It was one of the most dramatic political upsets in recent American history — not only because a 28-year-old Latina socialist knocked off a powerful Democratic incumbent but how she did it.
“They have money, we have people,” as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez herself put it.
New York is filled with mediocre machine politicians who rely on big money contributions, the advantages of incumbency and restrictive voter laws to maintain their grip on power. Democrats in New York State and across the country just assume that’s how you make it in this business. You have to play the game.
But Ocasio’s campaign proves there is another way.
On June 26, the former-Bernie Sanders’ staffter trounced Joe Crowley — an embedded party boss and favorite to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House — in the race for the Queens-Bronx seat the Congressman had occupied since his opponent was just 8 years old. And Ocasio did it by refusing to take money from corporate special interests, relying instead on small donations and a hardscrabble army of volunteers.
Seventy percent of Ocasio’s campaign funds came from donations under $200. By contrast, members of New York City’s Congressional delegation have all received less than 10 percent of their financing from donations below $200.
State primaries on Sept. 13 are another opportunity to transform New York politics.
Most Democratic politicians couldn’t imagine doing the kind of intensive, grassroots movement building work Ocasio performed to get elected. That’s because they don’t have real commitments to or relationships with the people they claim to represent. Many, like Crowley, were installed in their positions by party insiders and then entrench themselves with their incumbency.
New York Democrats are for the most part progressives on issues of social inclusion — immigration, gay rights, respect for diversity. But in other areas, they lip-synch one set of positions for their working-class supporters while doing the bidding of their big money donors on anything that involves a dollar sign. These milksop finks who call themselves “leaders” end up filling a lot of political space that they haven’t earned and do not deserve. Their double game is going to be harder to sustain.
State primaries on Sept. 13 are another opportunity to transform New York politics with non-corporate, small-donor-based left candidates running for a host of seats, including Governor (Cynthia Nixon), Lt. Governor (Jumaane Williams) and Attorney General (Zephyr Teachout). Members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), who, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tacit approval, have collaborated to give Republicans control of the State Senate, are facing a slate of challengers. Meanwhile, muckraker Ross Barkan in South Brooklyn is taking on State Senator Marty Golden, who has steered hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars into his family’s catering business.
A New York Spring that sees the people of this state overturn their corrupt, ossified political system and usher in a new era of genuinely progressive governance is possible. Ocasio has shown emphatically that it can be done.
Grassroots movements and campaigns benefit from independent media that takes them seriously and amplifies their voices. In June, we featured Ocasio on the cover this newspaper and moved 45,000 copies across the city including 15,000 copies of which we distributed in Queens and the Bronx where she and her supporters ultimately defeated Crowley by a 15-point margin.
We’re looking to step up again over the summer to cover the next phase of the political revolution underway in New York. But we can only do it without the support of readers like you. And stay tuned. The best is yet to come.
Photo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and supporters. Credit: ocasio2018.com.