Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is breaking new ground and hitting international air waves in her recent win of the democratic nomination over a 20 year sitting Congressman in New York’s 14th Congressional District (Bronx and Queens), where a majority of residents are immigrants and working class people. At the age of 28, Ocasio-Cortez, is not only the youngest candidate for congress, she also comes from a working class background, and being the first Latina to represent her district is a victory in and of itself.
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is a historic moment and prompts me as an activist to take a deeper look at how democratic socialist organizing in Canada can be used to achieve bold, progressive policy changes and bolster our organizing efforts. As I watch the momentum for Ocasio-Cortez and other left Democrat candidates build across the U.S, it is clear to me Ocasio-Cortez has tapped into what voters want, and understands the threat of growing inequality, poverty and the erosion of public services in her district.
As an activist and campaigner, I’ve been involved on the ground within the democratic socialist movement in Canada in varying capacities.
But in 2016, I travelled to the US to work on Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign. This unforgettable experience gave me a broader viewpoint of how organizing can be fueled by bold policy commitments. On the door steps in Vermont and Boston I could feel the excitement and desire for someone that would follow through on getting medicare for all. It helped me realize that it is crucial for the left to reimagine new ways to connect to working class people through simple messaging and bold policies.
Ocasio-Cortez says “Respect the Hustle” by doing the groundwork necessary to win. Sanders understood this as well, and created strong ties to grassroots and labour organizations in his district and across the country. But the sentiment goes deeper than setting up a great network. Both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez understand that.
People want to be given something to fight for, something that inspires them, that makes them go out and vote, that makes them believe in the political system again. People want to feel like they are part of a thing that is bigger than themselves. Ocasio-Cortez breaks this idea down in one of her campaign videos. She explains that “It’s not that people don’t understand what is going on, or that they are not educated enough. It’s that people are not talking to them and connecting with them about their issues.”
During my time in the Bernie Sanders’ campaign I saw first-hand what Ocasio-Cortez meant by this. We broke campaign convention. We spent time and spoke to people that were not sure of how they would vote. People who were previously disengaged and normally passed over or not talked to by politicians. We found that this is the way you sway voters. You reach out to them, talk to them, and connect with them about real issues and to your movement.
It’s about time that Canadians start seeking candidates that bring hope and solutions to these inequities.
The socialist democratic movement that Ocasio-Cortez has fiercely brought to the stage is inspiring. It serves as a moment to revitalize social democrats/democratic socialists in Canada. Ocasio-Cortez’ campaign offers a template for us to adapt and succeed in our current political climate.
The far right will not be defeated with middle ground politics. I believe we are starting to see that they can be defeated by a movement built to inspire us all by boldly tackling the origins of inequality in a meaningful way.
As progressive campaigns at all levels of government heat up across the country, we have an opportunity to bolster the work of the progressive movement in Canada by drawing inspiration from campaigns, like Ocasio-Cortez’, that break new ground.