Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she is "just the canary in the coal mine." The twenty-eight-year-old activist and educator from the Bronx became a national phenomenon after she defeated Congressman Joe Crowley, the fourth-highest ranking House Democrat, in a June 26 New York primary.
Pundits and politicians raced to portray Ocasio-Cortez, whose proudly progressive campaign was backed by groups that seek to turn the Democratic Party to the left (including Democratic Socialists of America and Justice Democrats), as an outlier. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was especially dismissive, saying, "The fact that in a very progressive district in New York, it went more progressive... is about that district. It is not to be viewed as something that stands for anything else."
But, by the end of the summer, there had been many more primary upsets by progressives who challenged the party's caution--including Ayanna Pressley's defeat of entrenched Democratic Congressman Mike Capuano in Massachusetts and Florida gubernatorial contender Andrew Gillum's win over establishment Democrats.
In a number of cases, the progressives who prevailed in those primaries had gotten a boost from Ocasio-Cortez, who hit the campaign trail nationwide following her primary win. Along the way, she made time to talk with me about how she believes movement politics can and will transform the Democratic Party. Here's some of what she had to say.
Q: You see yourself as part of a movement. How do you describe it?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: I have said that I really think that there is a hunger for an assertive, strong, ambitious, defined effort to establish and advance economic and social and racial justice for working-class Americans. There's a hunger for it. Not just "Don't be a racist," but "What actions are we going to take to be a just society?"
That requires a plan. It requires ambitious ideas. People I think are searching for those champions, searching for that movement. I think [the way we do that is by] linking all of the individual movements that we see happening across the country and taking up those causes as our own. Taking up Ferguson as our own. Taking up Flint as our own. The Bronx as our own. Rikers as our own. Rural America as our own. I think that's what it's about, and that's why it needs to be a movement.
Q: It's fair to say you see this as a very broad-based movement?
Ocasio-Cortez: I don't think the movement belongs to any one group. Politically speaking...