Before June, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s name barely registered a blip outside the Bronx. After besting longtime Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district primary that month, now everyone across the nation can’t get enough of the remarkable 28-year-old puertoriqueña. Her newfound political celebrity was on full display at the Anaheim Sheraton last night where OC liberals swarmed her for selfies as soon as she walked into the banquet hall hosting a WELead OC fundraising dinner.
The congressional candidate’s primary upset registered as a political earthquake. Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, took down Crowley, an establishment Democrat seeking an 11th term in office, with little support outside a gritty ground game. She brought her message of transforming the Democratic Party into a real progressive force for change to county activists hungry for a similar upset in races that would turn OC blue come November.
“Whoever has traditionally held power usually holds on to it for a really, really long time,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “Despite the demographic changes, despite economic changes, power in this country is overwhelmingly concentrated in the wealthy. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be that way.”
Earlier in the day, Ocasio-Cortez visited Skid Row in Los Angeles before delivering a fiery speech at a luncheon where tickets started at $27. With Bronx boricua swagger, she challenged the United States to reckon with its racist past of redlining, Jim Crow segregation and theft of indigenous lands. The fundraiser opened with a prayer by a member of the American Indian Movement. Ocasio-Cortez articulated a vision for America’s future where racial and economic justice for all prevails.
By evening time, the upstart politician focused more on nuts-and-bolts of her improbable victory at the much more formal event in OC. She told the eager audience that the path forward is paved with leaders who are honest about who they are and what they believe. “Everything that you are, they will say that is the reason why you shouldn’t run,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “After I won, they said, ‘What she did over there can’t be replicated anywhere else.’ But New York 14 actually looks like a cross-section of the United States.”
She recounted her campaign’s focus on expanding the electorate where the under 40 voting population matched the over 60 one. And while a viral video spread her political message far and wide on social media, nothing beat good old fashioned door knocking. The Ocasio-Cortez campaign marked 15,900 people as solid yes votes, and that’s roughly how many turned out in her favor for the primary election.
Even though Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional district is majority people of color and half-immigrant between the Bronx and Queens, she also pointed to Trump-friendly areas where her campaign prevailed saying that they resembled Michigan and Ohio more than preconceived notions of her hometown. “First time I went in I was like, ‘Ooh, I’m scared,'” said Ocasio-Cortez to laughter. “But I went in and I was honest. I didn’t say I don’t believe in Medicare for All. What people really respect is honesty.”
Despite her victory igniting a firestorm of discussion around what democratic socialism is or isn’t–from Fox News fear-mongering to Jacobin philosophizing–the congressional candidate never muttered the term during her speech. In fact, she only briefly mentioned expressing to Trump voters the need for a 21st century New Deal, voting rights, a revitalized labor movement, livable wages and tuition free college that could be loosely associated with the creed.
“And yeah, I said things like, ‘Abolish ICE!'” Ocasio-Cortez added to heightened applause. “The reception I got in Trump-voting neighborhoods when I said those things was, ‘I may not agree with you on everything, but I agree with you on most things.'”
Leftist observers are keeping a close eye on how candidate Ocasio-Cortez holds true to her honesty is the best policy sentiments after the June primary, fearing an all-too-familiar political transmutation within party ranks. They decried the brief disappearance of a peace economy platform from her website before being restored and groaned when a massacre in Gaza became an “incident” during an interview question about Israel with PBS Firing Line host Margaret Hoover.
“Run as the fullest expression of yourself,” Ocasio-Cortez assured in Anaheim. “Bold policy works.”
That was more than good enough for those in attendance by the end of her 20-minute speech. Afterwards, liberals lined up again to take pictures on stage with their new heroine of hope.