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28-Year-Old Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wins Primary, Backing Medicare for All and Abolishing ICE

Ocasio-Cortez speaks to Democracy Now! about her historic campaign.

In a stunning upset and the biggest surprise of the primary season this year, 28-year-old Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat 10-term incumbent Representative Joe Crowley in New York in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Crowley is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, and he’d outraised Ocasio-Cortez by a 10-to-1 margin. Crowley was widely viewed as a possible future House speaker. Yet Ocasio-Cortez defeated Crowley after running a progressive grassroots campaign advocating for “Medicare for All” and the abolition of ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Ocasio-Cortez speaks to Democracy Now! about her historic campaign.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a stunning upset and the biggest surprise of the primary season this year, 28-year-old Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has beat out 10-term incumbent Representative Joe Crowley in New York. Crowley is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, and he’d outraised Ocasio-Cortez by a 10-to-1 margin. Crowley was widely viewed as a possible future House speaker, yet Ocasio-Cortez defeated him after running a progressive grassroots campaign that advocated “Medicare for All” and the abolition of ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

AMY GOODMAN: Just days before the primary, she left New York City to go to Tornillo, Texas, to protest family separation at the border. Nearly 70 percent of Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign funds came from individual contributions under $200. This is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reacting to the news of her win, live on NY1 when she looked up at the TV screen Tuesday night.

RUSCHELL BOONE: She’s right here. I can let you know—


RUSCHELL BOONE: She’s looking at herself on television right now. How are you feeling? Can you put it into words?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: No, I cannot put this into words.

RUSCHELL BOONE: All right, your supporters here are very excited for you.


RUSCHELL BOONE: This was grassroots campaign.


RUSCHELL BOONE: Can you believe the numbers that you’re seeing right now?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: I cannot believe these numbers right now. But I do know that every single person here has worked their butt off to change the future of the Bronx and Queens. That’s what I know. That’s what I know. And that this victory belongs to every single grassroots organizer, every working parent, every mom, every member of the LGBTQ community. Every single person is responsible for this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrating her stunning win against Democratic incumbent Representative Joe Crowley. She is the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a Bronx-born father. The Intercept reports that she worked as a waitress and bartender after graduation to supplement her mother’s income as a house cleaner and bus driver. A viral campaign ad of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s featured her saying, “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.”

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: It’s time to fight for a New York that working families can afford. That’s why I’m running for Congress. This race is about people versus money. We’ve got people, they’ve got money. It’s time we acknowledge that not all Democrats are the same, that a Democrat who takes corporate money, profits off foreclosure, doesn’t live here, doesn’t send his kids to our schools, doesn’t drink our water or breathe our air, cannot possibly represent us. What the Bronx and Queens needs is Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, a federal jobs guarantee and criminal justice reform. We can do it now. It doesn’t take a hundred years to do this. It takes political courage. A New York for the many is possible. It’s time for one of us.

AMY GOODMAN: If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeats Republican candidate Anthony Pappas in November, she will be the youngest person in Congress. We spoke to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just before the broadcast. Here she is talking about her historic win earlier this morning.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Thank you. And thank you guys so much for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your response last night? The picture has become iconic, when you looked up at the TV screen and saw that you were not only ahead, but far ahead. Talk about your reaction. And what is your platform?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Yeah. Well, you know, I had not checked the results. In that moment, I was not even following them to that room. Honestly, I was so nervous. The ground had felt so great, but I didn’t want to underestimate the power of the machine. And so, I just saw all these people celebrating. And I ran inside, and apparently I ran right into a camera set. And I looked up at the screen, and I saw that, yeah, not only were we ahead, but that we were—we had a double-digit victory. And it was just astounding. It was unbelievable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, Alexandria, can you tell us—for many of the viewers and listeners who haven’t heard of you, didn’t know about your campaign, tell us about the main planks that you campaigned on across the district.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Yes. We ran on an unapologetically progressive campaign that included improved and expanded Medicare for all, a federal jobs guarantee, a Green New Deal, justice for Puerto Rico, the abolishment of ICE and so much more. And I think that, at the end of the day, in our community, in the Bronx and Queens, we have been waiting and we have been wanting a message of economic, social and racial justice for a very long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Crowley, the Democratic congressmember you beat, 10-term congressmember, outspent you by what? Ten to one?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Yeah, something like that.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet you won. And even on the day before the election, you were down at the border.


AMY GOODMAN: You were not in your district. Talk about the decision you made then, why you feel that is so important, what’s happening there.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Right now the moral character of the United States is on the line. And we do not have the option or the luxury of time to wait for a response for when it’s convenient. I think that we all really need to be occupying every border, every protest and every passageway, and bearing witness to what is happening, and also fighting for the reunification of every single child separated from their parent.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you—Joe Crowley has been a powerful figure in New York City politics now for years, but many political observers were well aware that his district was an overwhelmingly Latino population district and were wondering when it would result in a change in terms of leadership. Talk about not only the importance of your race for progressives, but also for the Latino community now, because you would become, if elected in November, the fourth Latino congressperson from New York City.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think that it’s profoundly important. Our communities—all communities in the United States deserve representation in Congress. And it wasn’t just about, you know, having a representative, an ethnic representative, but also having a policy representative. And that’s why, you know, I was proud to run a campaign that was, I think, one of the strongest campaigns for advocacy for Puerto Rico and as well as immigration reform. So, I think that those voices and those positions are badly needed in Congress today. And I look forward to kind of ushering an era of greater representation and diversity, not just in identity, but also in policy, in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: You are, Alexandria, a Democratic Socialist, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. What does that mean to you? And can you also talk about, having worked for Bernie Sanders, what his campaign has meant and the example you’re using?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Yeah, absolutely. Well, for me, one of the things that democratic socialism means is that, in a modern society, where we have the resources and the capacity to ensure that every person can be duly educated, can have access to healthcare, and that we can afford and have the ability to house people in our economy, that a moral society guarantees a basic level of dignity for people in the United States of America. And that’s what that means to me. That’s what my values are.

As far as the Sanders campaign, I think that what the Sanders campaign and working on the Sanders campaign did for me was that it showed that a grassroots movement is still possible in the United States. And I organized on the Sanders campaign in the Bronx. And in knocking on those doors two years ago, I knew that our community was ready for this change. And I believed that, you know, we really needed to have that representation, that dignity, and representation that was not compromised by corporate interests, so that we could fully advocate for working families.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, your victory is a stunner across the country, but also another fellow organizer in the Sanders campaign, Ben Jealous, as you know, that have heard—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —also won the primary, Democratic primary, in Maryland in the race for governor. Have you heard at all from Ben Jealous at all in the last—in the last 12, 13 hours?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: I have not. That’s not to say that they haven’t reached out. Honestly, I have 500 text messages in my phone. But I greatly, greatly look forward to a Governor Jealous, because it is so badly what we need for our future.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, if you are elected to Congress, you will be the youngest woman ever elected. Talk about Mother’s Day.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the moment you walked into your opponent’s headquarters and challenged him to a debate, and what that meant.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Yeah, well, you know, we were being ignored, and our campaign was being ignored. But, moreover, I had felt like the community was—badly wanted a debate. The community badly wanted to have the experience of a full democracy and a full primary, which included a robust—you know, a robust conversation between both candidates. And so, I hadn’t even—it wasn’t in the plan, but we were knocking doors in the area, and I turned the corner, and my opponent’s office was there, and so I just decided to walk in and ask for a debate. And to his credit, he did agree to one on NY1. And we were able to provide that experience and that conversation, not just on television, but ultimately we also had one debate, one local community debate, in Queens. And it was so lively. And the people here in New York, that have not had a primary in 14 years, I think, really cherished the opportunity to speak and see their leadership debate right in front of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you talked about justice for Puerto Rico. What does that look like?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: I think, first and foremost, we have to support the Marshall Plan in front of Congress right now for Puerto Rico. We need to ensure that we not just have a sustainable recovery, but a community-led recovery in which all of our resources aren’t necessarily just being privatized to the same corporations and Wall Street funders that manufactured the crisis to begin with. I think that what we need to do is re-examine the Jones Act, talk about lifting the Merchant Marine tax, talk about ending the colonial state of Puerto Rico that has led to the economic, you know, subjugation of the people there and the second-class citizenship of Puerto Ricans in the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you—you grew up in the Bronx, but when you left—after finishing college, you went to work back in your community in early childhood education. Could you talk about your experiences there and how that shaped your view of what federal policies should be when it comes to education?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Well, I think we—I mean, coming from an educational background, we know that early childhood is so formative and critical to the destinies of young children in the South Bronx and any community that is dealing with intergenerational poverty. And so, what we know is that not just when we invest in children, but when we invest in the prosperity of their families, so parents aren’t working two jobs in order to support their children and that they’re able to really provide for their families in one dignified form of employment, they spend that time—they spend more of that time with their kids. They spend more of that time investing not just in their own families, but also in their own schools. And if we are going to really transform the destinies of children in places like the Bronx, we need to make sure that their parents are taken care of and that their schools are fully funded.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexandria, your victory is being called the biggest upset of the Democratic Party this election season. You are rocking this country. What do you say to the Democratic leadership and to President Trump, who tweeted, “Big Trump Hater Congressman Joe Crowley, who many expected was going to take Nancy Pelosi’s place, just LOST his primary election. In other words, he’s out! That is a big one that nobody saw happening. Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!” Certainly not what you were.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: No, no. And I think—you know, I try not to engage in president tweet talk, but what I will say is that he’s probably in more trouble now. So, that’s as far as that goes. As far as the party, I think that this is a really profound and amazing opportunity for us to really refocus on the needs of working-class Americans and the most vulnerable in the United States, because when we stand up for them, then they will stand up for themselves, and we will all—you know, we will all have a collective power back—

AMY GOODMAN: Just to clarify, you—

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: —and we will return that collective power.

AMY GOODMAN: You said that Crowley participated in a debate with you. Across the corporate networks, they’re saying that he refused—he didn’t show up at a debate. Was that a second debate?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: That’s right. Yeah, he did not show up to the initial debate. There were three local community debates. He had skipped the first two. And after an editorial from The New York Times kind of speaking to that, he did show up for the very last one, maybe a couple days before the election.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us. We know you are on a very busy schedule right now.


AMY GOODMAN: What message do you have to candidates around the country and to people in this country—Democrat, Republican, Socialist, Green, independent—as you—


AMY GOODMAN: —come out of this primary victory?

ALEXANDRIA OCASIOCORTEZ: Well, I think that our democracy is opening right now and that the possibility for any candidate, especially those that are not accepting corporate funds, as—frankly, many different parties, there’s a great moment in our country right now, and that to keep pushing, even when things seem like such a long shot, to at least stick it through and see it through Election Day, because, truly, honestly, anything can happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28-year-old Democratic Socialist, who beat out 10-term incumbent Congressmember Joe Crowley in New York. This is an upset that has been rocking the country, the biggest upset in this election season.

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