Born and raised in the Bronx, New York and the youngest woman to ever be elected into Congress, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, is making huge waves in the political sphere.
As a democratic socialist, Ocasio-Cortez, or “AOC,” has taken up progressive and ambitious fights such as climate change policy through the Green New Deal, Medicare For All, abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, income and racial inequality and changes to campaign finance laws.
On March 9, Ocasio-Cortez spoke with The Intercept’s Senior Politics Editor Briahna Gray at the South by Southwest Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas, where she defended her stance as a democratic socialist and discussed her political agenda. Full video of the interview is available below.
“Democratic socialism means putting democracy and society first,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s not that the capitalist concept should be abolished, it’s a question of our priorities. The fear mongering around it makes you think democratic socialism means that government will take over the private sector when in fact, in my opinion, those two things should be separate,” she continued. “In reality, we should actually all be scared right now that corporations have taken over our government.”
Ocasio-Cortez also critiqued “moderates” during her panel who have become increasingly cynical and see “ambition as youth naivety.” But she argues that “the greatest things we’ve accomplished as a society, they come from ambitious acts of vision.”
The congresswoman has become an advocate for the working class, communities of color, immigrants and young people that the system constantly works against. Ocasio-Cortez understands that issues like climate change will undoubtedly impact lower-income communities of color astronomically more than the wealthy upper class.
When discussing the Green New Deal, she highlighted the importance of understanding this intersectionality and how the policy does not only address the environment, but our economy, infrastructure and inequality.
The Green New Deal aims “to fix the pipes in Flint, the air in the Bronx, the electric grids in Puerto Rico and fund the pensions of coal miners in West Virginia,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Ocasio-Cortez is challenging not only individual issues or policies, but the systematic way our country operates, which creates a huge gap of inequality.
“The effort to divide race and class has always been a tool for the powerful to prevent working people from taking control,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Wages have been stagnant for 30 years, wealth is enjoyed by only a small number of people, and the reason is not systemic inequality, it’s not runaway capitalism – the reason is, ‘Mexicans!’” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“They want us to fight over each other when we really need to be zeroing in on the malpractice of governance and how special interests captured the only tool we have to govern ourselves fairly and not at a profit.”
In the audience was the one and only Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” who asked Ocasio-Cortez the last question during her panel on how to address climate change when fear is controlling people's lives and the decisions they make.
“One of the keys to dismantling fear is dismantling a zero-sum mentality,” Ocasio-Cortez answered. “It means the rejection outright of the logic that says someone else’s gain necessitates my loss and that my gain must necessitate someone else’s loss. We can give without a take.”
When discussing the price tag on the Green New Deal, she insisted “We’re viewing progress as a cost instead of as an investment … When we choose to invest in our system, we are choosing to create wealth.”
As global temperatures continue to increase, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states that it will cost the United States upwards of $300 billion on climate-related deaths, property losses, infrastructure damage and lost wages in outdoor industries. The Green New Deal is not only for the environment, but for the well-being of the entire country.
Nye later tweeted a selfie with the congresswoman saying, “AOC gets it. She sees that fear is dividing us. We can address income inequality. We can address climate change, if we get together and get to work. #SXSW @AOC”
Ryan Schrader, senior at Salisbury University, thinks Ocasio-Cortez is inspiring and hopes this trend of progressive policy continues as millennials replace baby boomers in Congress.
“I think she’s awesome, it’s like a breath of fresh air to have someone with the confidence to call out so many people, and she’s so young and a woman, so there's a lot against her,” Schrader said. “She’s really inspirational and a little bit of optimism in this presidency, which we haven’t had a lot of optimism in my opinion.”
As an environmental studies major at SU, Schrader supports the Green New Deal policy, but understands that with such radical policies, criticism is inevitable, especially with Ocasio-Cortez’s increasingly popular social media presence.
“Social media is such a huge part of today’s world, how could you not be involved? So it’s kinda like a weird in-between. I imagine it's hard to keep that balance,” Schrader said. “But if you’re going to run and come on so strong, you need to be ready to be targeted. I mean whether it’s fair or not depends on your perspective, but you have to expect criticism or at least be okay with criticism.”
While criticism is part of a healthy democracy, the GOP has disproportionately targeted Ocasio-Cortez in an attempt to discredit her and her initiatives. Some have labeled her goals as “utopian,” “unrealistic” and “radical,” but these terms only highlight their own fear of her.
Ocasio-Cortez represents everything that Republicans and Conservatives dislike about Democrats. She is a young Hispanic woman who is gaining huge popularity through social media for her controversial socialist policies, and is not backed or restricted by donor money. She won a seat in Congress because the people support her and believe in her.
Following Senator Bernie Sanders’ footsteps, she is spearheading a new path for American politics, which many young voters approve of regardless of political affiliation. She is uncovering the truths and corruption behind our government and attempting to fix them, not become a part of them.
By SOFIA CARRASCO
Featured Image: David Brendan Hall image.