NEW YORK — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called out the Democratic Party on Monday for being a “center or center conservative” party that treats the activism of their more left leaning members as a "nuisance" while Republicans treat their members organizing for change as an “asset.”
Ocasio-Cortez made the distinction during a wide-ranging conversation with author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates at the MLK NOW 2020 event celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the historic Riverside Church in Manhattan.
“I think they view it as a nuisance. Many of them feel that it is annoying, that they don’t understand the inside. But I think people are protesting precisely because they understand the inside,” Ocasio-Cortez replied to applause after Coates asked how the Democratic Party views activism.
The radical 30-year-old politician who has come under fire from veteran politicians from both inside and outside her party for her progressive ideas on issues such as healthcare and national defense, agreed with Coates that the Republican Party doesn’t see their activists as a nuisance.
“No they don’t,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “They see it as an asset.”
She disagreed with Coates, however, when he said the Democratic Party is “the ostensible left party.”
“We don’t have a left party in the United States. The Democratic Party is not a left party. The Democratic Party is a center or center conservative party. We do not advocate for, we can’t even get a floor vote on Medicare for all. Not even a floor vote that gets voted down. We can’t even get a vote on it, so this is not a left party,” she asserted.
Ocasio-Cortez qualified that, adding: “There are left members inside the Democratic Party that are working to try to make that shift happen. But you’re right, it does convey a certain sentiment about true believers. And there are a lot of true believers that we can capitalism our way out of poverty in the Democratic Party. If anything that’s probably the majority. And that’s an area in which I agree with Dr. King that that assessment is flawed.”
When asked how the party could evolve to better reflect the values of all factions, Ocasio-Cortez said it is going to take longstanding commitment from representatives who refuse to give up on people who need representation.
“I say it all the time. I remember I was in the House Oversight Committee and I was one of the early ones, and there are quite a few members that are in swing districts on the Democratic and Republican side. And some of them won their races by one, two points.
"When you look across the aisle, the Republicans that won by one point dig their heels in and double down. And very often the Democrats that win by one point try to act like conservatives. And so it’s a difficult thing to measure because the people whose lives get compromised in that position are people like my district in the Bronx and Queens. They don’t win from that arrangement. And it is a struggle because there is an intense pressure around this idea of unity,” she said.
“Don’t challenge the party, don’t try to show that there are differences. You know, it’s like people had a meltdown when I said ‘in a parliamentary democracy, Joe Biden might have been in a different party.’
"And it’s not to say that in America we aren’t in the same party. But it’s to say that there are different values and this idea of unity cannot work if the only thing we unify is around war and the concentration of wealth and injustice. That’s the only place we find common ground. We have way more work to do,” she said.
Coates questioned whether it would be detrimental for politicians to take that stand as they could lose power.
“That’s something that we hear very often. That’s why I often talk about the importance of dual power. In electoral spaces sure you need to have the votes, you need to have the seats but there are limitations to electoralism, and that’s why we have to be in the streets. A lot of these cities and a lot of now Democrat or blue communities didn’t just end up that way. It’s because we see and we have studied that the long-term impact of activism is the elevation of political consciousness. And that is the work that is so incredibly important,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“Because in our lifetime, states that we considered to be very red have been blue as recently as the early '90s. Blue around labor issues, blue around anti-poverty agendas and issues. But when we, and this is something the Democratic Party does, when we abandon communities then we just allow whoever fills that vacuum to predominate and I don’t believe that we should give up on places like Alabama and Mississippi and Kentucky, Tennessee. I don’t think we give up on those places. We just have to commit ourselves to a multi-decade struggle,” she added.