ORANGEBURG, S.C.—It’s hard to ascertain how much endorsements help a political candidate and the data that measures it often show it has little effect on voters—especially with independents. The best way to rally support behind candidates is usually local, grassroots politicking and years of familiarity.
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s support of presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren feels different, however. The Boston congresswoman carries a bold, uncompromising black womanhood that her supporters hope will help Warren win over unsure voters waiting her campaign. If there is one endorsement that could convert those undecided voters on Warren, Pressley is likely it. She makes an entrance wherever she goes, just by being herself.
We met briefly recently at a local cafe here in Orangeburg between her campaign stops for Warren and the first thing that strikes you as she enters your presence is the confidence with which she walks and her bald head that she revealed exclusively to The Root during a video in which she discussed living with alopecia.
Her story captures you. She captures you. That is Pressley’s power in oratory, a power she hopes can help her friend, Warren, who she has known for 10 years.
I asked her how South Carolinians have received her pitch on Warren and if she feels there is an energy around the Massachusetts senator that mainstream media or polls aren’t registering. She feels it is, but it isn’t being amplified enough—especially by the press. Pressley would know. During her own 2018 primary, she was considered an underdog like Warren is now in 2020.
She never believed those polls were accurate. She doesn’t pay attention to the polls showing Warren lagging behind now, either.
“We don’t ride the poller coaster,” Presley said. “Days before the [2018 primary], they said we were down by 13 points and we won by a decisive 18. I think it’s about not making assumptions about who desires a seat at the table, desires and deserves a seat at the table of democracy. It’s about meeting people in the community where they are, it’s about listening to them.”
I asked her about those black voters here who, according to polls, are leaning towards Biden and if Warren could win some of them over. Pressley said that black folks aren’t monoliths and that people need to get to know Warren first. That is why she is traveling the country trying to get folks to do what she and many of her supporters feel the media aren’t doing: spreading the good word on how great Warren is.
“This is her first time running for president,” Pressley said. “So there are still a number of people still getting to know the Elizabeth Warren I know. What we’re focused on is building a movement and meeting as many people in the community exactly where they are, listening to them and talking about her intersectional racial justice lens. I also just want to add that she’s not riding any poller coaster at all. And even if a poll said that she was leading 80 percent of the black voters, it wouldn’t change how she campaigns. She’s just head down, focused on the task right in front of her, running hard. She’s been on the ground in 31 states, building an organization that is built to last. Our mantra in team Warren is out-organize, outwork, outlast, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The Root has been here in South Carolina for a week now and our reporting has found interest in Warren’s campaign, but the concern amongst her supporters of all races is the sexism they feel she is experiencing and the media coverage that negatively portrays her assertiveness on stage. She is also experiencing difficulty making inroads with black people here, per the New York Times. None of this stopped Pressley from spreading Warren’s message throughout South Carolina during her trips here, though.
One thing Pressley said about Warren is that she really listens to black women. During her campaign stops that The Root observed, she voiced this to audiences who came to hear her speak. Warren arguably has the most diverse group of black women supporting her campaign across the country, particularly the work of Black Womxn For and black trans women like Ashlee Marie Preston. More than any other campaign on the trail at this point, Warren has voiced her intentionality of centering black women in her policies and holding herself accountable to their critiques.
Pressley told me as much, adding that few politicians she has worked with have made themselves so open to criticism.
“She’s not saying that she has all the answers,” Pressley said. “She’s saying that she wants to develop the best answers in partnership with the community. The Elizabeth Warren that I’ve known for a decade who keeps her promises, who is a partner and is more than an excellent professor but an even better student of the people, that resonates. That resonates with folks. It’s just about getting the message out there. And I have to say that’s what’s been more challenging because I do think there’s been an effort to erase her, but that’s not unique to Elizabeth. This is a very par for the course for women in electoral politics and even throughout this cycle.”
But there is another observation that Pressley makes: Folks are afraid to believe in Warren for a wide range of reasons. She feels convincing them that her aspirations can actually be attainable with the right measure of political will and political courage, and also of empathy. And for those who are deciding who is the best person to beat Donald Trump, Pressley says it is Warren without a doubt.
“She’s the starkest contrast to the current racist, equal opportunity, offender and abuser and chief,” Pressley said. “She’s a woman. She coalitions and moves bills. He’s this go-it-alone narcissist. He sows the seeds of division, legislated hate and hurt. She knows the power of the pen. The occupant uses the power of the pen to write oppressive policies. She’ll use the power of the pen to write equitable, inclusive policies to make a more just world.”
The polls have Warren finishing fourth here, but that doesn’t bother her. To Pressley’s point, she’s building a campaign that her team hopes will last long enough for her message to pick up traction.
Pressley is hopeful South Carolina will hear Warren out. She thinks they will. She believes Warren can win America over with due time. That is why Pressley is giving so much of her own time away from Washington to extend Warren’s race.
She believes Warren can win.
“Elizabeth Warren gives me hope because I know she sees me and I know she listens to me,” Pressley said. “That’s clear, given the policies that she’s developed in her vision for the country. It’s one that it’s a world that we deserve to live in. It’s the world that I want my 11-year -old daughter to inherit. She’s a partner. She keeps her promises. She’s a good student. And she has a racial justice and equity lens. She’s been very intentional about the development of that.”