Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the incoming congresswoman from New York, announced Saturday night that she would be supporting a national campaign to recruit the next generation of Democratic primary challengers.
The effort called #OurTime is being spearheaded by Justice Democrats, the insurgent outfit that recruited Ocasio-Cortez and backed a host of candidates rejecting corporate PAC money and espousing more progressive policy throughout the midterm campaign cycle.
“I guess, long story short, I need you to run for office,” Ocasio-Cortez said on the organizing call, which drew an estimated 700 people listeners. “I really hope that many of you join me here in Congress.”
“The problem of money in politics is bipartisan,” she continued, calling in from her Bronx apartment. “It is systemic. It is not personal. It’s not about an individual being a bad leader. It’s about how we allow a corrupting system to really influence the most powerful positions of policymaking.”
The 29-year-old Democrat was a first-time candidate when she took on the near-20-year incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) whose well-funded campaign was toppled by a grassroots effort from the fledgling Justice Democrat operation. The group, which is now soliciting candidate nominations on its website, saw other victories throughout the country with a total of four women of color joining the incoming class of Democratic House members: Ilhan Omar in Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib in Michigan.
“Powerful women coming together to reclaim our government is exactly what is needed right now,” Tlaib, Congresswoman-elect of Michigan’s 13th district, said in a statement. “Help uplift women like us at all levels of government. We still need more of you to run with us. So get your squad together. We are waiting for you.”
Prior to the call, Justice Democrats had collaborated with the climate change-focused organization Sunrise Movement to hold a sit-in in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) office urging her to support a “Green New Deal,” a comprehensive plan to address the drastically declining climate immediately. Ocasio-Cortez briefly joined the protesters to offer her support saying: “I just want to let you all know how proud I am of each and every single one of you for putting yourselves and your bodies and everything on the line to make sure that we save our planet, our generation and our future. It's so incredibly important.”
Afterwards, Pelosi, who is conceivably going to be the next Speaker of the House again, issued a statement that was supportive of the activists but fell short of the Justice Democrats’ demands. But, there are now nine Democratic members in support of establishing a select committee for the Green New Deal.
Having seen where there were electoral successes and failures in 2018, Justice Democrats want to “prioritize candidates who are women, represent the diversity of communities in their district, and support the major tenets of Justice Democrats platform: rejecting corporate PAC donations, Medicare For All, free college, dismantling mass incarceration and deportations, and a Green New Deal.” But also, they acknowledge that the primary process, particularly in safer Democratic districts, might yield the highest success rate for progressives challenging entrenched Democratic incumbents.
“There’s lots of blue districts in this country where communities want to support a new generation of diverse working-class leaders who fight tirelessly for their voters and build a movement around big solutions to our country’s biggest problems,” Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas said. “We’re creating an alternative pathway to Congress for grassroots candidates to become leaders in the Democratic Party.”
As Ocasio-Cortez wades through this environment, both working with fellow members and encouraging the rise of new ones, she acknowledged that the challenges to the normal functioning of Congress might irk some people.
“If I made people mad, they could have put me on the dog-walking committee,” she joked on Saturday night, going on to add: “They still might.”