Fecteau: Pressley’s Gut Check to the Status Quo

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Another member of Congress faced a dramatic defeat from an underdog candidate, but this time, in New England. Boston city councilwoman Ayanna Pressley beat out incumbent Massachusetts US Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA) in the latest historic political upset.

With no general election opponent, this will be the first time Massachusetts elects an African-American woman to serve in US Congress. This victory shows that change is still possible. I volunteered for Pressley, and readily admit, I supported her because of her background, and believe that we can still change the political system even with money raining from the sky. I didn’t feel Pressley had a chance considering the enormous obstacles she faced, but happy to admit I was wrong. Pressley’s victory is a massive gut check to the status quo.

Another One Bites The Dust

Pressley did admittedly run an inspiring campaign. Her team was filled with good-natured, mostly young people that truly want to make the world a better place; they are the antithesis of every stereotype of millennials: eager, disciplined, and motivated. This group of unique individuals shunned transactional leadership and embraced transformational leadership driven by inspiration and passion for change; the same passion that drove presidential hopeful US Senator Bernie Sanders to win some significant victories in his own presidential primary.

Pressley’s campaign was well organized. The campaign sent out regular updates via text messages, email, and on social media. With every major event, a text was sent to volunteers asking them to volunteer. It was similar to how flash mobs work but in a much more productive, positive way. Each volunteer also went through a rigorous training course for canvassing and phone banking. The people didn’t just work there but were part of a team that was motivated by a unified belief we still can change the world – money be damned!

Antithesis of Millennial Stereotypes

This campaign wasn’t about issues per se. Capuano was a true-blue Democrat. If you look at him on the issues, there is little disagreement between Pressley and Capuano; both candidates are progressive and Capuano even supports universal health care. Some minute key differences include defunding US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, support for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Pressley’s rejection of corporate PAC money.

In New York City, I witnessed the stunning upset that took place when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated US Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) in the Democratic Primary. The parallels with Pressley are striking as she told a compelling narrative that Capuano could not compete with considering his long tenure in Congress. This resonated with the voters on the ground. While canvassing, many felt the current Congressional incumbents aren’t getting the job done (echoed at the national level), maybe it is time for someone else?

Pressley now brings diversity to a predominately white, old boys’ club that makes up our Congress. Going door to door, the people I spoke to find it a little odd that there is even a primary challenge, and many were happy to hear it was an African American woman; this was something almost unheard of in New England politics. Still, people found it refreshing because they craved something new, especially in a predominate minority area.

Diversity

At first, the polling didn’t look promising for Pressley. Capuano was up by nearly 13 points, but her team pressed on; ignoring the polls. In politics, anything is possible especially if you inspire voters who are typically not ‘likely voters’ to vote in a primary. Most didn’t think Mr. Donald Trump would be elected to the highest office in the land, but he was. No one thought little known Republican congressional candidate Mr. Dave Brat would defeat Republican House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), but Brat pulled ahead; no one thought that a former waitress Ocasio Cortez would win in the primary against US Rep Joe Crowley (D-NY), someone that could have become speaker of the house; and yet, Ocasio-Cortez won.

Pressley underscored the message sent by Ocasio-Cortez when she won in New York: change is still possible in a political system dominated by corporate dollars; this is money that enriched Capuano’s campaign war chest. Pressley embodied a credible alternative, telling a unique story that captured the imagination of the people she now represents in Congress; with everything else considered, that is what thrust her to victory.

Matthew Fecteau
Matt Fecteau of Pawtucket, Rhode Island is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and an Iraq War veteran. Send him email at Matthew.Fecteau@gmail.com
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