Alexander Ocasio-Cortez has a history of hard work; she fits my impression of the sharp NYC server who understands the power of looking good and acting smart. It makes us-the customer happy – while making the firm -her allies the Democrats-prosper.
AOC, her initials are becoming a shorthand identifying the fierce Representative from the Bronx and Queens, has solidified her reputation for drawing attention to critical issues and she did it before she was even sworn in. She attended freshman orientation and immediately made the new Democratic House of Representatives focus on a critical left-wing demand.
Her call for a “Green New Deal” will be debated. This catchy phrase pleases the old and the young; it combines climate change and jobs. Instead of environmentalist destroying union jobs, they would be creating new industrial jobs for the 21st Century. This slogan is a boast announcing that the radical is practical. Transforming ideas make political sense.
By doing this she is keeping her word to the groups that started her on the road to Congress. The Green New Deal is more than just a slogan, it calls for institutional change. AOC demands that the House create a Committee for a Green New Deal with broad jurisdiction that will command the attention of the nation and show that Democrats are more than words. “They will do something about Climate Change and creating new jobs.” And not only that they will create jobs, and if they are smart they will offer support to those in the fossil fuel industry who will lose jobs.
This aphorism about politics is worth remembering: everyone is in favor of better mouse traps except mice. It means there are two sides to every question. A political conflict is underway and if it results in a compromise then it seems worthwhile to remember we can come back to the issue. AOC’s Climate Change Committee causes problems; its jurisdiction would overlap with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that will be chaired by Frank Pallone of New Jersey in January. And he is standing firm, and we don’t know how this conflict will end.
Ocasio-Cortez believes idealism is good politics. She understands her young supporters care deeply about righting wrongs. Democrats can benefit from this energy, but historically party leaders have dampened this enthusiasm leaving the left disheartened. AOC is challenging this faith that the center knows best, and she did it before she had taken office.
Her allies – the Sunrise Movement – grabbed headlines with a sit-in in Nancy Pelosi office including the demand that Democrats stop accepting contributions from the fossil fuel industry. A decision whose impact must be carefully weighed. Banning the producers of energy from petitioning their government through the Democratic Party is not an obvious solution. Making lawmakers think twice about accepting coal and oil contributions is a smart idea. To say a demand has problems is not to say it is bad. Resolving conflicting demands is a basic obligation of lawmakers.
The sit-in provoked a hysterical reaction. NY Times headlined, “A Left-Flank Protest on Day 1 Signals a Democratic House Divided.” A video shows AOC pledging “solidarity” with Speaker Pelosi, but the quotes never made it into the body of the story. The Times may have believed her statement were only boiler plate and the left was about to split the party. Pelosi remained calm. No arrests were made, and Pelosi may well have admired AOC’s easy manner with the demonstrator and her positive response to their passion. In the end it was the Intercept that got the story right. “Ocasio-Cortez’s break with decorum could, paradoxically, open up space for her to ultimately support Pelosi on the House floor.” And that is what happened.
Ocasio-Cortez backed Pelosi for Speaker noting that her challengers were all from the right.
This challenge dates back to AOC’s election that shook up the Democratic Party in New York City. She ran against Joe Crowley, the leader of the Queens Democratic Party and a front runner to replace Nancy Pelosi, the current leader of the House Democrats. Joe Crowley was fourth ranking member of the House leadership-a man with a future with millions in his war chests. His name is widely recognized in New York City and Washington.
At the start of this story AOC was tending bar in Union Square and and made a decision that will become the stuff of legends. She quit her job and went out into the freezing rain and emotional frenzy that was Standing Rock. There the cause of Native American rights got married to the environmentalist cry “no more fossil fuel.” A responsive government would conscientiously reduce carbon emissions that make earth hotter. The Indians were protesting the building of an oil pipe line from Canada south into the United States. The part of the pipeline that went through their land could leak and poison their water. It was a crazy project that meant wasting clean water to flush oil from tar sands. Any conscientious government would have forbidden it; instead Canada provided subsidies. Because the project was Canadian the State Department honchoed the licensing process for the Dakota Access Pipeline, and as the Obama administration entered its last months, it looked like the pipeline would be built and go right through the land of the Standing Rock Sioux.
Well the best tactic for the environmentalists was a protest and it had to be big, it had to be national because the target was the President to stop the pipelines. The Native Americans and their environmental allies camped out as the weather got colder tensions mounted. The demonstrators stood up to local sheriffs and Energy Transfer Partner’s security personnel amidst fears of a violent takedown. Observers thought demonstrators would be killed and local cops put out the story that they could be attacked.
In this cauldron, Ocasio-Cortez showed her stamina and ability to stay passionate while remaining analytical. She became a leader among people who are zealous about righting wrongs. She impressed enough people that they said why don’t you run for Congress. So she started off with nothing but a promise to be a left-wing candidate against Centrist Democrat Joe Crowley. But as a candidate she was blessed; she inspired her followers to work hard; when she met voters they were impressed. Grass roots organizing worked and she quickly became well known.
She picked her friends wisely including the graphic artists at Tandem NYC who designed the yellow poster showing AOC striking a heroic pose. On their website, Tandem NYC described their success: “Alexandria is bold and her aspirations were even bolder. If she pulled it off, we knew it would be representative of a larger movement so we didn’t shy away from highlighting that and we communicated honestly on her behalf.”
Graphics are a tool the unrich use to challenge establish authority. You don’t have to depend on TV with arresting graphics. Recall the silence=death posters from ACT-UP to remember how graphics can attract attention and arouse curiosity. And that is exactly what Ocasio-Cortez did. She was the women who made a living keeping customers cheerful and knew how difficult it was to pay rent and then clothe and feed a family. And the people who lived paycheck to paycheck were her people. That was the essence of her appeal, and she won handily spending $861,699 while Joe Crowley spent $3 million or more. It wasn’t money that made the difference it was effectively communicating using cell phones and emails to reach thousands and thousands of voter while collecting small donations from well wishers all over the City. Her supporters canvased neighborhoods in the Bronx and Queens.
Her election surprised and confounded the media. Her quest was written off, because of course Joe Crowley would win. The attitude was even worst. Media implied she was a hypocrite, a Latinx women running against a white man because the demographics of the District had changed-the Spanish-speaking were a majority. A ludicrous theory that supposed all Hispanics support each other and that whites only support their own. It implies that Ocasio-Cortez the anti-racist used racism to get elected. Reporting like this confounds idealism. Framing ideas in this way is bad for the country. It’s a burden on the idealists who are presumably going to lead us out of the present crisis.
The election on June 26 made the daily press look naïve. The Bronx Latinx neighborhoods that voted with the Bronx Democratic Party voted for Joe Crowley honoring their agreement to back him. White neighborhoods in Queens excited by a new left candidate who shared their passion for an idealistic government turned out for the exciting woman from the Bronx who understood and practiced small d democracy. Her margin of victory was huge 15%. It was a landslide that energized the left and made Ocasio-Cortez a national political leader.
And in the first week in D.C., she was talking to demonstrators conducting a sit-in and backing their demand a Committee be selected that will promote a Green New Deal. She refused to turn it into an anti-Pelosi moment. She pledged solidarity and if Pelosi becomes Speaker she would back her. It caused the NY Times reporters to say the crazies wanted to take over the Party, but other realized that AOC tapped into the energy of thousands of young voters. Democrats should be eager to keep them happy.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants the United States to become a social democracy like the governments in Europe, and she stands for a fierce presentation of the ideas on the environment and income security. The tensions between these new Democrats the progeny of Occupy Wall Street and the Bernie Sanders campaign will play out in the next two years. Democrats should want these voters on their rolls, and if they push them away the U.S. may find itself with a third party that is anti-imperialist and seeking big government expenditures to correct social inequality. A split in the Democrats could leave the Trumpites in charge for years. Democrats must heed this call for transformational leadership.