Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

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Screenshot from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaign website


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. On June 26 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her bid in the Democratic Primary for the 14th US Congressional District in New York running as a democrat. A former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez challenged longstanding incumbent Joseph Crowley in the Democratic Primary, her district covers significant portions of the Bronx and Queens.

DSA Member

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

DSA member beats Joe Crowley

Joseph Crowley, having fundraised nearly $3 million for the race in New York’s 14th District, fell easily to a first-time candidate with a viral introduction video, a Democratic Socialists of America membership card, and a proudly leftist agenda. She ran on Medicare-for-all, a federal jobs guarantee, and getting tough on Wall Street.

At 28, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez couldn’t be a bigger contrast from the 56-year-old Crowley. She was born in the Bronx to working-class parents. Her mother is Puerto Rican. Her father is from the South Bronx. She’s a former staffer for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

She’s certainly portrayed herself as a woman of the people, playing up her working-class roots in a viral introduction video, which shows Ocasio-Cortez riding the subway and doing community organizing work. It was created by Means of Production, a media production company run by Democratic Socialists of America activists Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes.[1]

DSA role in campaign

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had a campaign machine of her own, an outside group known as the Democratic Socialists of America. In the avalanche of coverage of Ocasio-Cortez’s win, the logistical support and manpower she received from the DSA has drawn relatively little notice. But the group is poised to make its presence felt in the midterms.

More than 100 volunteers from the DSA had flooded the streets of the 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of Queens and the Bronx, for months.

In Ocasio-Cortez’s race, DSA organizers say their cadre of volunteers knocked on over 13,000 doors to drum up enthusiasm for her bid. That level of support is significant in primaries that traditionally see low turnout. Ocasio-Cortez defeated Crowley with a little over 15,000 votes in a district with a total population of more than 700,000. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, and she will almost certainly win the seat in November’s general election, barring completely unforeseen factors.

Vigie Ramos Rios, manager of Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, was careful to point out that other organizations also backed her bid, including Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats. Still, Ramos Rios said the impact of the DSA’s work in the field was clear.

“They were strong supporters,” she said of the DSA. “There were areas they canvassed that came out for us in spades.”

And the teams of volunteers in the street wasn’t the only way DSA made its mark on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign. Ramos Rios is a DSA leader who was recommended to Ocasio-Cortez by another member of the group who previously ran a race with its backing. The campaign’s treasurer was former DSA national director Frank Llewellyn, who came on board after Ramos Rios asked the organization if it knew someone who could help the campaign with its finances. In addition, two DSA members were behind Means of Production, the company that made a video for Ocasio-Cortez that was released last month and, in the words of Business Insider, went “completely viral,” earning over 300,000 views in one day and helping drive nationwide attention to the campaign. According to Naomi Burton, one of the company’s co-founders, they were drawn to Ocasio-Cortez by the organization’s endorsement and because of “her unapologetic socialist platform and articulation of working peoples’ needs that caught our attention.”

In many ways, Ocasio-Cortez’s was the ideal example of a model the DSA is trying to replicate around the country with unabashed socialists from diverse, unconventional backgrounds taking on establishment figures with the logistical support of a robust organization.

Many of the new DSA members, like Ocasio-Cortez herself, cut their political teeth working for the Sanders campaign. As they joined, they drove the organization toward getting more involved in campaigns. In January 2018, the group launched a “national electoral strategy” formally committing it “to develop and run viable openly socialist candidates for office (either in Democratic primaries or as independents.)” It is one of the group’s primary focuses, along with a nationwide push for a Medicare for All health care program and for support of labor movements.

The strategy document made clear the full scope of the DSA’s ultimate ambitions.

“This work will be critical to the development of a genuine alternative to the neoliberal third-way politics of the corporate establishment within the Democratic Party,” the document reads.

And this is all taking place in a group where some members are so far to the left they don’t even agree with the idea of electoral politics.

Federal candidates that seek the organization’s endorsement must go through an extensive process that includes multiple meetings with DSA leaders and a questionnaire where they must clarify their positions on the core components of the group’s platform, including “a single-payer, universal health care plan,” minimum wage increases, protecting “immigrants and their families from deportation,” enacting tax increases for the wealthy, “legislation making public colleges and universities tuition-free,” and marijuana legalization. Support for a candidate only comes at the end of this process, and requires votes at multiple levels of the organization.

Aaron Taube, who coordinated the DSA’s field operation for Ocasio-Cortez, said the group’s volunteers went to work for her the day after she received its endorsement in April.

“A DSA endorsement is not just a rubber stamp. We’re not just saying you should vote for these people,” Taube says News. “When DSA endorses you, it’s like, yeah, we’re going to knock 13,000 doors. … We’re going to mobilize.”

Taube is representative of the supporters who come on board once a candidate has the group’s approval. He’s 29 years old and, like Ocasio-Cortez, who was a bartender before running for office, was a relative political novice, who was a journalist turned freelance marketer (he previously worked with one of the authors of this story in 2014). He’s also a pro wrestling fan who said he discovered the DSA in the more liberal quarters of the sport’s Twitter community after being “radicalized” by Trump.

“That was the only way at the time that was apparent to me to build power,” Taube explained. “It was like, well, you can have a revolution or an election and I’m not ready to learn how to shoot a gun yet.”

Taube officially joined the party the day after Trump’s victory and ended up volunteering for a DSA-backed city council candidate in Brooklyn, Khader El-Yateem. During that campaign, he was schooled in political organizing skills.

While El-Yateem didn’t win, he surprised observers with a close finish. Taube’s political mentor, Tascha Van Auken, said that race and another ultimately unsuccessful Brooklyn City Council bid mounted by Jabari Brisport helped the DSA develop a bench of trained political operatives in New York.

“What those two races were — and I don’t want to suggest that we don’t care about winning, our goal is to win these races 100 percent — but what they also served as last year were amazing laboratories for building independent field operations … comms operations, and data operations. … We had to form a PAC,” said Van Auken.

Along with Ocasio-Cortez, the New York City DSA is backing a state senate candidate, Julia Salazar. Unlike Ocasio-Cortez, who only became a dues-paying DSA member after seeking the group’s endorsement, Salazar was part of the organization prior to launching her bid. Van Auken is managing Salazar’s campaign, which she says includes multiple DSA members in its leadership and has “hundreds” of volunteers, a number that had surged in the aftermath of Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking win.

The phenomenon goes far beyond New York. Overall, the DSA reported explosive membership growth following Ocasio-Cortez’s upset over Crowley. The organization is currently backing dozens of candidates across the country and many of them have operations that similarly draw from the group and its experience mounting campaigns in the past year or so. These efforts began yielding results before Ocasio-Cortez’s race brought national notice.

Along with the DSA ground game and campaign staffers drawn from the group’s ranks, many of these races displayed another hallmark of the organization’s electoral approach — elevating minority voices. In New York City alone, the DSA’s candidates have included two Latinas, Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar, El-Yateem, who is Palestinian, and Brisport, an African-American. It’s part of a deliberate effort with the DSA’s national electoral strategy noting, “only truly multiracial electoral coalitions can build working-class political power.”

Salazar, the Latina state senate candidate in New York said she knows DSA is “perceived as overwhelmingly white young people,” but says the reality is different.

Jon Reinish, a veteran Democratic strategist, is far less worried and thinks the DSA could be good for the party.

“If it’s candidates in certain districts in certain races that are aligned with DSA or any other organization that’s inspiring voters, then that’s great and that’s valuable,” Reinish said. “If that’s where energy and enthusiasm are and if that’s where new voters are jumping in, then that’s only a net positive.”

While the 2016 primary saw Sanders and his supporters regularly clashing with Clinton and ultimately protesting the Democratic convention due to indications she had been favored by the party, Reinish predicted the DSA would be easier to work with because their platform is “about a series of issues rather than devotion to one person.”

“Bernie’s main issue was Bernie. DSA people are about policy,” Reinish said.[2]

Socialist help

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was recruited to run by the Bernie-inspired Brand New Congress (BNC) after she returned from an encampment at Standing Rock in late 2016, where she was demonstrating to protect Native rights and stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. She had an army of door-knocking and phone calling activists from Democratic Socialists of America, Black Lives Matter and Muslims for Progress as well as BNC and two other Bernie-inspired groups, Justice Democrats and Our Revolution.[3]

Media Gushes over Alexandria

After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the 2018 primary, she was featured on several mainstream news outlets and talk shows.

Call to Abolish ICE

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to abolish ICE

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called to abolish the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency shortly after winning her primary on June 26 2018.

Teachout endorsement

Zephyr Teachout, a candidate for New York attorney general endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in May.[4]

Justice Democrats

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was endorsed by Justice Democrats for 2018.

Justice Democrats board

As of May 2018, the board of Justice Democrats is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Saikat Chakrabarti.

Challenging Joe

After the 2016 election, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez traveled to Standing Rock, North Dakota where she encountered thousands of non-violent protesters. They were there in solidarity with members of the Lakota Sioux who faced off in the frigid cold against police water cannons and attack dogs to try and stop an oil pipeline that threatened the tribe’s water supply.

“Seeing people from across the country and the depth to which they were putting everything on the line was just really inspiring to me,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Upon leaving Standing Rock, Ocasio received a call from Brand New Congress (BNC), a group that was looking to challenge incumbents from both parties in the 2018 midterms with unabashedly progressive candidates who would eschew corporate backing in favor of small-donor support. Ocasio-Cortez was taken aback when BNC urged her to run in New York’s 14th Congressional District against an incumbent who had not faced a primary challenge in 14 years. She decided to take the leap.

“If you were going to do this, it had to come from an organizer,” she said. “It had to come from someone outside the system who would give it a jolt. If you want any kind of political career in New York City, you can’t challenge Joe Crowley.”[5]

“In an 85 percent Democratic district, you won’t get voted out of office for fighting for the working class,” said Virginia Ramos Rios, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign manager.[6]

NYC DSA endorsement

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New York City Democratic Socialists of America added an event, May 30 .

Come phonebank for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the Democratic Socialists of America! Alexandria is a democratic socialist running for Congress on a platform of universal healthcare, a universal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college, and abolishing ICE.

National DSA endorsement

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Democratic Socialists of America, May 4, 2018;

DSA is proud to announce national endorsements for four more candidates today.

Victory

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NYC Democratic Socialists of America, June 26, 2018;

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has done the impossible, and so have you, NYC-DSA!

The over 13,000 votes cast for her — in what has been the lowest turnout district in the country under Rep. Crowley — proves that working class people are hungry for a voice in politics.
Alexandria’s platform has opened the door to bringing truly socialist demands to the table in mainstream politics, including a universal jobs guarantee tied to investment in infrastructure, free public college education, debt forgiveness, Federal investment in public and affordable housing, “Medicare for All,” and more, marking the beginning of a true political movement serving the needs of the many. DSA and our coalition partners are chipping away at the reign of corporate-controlled “centrism” within the Democratic Party.
It smells like bread and roses tonight in New York!
In Solidarity,
NYC Democratic Socialists of America

Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez support progressives

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will make campaign swing through Kansas starting July 20 2018, rallying for two congressional candidates who argue that left-wing politics are the key to winning in red states.

“I’ve believed for years that the Democratic Party has committed political malpractice by writing off half the states in this country,” said Sanders in an interview, as he campaigned in Minnesota for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). “They’ve got to fight for every state in this country.”

Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez will head to Kansas on July 20. They’ll begin in Wichita, where James Thompson, who narrowly lost a special election in 2017, wants another chance to win the 4th Congressional District. They’ll continue with an event in the Kansas City suburbs for Brent Welder, a former Sanders delegate now seeking the Democratic nomination in the 3rd Congressional District.

Both districts are now held by Republicans who’ve voted reliably with their party — Reps. Kevin Yoder and Ron Estes. The 3rd District voted narrowly for Hillary Clinton in 2016; the 4th District, which is strongly Republican outside of Wichita, voted for Trump. In a short interview, Thompson said he would relish it if Estes and Republicans criticized him for campaigning with self-identified Democratic Socialists.

“I’m extremely, extremely excited to have the senator and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in town for an event,” Thompson said. “They can say that, but my opponent here is a corporate socialist who’s been redistributing wealth to people who don’t need it.”

Sanders, who first talked to Ocasio-Cortez the day after she won her upset primary victory in New York, said that the tour came about after both realized they wanted to head to Kansas.

Earlier this week, Ocasio-Cortez dispatched campaign staff to help Kerri Evelyn Harris, an insurgent challenger to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). Later this month, Ocasio-Cortez will also campaign in Michigan, where former Detroit health commissioner Abdul El-Sayed is running an underdog campaign for governor.

“Alexandria’s victory was a proof of concept for campaigns like ours,” El-Sayed said in an interview.[7]

References