Meet a Progressive: Advocating for Progressive Social Change with Nick Pressley
"Anyone can be an advocate for change. But some of the best advocates for progressive social change come from impacted communities and marginalized identities..."
Nick Pressley is director of campaigns for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
What inspired you to start working for progressive social change?
For a long time I lived in survival mode, paycheck to paycheck. I thought I was doomed to forever be stuck in the cycles of poverty that I faced. After my father was murdered and I dropped out of college, I thought I was doomed to forever work in the food service industry, making a couple of bucks on the side slinging weed. After Trayvon Martin was murdered this sense of hopelessness began to compound - until I ran into an old college friend and he invited me to volunteer on a political campaign for the first time in my life. It was then that I learned something that would prove to be very valuable to me in the years since: Anyone can be an advocate for change. But some of the best advocates for progressive social change come from impacted communities and marginalized identities like mine. My background was an asset, not a hindrance, for the first time in my life. So I've committed to not only continue working on social change, but to bring that realization to others who have been in my shoes as well.
What do you identify as the top issues progressives must confront in PA, nationally and globally?
Wealth inequality and all of its roots and causes - generally. I spent years working on criminal justice reform until I realized that no matter what we were able to change, poverty would keep us from seeing any real lasting victories. I'm an abolitionist. I want to see a world where we feel safe enough that we don't need to rely on modern slave-catchers with guns to police our streets. And when correction is needed, we don't have to rely on the warehousing of people caged like animals. But we'll never get there as long as we live in a world where poverty keeps people in survival mode and forced to make difficult decisions in order to stay alive.
Tied to this in many more ways than are readily apparent at this time: defending our democracy and protecting our right to vote. We need to be able to choose our legislators and elected officials as opposed to having them choose their voters instead. Right now, as they realize that more people disagree with their viewpoint than ever, our current legislative majority in PA are intent on fixing the rules so that no matter what, they will be able to keep their power. They're doing this instead of working to make the lives of the people of the commonwealth better.
More specific issues would include: access to affordable housing, affordable and effective health care, living wages, and combating climate change.
Final note: We have a lot on our plate, but we can't hope to win in any of these issues without including a key demographic: people who have been so disenfranchised that they have disengaged entirely. We know that when we keep people focused on survival, they don't care about any of these larger societal issues. Which is part of the reason we haven't been able to win on them yet. So we need to devise ways to pull people out of survival mode so that we can all work on bettering this society together.
What types of organizing and projects are you working on right now?
As Director of Campaigns for the PA Budget and Policy Center, my main focus is on the We The People - PA campaign. Our main goals are to improve the lives of the people living in the Commonwealth by creating change to fiscal and other policy, including: raising the minimum wage, supporting small business, providing healthcare to all Pennsylvanians, ensuring that education is adequately funded, making sure that barriers are removed so that everyone who is legally eligible to vote can do so, and ensuring that people have safe, affordable housing, among other issues.
Some of our current major areas of focus are the bills I listed above.
How can folks get engaged and involved?
Please visit our website at:
Our social media at:
You can sign up on the websites for our mailing list or keep an eye on our socials where we will be posting calls to action, blog posts, and more. Soon we'll be setting up virtual community conversations with activists in regions all across the commonwealth. Folks are more than welcome to join us for those as well!
Which journalists, writers, podcasts, and publications do you turn to for information and inspiration?
I'm going to take the easy way out here and point to the excellent writing and blog posts from our team of phenomenal researchers and expert analysts as one of my major sources of inspiration and information. I am also a big fan of the Barnstorming PA podcast put out by Jordi Comas and Taylor Lightman. For other reading, I'm currently working my way through a book called "The Whiteness of Wealth" by Dorothy A. Brown. Highly recommend it for anyone who is having trouble understanding how institutional racism has directly caused the racial wealth gap in America today. It also provides insight into how these policies have now started to hurt poor families of all backgrounds as they try to build wealth in today's America.