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Hundreds gather to see Pressley and ‘The Squad’ talk policy and identity in Somerville

The afternoon event followed morning canvassing in Roxbury

From left: Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib (at rear), and Ilhan Omar headed out to canvass in Boston for Pressley Saturday.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

SOMERVILLE — Representative Ayanna Pressley and members of “The Squad” celebrated Saturday afternoon with supporters before a sold-out crowd in Davis Square, after starting the day at a canvassing kickoff in Roxbury.

Pressley, along with fellow Democratic Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Cori Bush of Missouri, held a community celebration and panel conversation moderated by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, founding director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University and a co-founder of The Emancipator, a collaboration with The Boston Globe’s Opinion department, at the Somerville Theatre.

The line waiting to see the Squad at the theater stretched down the block Saturday afternoon, with people queuing up more than an hour before the event.

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The gathering started with an introduction from Pressley, who took the stage to a minutes-long standing ovation. Pressley laughed and blinked away tears as the audience clapped and shouted cries of “We love you!” and “We got you!”

“I love you all back,” she said.

“When you are truth tellers, when you speak out against injustice and inequity ... there are some who think that comes from a place of hate,” she continued. “But you know and I know this is a movement rooted in radical love.”

After applauding the work of her fellow congresswomen in helping to pass measures advancing climate justice and canceling student debt, Pressley turned her gratitude to the audience of fellow politicians, activists, and residents.

“My sisters in service are some bad, bad women ... but the Squad has always been bigger than the four or five of us,” she said. “Government does not lead, it responds, and right now it is responding to the strength of this movement.”

Kendi opened with a question about how each woman’s life experience influences their work on policy.

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Omar discussed identifying as a refugee and an immigrant, while Ocasio-Cortez spoke about how her experience as a survivor of sexual assault influences her perspective on abolition and transformative justice.

Bush gave a response that drew rousing applause from the crowd, which stomped and cheered her journey from a working mother fighting to feed her children to a member of Congress.

“I’ll never forget what it was like to be hungry, and my kids were eating and I wasn’t ... what it was like to sit in that car with my partner and my two babies and wonder if I sleep too long, will one of my babies be dead when I wake up?” she said. “And so, because that still happens, how dare I not push?”

“We’re used to having this foot on our necks,” she added, in reference to the “millionaire and billionaire” politicians known to push back on progressive policy, “but lemme tell you what: we got heels on theirs.”

Though the audience was largely filled with Boston area residents, some had made the trip from out of state.

“I took a bus from New York Friday after work that didn’t get in until 1 a.m., so that tells you how much I wanted to be here,” said Pascale Solages, a Haitian refugee and activist who fled her country last year after threats were made on her life.

“The Squad are an inspiration to Haitian women who want to do politics... Ayanna Pressley especially is an advocate for liberty and against the violence, corruption, and impunity of the Haitian government,” said Solages, who said she now works in Brooklyn for a nonprofit serving the Haitian migrant community. “As an immigrant and a refugee, it’s important for me to be where the work is getting done, and to listen to what these women have to say.”

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Earlier in the day, speaking to an audience of about 100 supporters at Marcella Playground in Roxbury, Pressley, Tlaib, Omar, and Ocasio-Cortez, touted legislative victories and urged volunteers to keep up their energy and get out the vote ahead of the Nov. 8 midterms.

“I’m talking about the movement — we are more powerful than we realize and we are winning,” Pressley said, drawing cheers from the audience as she and the other congresswomen stood on a concrete platform in the park on a sunny and breezy morning.

Ocasio-Cortez, who graduated from Boston University in 2011 before returning to her home of New York City, where she won a House seat in 2018, said she has long admired Boston and Massachusetts for being at the forefront of progressive policies.

“Boston and Roxbury, y’all are the tip of the spear in this country in many ways, and [Republicans] want to blunt that so bad,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Because what happens if we actually confront a world where we tax the rich, where we distribute things equitably?”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu attended the canvassing kickoff in Roxbury and received applause when Ocasio-Cortez praised her for pushing for free public transportation and opening a free bus line in the city shortly after she was elected mayor.

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Pressley became the first Black woman elected to Congress in Massachusetts when she won the seat representing the 7th district in 2018, defeating a 10-term incumbent in the Democratic primary, amid a swell of support for progressive candidates following the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. She held onto the office in 2020 and supporters are poised to send her back for a third term. She is facing Donnie Palmer, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary for the 7th district.

One by one, the congresswomen took turns with the microphone to laud Pressley and galvanize the volunteers before heading out into the neighborhood.

Tlaib praised Pressley as a leader, noting the House’s passing of the CROWN Act earlier this year, which prohibits discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles.

“Always, when it comes to policy, she pushes and says ‘enough’,” Tlaib said. “So I just want to say thank you on behalf of the whole country, thank you for sending Ayanna Pressley.”

Following their remarks, which lasted about 30 minutes, the congresswomen stayed together on the small stage as a long line of supporters formed to get photos with them.

Amr Omer, 30, and his girlfriend, Yejim Kim, were among those patiently waiting. The couple lives nearby but didn’t know about the event until they saw people gathering in the park.

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Omer said he supports Pressley and was “stoked” to suddenly have the chance to meet her and “The Squad.”

“It’s great to see them uplift each other,” Omer said. “I think with a lot of the changes that we’ve seen, with Roe v. Wade being overturned, this could be a good moment for the Democrats. ... I think by now there’s a lot of momentum going with the infrastructure bill being passed and the tuition relief. We need to keep moving up from there.”


Ivy Scott can be reached at ivy.scott@globe.com. Follow her @itsivyscott. Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com.