U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shares opinions on race-class divide, identity politics, social democracy

Tiana Woodard

While some audience members headed toward the venue exit following Neil Gaiman’s featured session, most stayed glued to their seats or made a beeline for a better view to hear Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, speak live.

In a featured session moderated by Briahna Gray, senior politics editor at The Intercept, Congress’ youngest female representative discussed the progress of democratic socialism in a divisive political system.

Gray and Ocasio-Cortez opened the talk with commentary on “the progressive surge.” Ocasio-Cortez said her successful campaign created a crack in the current system, leaving a space for progressive ideas to up-end the political status-quo.

“(The progressive surge) isn’t this top-down, organizing apparatus,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s really this movement starting to translate into more of our Electoral College.”

The duo then ventured into the race and class divide. Ocasio-Cortez said presenting race and class as two exclusive concerns provides politicians with a logical reason to toss out the social safety net that is composed of welfare programs that help low-income individuals.

“The effort to divide race and class has always been a tool of the powerful to prevent everyday people from taking control of the government that is supposed to work for them,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Their conversation over this division segued into Ocasio-Cortez’s welcoming of identity politics. Noting how past representatives in her district failed to meet the needs of those within their own demographics, Ocasio-Cortez placed importance on using her identity as a means of enforcing actual change.

“(My platform) is different in (that it involves) my identity, but my identity and my experiences with my community inform and add a different perspective to the positions and the policy that I hold,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Among Ocasio-Cortez’s policies covered in the session included her Green New Deal, a proposal which sets objectives for cutting carbon emissions in all parts of the economy, as well as its backlash from right-wing and moderate platforms. In light of the deal’s controversy, Ocasio-Cortez said the public’s idea of radicalism actually embodies original American ideals.

“This is what we’ve always been,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We’ve just strayed so far away from what’s made us powerful.”

Their comments on American ideals moved into a discussion on capitalism and socialism. Ocasio-Cortez said capitalism is unsustainable and that the debate brings into question America’s priorities as a whole.

“We’re reckoning with the consequences of putting profit over everything in society,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “That means people are getting paid less than what it takes to live.”

Gray then hand-selected audience members for the final part of the Q&A. A question from scientist Bill Nye served as the biggest surprise and closer of the eventful discussion.

When Nye sought her advice on how to soothe politicians’ fear of tackling divisive issues such as climate change, Ocasio-Cortez said the best solutions are dismantling a “zero-sum mentality” and relying on courage.

“Courage is about our future, and fear is just about anxiety,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “If you’re sick and tired of being anxious and fearful in this nation, then you just have to reject fear outright.”