early architects of the Civil Rights Movement, if those seekers of justice, if those foot soldiers can make enormous personal sacrifices that they did now, for all of us,” she continued, “if they can lay their lives on the line… you can do, we must do what we have to for the next five days.” 

“And don’t think because we’re not in the south it doesn’t happen here,” she said of the idea that racism is only prevalent in the south. The congresswoman said that the evidence for it is in N.H. trying to suppress the youth vote.  

“So yesterday’s water hoses are today’s long lines. Yesterday’s attack dogs are today’s mailbox arson. And yesterday’s Klan are today’s militia and White Supremacy,” she said. 

She then asserted her belief to everyone that the current administration needs to be held accountable for the hurt and cruelty it has caused. She discussed that many families are on the precipice of eviction and said that “in the next five days we must do everything we need to, to evict Donald Trump.” 

Pressley also discussed her conversations with young activists that had only become political in the last four years. She discussed the discomfort some volunteers have tabling at an event, knocking at a stranger’s door, or calling a stranger. She said when she was young and felt that discomfort she would remind herself, “is it more uncomfortable, that conversation that I was initiating, or knocking on a door, doing something that felt unfamiliar. Poverty is much more uncomfortable. Food insecurity is much more uncomfortable. Injustice in every situation is much more uncomfortable.” 

For the congresswoman’s introduction, the first of the three speakers, Jackson, began the event by speaking about her personal experience with sexism in a previous internship she held and why voting for Biden and Harris is necessary to gender equality in the U.S.  

Tshiela stressed the importance of everyone voting in the coming election and said that she was devastated when she first found out the news that “hate had won.” She continued, “I worried about what that meant for me, and people who look like me.” She wished that she could have voted in the election, but she was only 17 at the time. Now, she looks forward to voting for Biden and explained that “we have to do everything we can in the next few days to make Joe and Kamala get to the White House.” She explained that since this May she has been fighting for racial justice in New Hampshire and that “the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake and several others have served as wake-up calls.”  

Tshiela said she is often exhausted by the constant fight for racial justice, and added, “But I refuse to stand down because we need to confront systemic racism head on, because yes Black lives matter and that is why Joe Biden has a plan to make sure that this country finally lives up to its promise of liberty and justice for all.” She ended her speech with a call to action for everyone in attendance: “I’m counting on you, let’s give these last few days our all!” 

Perkins-Kwoka then discussed her campaign for senate and why if she won it would be a historic moment for LGBTQ people everywhere. Perkins-Kwoka would be the first openly woman in the N.H. Senate who is in the LGBTQ community. She said she is inspired by Congresswoman Pressley who was the first woman of color elected to Congress in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She said, “We can’t just stand by, we need to stand up.” She said that Biden has a plan to address the pandemic, acknowledge the reforms needed in the criminal justice system, and make sure that climate change is ambitiously fought.  

Congresswoman Pressley ended her speech by restating her belief that the failings of this administration are on the ballot, from healthcare justice to climate justice to economic justice to racial justice.  

Photo Courtesy of Shawn Latulippe

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