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Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)

Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), joined by other incoming progressive members of Congress, spoke at a rally in Harvard Square on Tuesday. (Ayanna Pressley for Congress/YouTube)

Choosing #PeoplesOrientation, Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez Protest Right-Wing Backed Event for New Members of Congress

"I was sent to Washington to fight, alongside all of my colleagues—to save and to improve lives," declares Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley

Jessica Corbett

A group of progressives elected to the U.S. House in November came together for a #PeoplesOrientation rally on Tuesday night, skipping out on a speech by Elaine Chao—the Trump administration's transportation secretary and wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—at an orientation for new members of Congress.

"I was not sent to Washington to play nice."
—Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley

While many incoming lawmakers participated in the supposedly bipartisan conference hosted by Harvard Kennedy School's Institute for Politics and co-sponsored by the corporate think tank American Enterprise Institute, a group of high-profile progressives joined Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) at the outdoor event, organized by the Center for Popular Democracy and Boston-area Medicare-for-All advocates.

As Boston Globe columnist Nestor Ramos put it, "Some of the left's rising stars—the first real glimmer of hope for progressive causes in about two years—staked out a strategy that doesn't sound much like the bend-over-backwards-for-bipartisanship, please-sir-may-I-have-another Democrats who might as well have Republican footprints tattooed on their necks."

Democratic representatives-elect who attended the rally included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Andy Levin (Mich.), Lori Trahan (Mass.), Mary Gay Scanlon (Pa.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).

Gathered in the cold on Tuesday night outside the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square, Pressley reportedly told a crowd of students and activists, "I was not sent to Washington to play nice."

"I was sent to Washington to fight, alongside all of my colleagues—to save and to improve lives," she said, pointing to the significant wealth gap in the district she will soon represent and vowing to pursue the bold policies on which she ran, including legislation to strengthen gun control, mitigate the climate crisis, and implement Medicare for All.

"I have no illusions about how hard it is to craft a forward-facing, lifesaving policy while we are fighting this administration at every corner," Pressley added. "The people that elected me are looking for progress."

"We refuse to put hope and aspiration and values on a shelf," she declared. "This is why the Democrats won. This is why we're in the majority," noting that Democrats succeeded in flipping the House in the November midterms.

"I have no illusions about how hard it is to craft a forward-facing, lifesaving policy while we are fighting this administration at every corner."

"I am so thankful that Ayanna is taking up this fight, because God knows we need it," Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd on Tuesday. "We need to shake this nation awake."

The New Yorker, whose primary upset against a top Democratic Party leader earlier this year immediately drew a national spotlight, also showed up for some Wednesday events planned by the Center for Popular Democracy, which has dubbed its collection of actions at Harvard this week the #PeoplesOrientation.

For one event on Wednesday morning, activists delivered to Harvard's president a letter demanding that the university divest from a hedge fund that is driving austerity and privatization in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

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