With a budget of $300,000 in small dollar donations, progressive activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez managed to defeat Rep. Joe Crowley in a shocking election for New York’s 14th Congressional District on Tuesday night. As №4 in House Democratic leadership, with 10-terms in Congress since 1999, Crowley received over $3 million in corporate donations in an attempt to save his seat, now lost to a democratic socialist cocktail waitress who secured over 15 percentage points more than her establishment incumbent.
“Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” the 28-years-old progressive organizer and member of the Justice Democrats said in her campaign ad. “I wasn’t born to a wealthy family or powerful family. A mother from Puerto Rico, dad from the South Bronx. I was born in a place where your ZIP code determines your destiny.”
Now the media — both mainstream and independent—are starting to compare Ocasio-Cortez’s victory to the 2014 win of Rep. David Brat (R-VA), the conservative populist challenger to former second-highest ranking Republican in Congress in Rep. Eric Cantor. This time, however, the likes of CNN and MSNBC are now wondering whether it takes more than anti-Trump platitudes for the left-wing to secure victories in the upcoming elections.
“We have to stick to the message: What are we proposing to the American people? Not ‘What are we fighting against?’” Ocasio-Cortez told MSNBC’s Morning Joe Wednesday. “We understand that we’re under an antagonistic administration, but what is the vision that is going to earn and deserve the support of working-class Americans? And we need to be explicit in that vision and legislation, not just ‘better,’ but what exactly is our plan? I think that’s really the path forward… getting into Twitter fights with the president is not exactly I think where we’re going to find progress as a nation.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who raised 70 percent of campaign funds through donations less than $200 at a time, won this election with little spent on random television ads and more devoted to grassroots organization within the district. Outspent by an 18–1 margin, Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign only spent $100,000 of their total donations in door knocking initiatives, assisting voters in securing voter IDs and change of party affiliation forms, as well as online advertising. With only the help of Means of Production, a Detroit-based film company organized by socialist activists Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes, the most successful ad for Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign received half a million views between her YouTube and Twitter account:
So what caused this victory?
As a member of both the Democratic Socialists of America and Brand New Congress, two grassroots organizations committed to challenging “corporate Democrats,” their brand of politics is often cited as being inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who ran in the 2016 presidential primary election on a message of economic and social populism for America’s working class.
Ocasio-Cortez, at the time, was a key organizer for Sanders for DSA during the New York Democratic primary. Since then, progressive activists linked to these organizations have run their campaigns with a keen focus on leftist policy as well as an emphasis on their small-time roots and resistance to PACs, SuperPACs and other big money from high-ranking donors.
These policies include: Medicare-for-all, federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free college, the repeal of Citizens United, abolishment of ICE, the restoration of financial regulations such as Glass-Steagall, an end to the war on drugs, and federal bans on the private prison industry. All the left-wing populist boxes ticked without holding back because of consultant analysis or “electability” scares. Now the Democratic candidate set to represent the Bronx and Queens, which are heavily left-wing, it’s almost certain she’ll win the seat come November.
“I’m an organizer, I’m an educator, I’m an activist,” she told Vogue, explaining her attraction to progressive politics. “There is no other force, there is no other party, there is no other real ideology out there right now that is asserting the minimum elements necessary to lead a dignified American life.”
Crowley, on the other hand, often hailed himself as the “young” and “progressive” 56-year-old successor to current minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). With these labels and assumptions hilarious on their face, Crowley’s record is distinctly different than his progressive challenger who, during his televised debate with Ocasio-Cortez — 1 of 3 debates that he actually attended — made his pitch to voters that echoed the out-of-touch message of former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton: “I oppose Trump.” This is true, given they disagree 82 percent on policy, however, FiveThirtyEight discovered that Rep. Crowley was actually to the right of the president on a number of key issues — trade, welfare, as well as personal liberty and privacy protections under the first and fourth amendment.
During his 10-term tenure, Rep. Crowley has backed the Iraq War, backed constitutional amendments to ban flag burning, voted against the president in saying public officials (using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)) should be allowed to have broad powers to search and read private message accidentally collected without a warrant, and has supported outsourcing trade deals such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — which held provisions that allowed oil companies to sue the government for key environmental regulations that affect their profits. According to reports from The Intercept, Rep. Crowley even took an appointment with the BGR group, the Republican-linked lobbying firm with ties to Bush administration, known for their own anti-Trump neoconservative beliefs, in the lead up to the Tuesday race.
Yet with all the money in the world, spending over $100,000 of his own money to win a campaign in a district where the median income is $53,512, anti-Trump rhetoric that labeled the man a “fascist” wasn’t enough to save a race about diverse representation (40 percent Latino, 32 percent white, 15 percent Asian, and 14 percent black), where voters cared about the economic policy substance more than weasel words.
“We beat a machine with a movement, and that is what we have done today,” Ocasio-Cortez told supporters Tuesday night. “Working-class Americans want a clear champion and there is nothing radical about moral clarity in 2018.”
No one saw Ocasio-Cortez’s victory coming, and it has the establishment media and politicians scared into perpetual analysis — with no Russian ties to use as a diversion. Kicking and screaming, Democrats are now being pushed from the all-American right to the international center of progressive politics. In upcoming races with likes of progressives such as Cynthia Nixon, the contender against New York’s controversial Andrew Cuomo for governor, the blue wave is coming — and even top leaders won’t be spared.