Katie Dunne, Passionate believer in democracy and member of UHM's Digital Media Content Crew.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the effects of finding oneself listed as an Unaffiliated Voter; the Summer for Progress petition; her experience with the Justice Democrats; Automatic Voter Registration; Fracking and Climate change; Single-Payer healthcare and the IDC; Joe Crowley and his donors and how they profit off the despair of the people in the 14th Congressional District; Fighting money in politics; the Democratic message and what it should be; Cannabis; Gentrification; Erastus Root and Values-based Elections.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a progressive candidate running in the 14th Congressional District of New York against incumbent and corporate Democrat - Joseph Crowley. #WeThePeople interviewed Alexandria - who is Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats endorsed, on July 19th, 2017.
Alexandria once worked for the late Senator Kennedy, and tells us that it was a privilege to do so. She worked out of his Foreign Affairs and Immigration Office “facilitating pretty much anything that would happen between a U.S. citizen or resident, and a foreign country.” She loved it. She loved the people and the spirit. Then came the period leading up to Citizens United and Alexandria began to feel that working class people couldn’t have a real say in government, and so she left politics behind her and returned to her own community in the Bronx to see how she could impact families and communities and work directly with people and schools there. She first spent time in West Africa working with expectant mothers and female entrepreneurs and afterwards worked as an Educational Director with the N.H.I. fostering high-ability Latino youth with the skills to lead and succeed. The financial crisis and her father’s death hit hard and Alexandria’s mother was homemaker, bus driver… they did everything they could to make ends meet. These experiences (which included waitressing, in Alexandria’s case) were what really taught her the most about the change needed in the country and the agenda that “we need to push for on healthcare; a living wage; workers’ rights and on advocacy for working Americans all across the United States”. Later she founded Brook Avenue Press, an early childhood literacy project exploring storytelling and project-based curriculum. Wow - says John!
And then came the 2016 election cycle. Lots of people were getting involved – Alexandria tells us, and troubling stories were coming out of States like Arizona, where more and more people were being registered to vote and showing up to their polling place. Many found that they were off their voting rolls. Some people had been registered as Democrat or Republican for 10 to 15 years and then suddenly the voting records were gone. In Alexandria’s case she was a registered Democrat since the age of 18. She found herself listed as an unaffiliated voter from New York State. She had checked the Register – having been warned by a friend to do so, 3 months before the Primary but it was already passed the deadline for her to register as a Democrat and participate in the Primary. She was shocked and appalled. “For those who don’t know, New York State has some of the most draconian voter suppression laws for Primary participation in the country.” John comments on how ridiculous closed primaries are. It’s all about control and both parties agree on that control - he says. This disenfranchisement Alexandria says, caused her to go from strong supporter doing some phone banking and digital organizing, to being a full on organizer for Bernie Sanders in the South Bronx. John smiles and claps briefly and Alexandria smiles back. She speaks of waking up at 5 a.m., political door-hangers, trying to get into apartment buildings, speaking with people, catching parents on their way to work and so on. Her idea was that if she was denied her right to vote, then she could organize 10, 20, 50, 1000 people to vote in her stead. As shocking as the Primary and especially General election results were, she decided to continue focusing on what could be done to push the needle forward. So she traveled across the country to Ohio, Flint Michigan, Indiana and eventually Standing Rock - documented the conversations she had and streamed them online. When she returned she got the call from Brand New Congress to say that she’d been nominated for a U.S. Congressional run. She gives us a beautiful bright smile. Up until now (07/19/2017) the organization has received about 11 000 nominations – Alexandria tells us, and from those they’ve launched about 12 or 13 Congressional campaigns.
John mentions Laura, and Markus - who is awake at 4 a.m. in Germany for the interview. Alexandria smiles and says “Amazing”! John is excited about what Alexandria is going to speak about next. He tells everybody that this is the unity that we talk about all the time on the Awake Show. Alexandria then explains what the Petition called Summer for Progress is, and that it was just announced today (07/19/2017). 14 Progressive organizations (including Brand New Congress, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, the Women’s March, Fight for $15, Democratic Socialists of America, Young Progressives for Change) have signed on in a coalition on a progressive platform. They have a series of progressive issues that they would like to present to the D.N.C. They are doing hard-hitting advancing work. John is really pleased. They are trying to collect 100,000 signatures on a petition asking the D.N.C. to adopt Single-Payer healthcare, a living wage, a renewable energy economy, workers’ rights, women’s healthcare access and more – she says, and continues. We’re going to change the course of this country, and we’re going to change the agenda legislatively so that American People - working Americans, have proper representation in the halls of Congress again. John says emotionally that we have wanted this to happen for so long that he has tingles just listening to her say that. Alexandria had reassured John before the interview that it wasn’t just Uphill Media and audience, but everybody that wanted this. They got the message, she says – Unify, it’s time! She talks about a puzzle and the pieces, and that it was just a matter of figuring how we were going to fit the pieces together. Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats are bringing the Congressional candidates to advance the agenda, Women’s March is bringing the People, Our Revolution is bringing the message and Fight for $15 also. Alexandria says that she is so excited about it all, and honored to be part of a movement doing real work in the country. And Uphill Media is going to interview you all and try to help you grow your reach - says John. Absolutely - replies Alexandria. John greets everyone in the audience and is sure that they will be very happy with the news.
He asks Laura about questions. (Steve) wants to know what Alexandria’s experience with the Justice Democrats has been and how they’re helping her – she says. Alexandria replies that as a candidate her most common and intimate experience with them is with her fellow candidates. She is in constant communication with Cori Bush in Ferguson, Paula Jean Swearengin in WV, Anthony Clark in IL and Sarah Smith in Washington. It’s incredible to be a part of this. There is no way - she says, that she’d be running for Congress without B.N.C. and J.Democrats. She feels part of a team and of a movement. This is how we get the message out - by educating ourselves, by speaking with each other, with our co-workers, with our families and our friends … getting them to think about what we can do to advance, and how we can push forward our agenda.
Last month (around June 2017) Alexandria says they had a national door-knocking canvassing event. Ocasio 2018 had THE largest canvassing event in the nation. She had about 100 people get in touch, and most showed up. The majority were Justice Democrats and people following programs like #WeThePeople, The Jimmy Dore show …
Laura says there is a question from Germany. Wow - says Alexandria. Markus’s voice is heard and then he appears – saying that the question is from fellow countryman and another co-host of the Awake Show, Deniz. Would you support the idea of being automatically registered to vote on your 18th Birthday and not (necessarily) be linked to a party, just (have) the right to vote? Yes says Alexandria. All Justice Democrats support automatic voter registration and exploring options like rank choice voting and lowering the barriers to vote. The purpose of these barriers is to exclude people of lower income and marginalized communities. It’s entirely un-American! There should be automatic registration to vote when you turn 18, or become an American citizen … No deadlines, no renewals, no excuses! We have a technologically advanced democracy. Those deadlines should be a thing of the past as they had to do with filing and paperwork. Alexandria encourages Independents to at least consider registering with the Democrats for 2018 in order to support Progressives. We can eventually explore opening our primaries – she says.
Laura has another question from (Xander) about Alexandria’s position on fracking and climate change. Alexandria says that this is an incredibly important issue to her personally. Environmental issues are very intersectional with other issues and socio-economic justice. In the Bronx Alexandria had started to notice that gas companies (Canadian pipeline companies…) were making donations to Non-Profits around her - and often at that. Being of a curious nature, she looked into it. The reason she discovered was that they were planning to put a gas and fracking pipeline under the Bronx which wasn’t even their first choice of location. Manhattan had previously said no, as had Brooklyn and Queens too. So they decided to put it in the poorest borough, where people are less likely to be paying attention because more focused on making ends meet. It was really upsetting to her and she was very supportive of the efforts to install a moratorium on fracking which eventually led to the full stop on fracking. As Alexandria said earlier, she was in Standing Rock in 2016. All of this is so much more than just environmental justice and so much more than a stand against climate change – she says. These companies often represent the vanguard of corporations that are trying to override our democratic will. These energy companies are paving the way by paying and giving special interest contributions to politicians and allowing those politicians to just legislate their lobbying. There are so many issues tied with this particular issue. I’m a staunch advocate for us to be able to continue to drink our water and our water to continue being potable. John adds - That would be without having to buy it from Nestle. Right – Alexandria agrees. John continues - I just want to get it out of the river. I don’t want to have to get it from plastic bottles. John tells Alexandria that she speaks eloquently and should do just fine in politics when she has to go on with bobbleheads on M.S.M. and talk about that.
There is a question in chat to do with the I.D.C. - John says, and that relates to Single-Payer which we were talking about. Oh yes - Alexandria says. Tell everybody what’s going on with Single-Payer in New York - John continues. Sure – Alexandria replies. Single-Payer healthcare has had quite a lot of momentum in recent times. The Single-Payer bill has been introduced and has passed the New York State Assembly each year for the last two or three, but it always comes to a stop at the New York Senate. Why? It’s because in New York State we have something known as the Independent Democratic Caucus. It’s a political “thing” that’s happened. Basically there are about five rogue New York State Senators that run as Democrats. Last year what was most insulting, was that one of them ran as a Berniecrat. She ran as a Progressive! The I.D.C when they go to New York they caucus to hand over power to Republicans. People think that they are voting for a Democrat but these people have been lobbied, promised …, given perks etc. They are overriding the will of New Yorkers in order to stop Single-Payer healthcare which will cut healthcare costs dramatically. Also, if such legislation were to be adopted - for example Medicare for All on a Federal level, it would add 29 million people to the rolls of meaningfully insured individuals, not just that you have a premium and a health plan but you can actually go upward to go to the doctor and get the healthcare that you need. For anyone curious - Alexandria says, I would definitely advise checking out an organization called No I.D.C. New York. The Working Families’ Party also organizes very strongly against the I.D.C.
John would like to talk about Alexandria’s opponent Joe Crowley, who is fourth in line in the corporate Democratic dynasty. Crowley has referred to Nancy Pelosi as Julius Caesar in terms of her abilities in the Democratic Party. How do you feel about that – John asks? Alexandria replies that she reckons that the Party thinks that fundraising is a proxy for winning and for leadership…and it’s not – she says. It’s a proxy for lobbying and corporate power. I would raise a serious question as a voter, as an individual just engaged in this democracy as to why we are rewarding people who are corporate fundraisers so much in our government and our representation. Our government is established to represent everyday working people and just last Friday my opponent hosted a D.C. fundraiser. The only option to get in was a $2,500 ticket! My community’s average income is in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. The idea that a lot of these politicians are getting elected using means that an everyday average voter could never access in their life, just speaks to the disconnection (between) our government as a whole - both parties, and (the People). Obviously - says John, he’s not interested in talking to your community. These are the people he gets his money from (John shows a slide showing information from OpenSecrets.org). It’s a pretty impressive list of investment groups and Blackstone – which likes to just do buy-out investing which is a horrible thing, Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase … so many - says John, that I do not want to see on a donor list. Alexandria would also like to add here that this has direct local impact. Although Crowley’s supporters are not local to New York, the donors have an extremely adverse effect on the New Yorkers in our community in New York 14. The district is half in the Bronx and half in Queens and comprised of extremely hard-working families whose lives are being made harder every single day by issues like gentrification (involving) private real estate and equity groups making strategic investments to build high-rises to move working families out of this community. These are families that have been here for two, three or four generations and Crowley is taking donation money from groups like Tishman Speyer whose objectives are actually entirely counter to the well-being of the families in our community. People can’t afford to continue living in New York State anymore and in that environment he’s taking contributions from organizations that make money off of foreclosure, and not only that but on a local level he has installed two of his close family friends to be the head of something called the Surrogate’s Court. This means that through the strategic appointments and placements that he has made, they have profited and made tens of millions of dollars off of foreclosures in our district. There is a direct conflict of interest between his funding and the well-being of our community and we cannot allow our public representatives to profit off of the despair of our citizens. We cannot allow this to continue! The team is impressed. You’re a fiery speaker - John says, and we need that. It’s good because most of our (representatives) are asleep. They just go fundraise. Thank you! The audience says that this is really refreshing and that you know what the hell you’re talking about too.
Markus has a question regarding something which they had spoken about on the previous Awake Show. There is a billionaire who previously supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 and who now suddenly appears to support Bernie Sanders. I would like to know whether you would take money from those people or those corporations, if they were the “good billionaires”. Alexandria answers that it’s funny because she gets this question a lot and she thinks it’s an interesting one. As a candidate I have taken a pledge to deny all big money and all PAC contributions to my campaign. So while I applaud individuals of wealth joining the progressive movement and championing causes for working people and find that it’s great for us to build a coalition, I think they can contribute the same amount of money that a working person can contribute and they can abide by the laws of this nation and the FEC. So that’s $2,700 dollars per election and $5,400 per cycle, and beyond that they can direct their funding, their activism and their efforts to the progressive movement overall. There are a lot of organizations that need a lot of support. So if there is a billionaire out there, maybe distribute a billion dollars to the hundreds of progressive organizations trying to enact change. That’s beautiful - says John, as Markus smiles. Markus is happy with that response because he sees the danger in someone entering the political game with a lot of money. There is a high likelihood that that individual would make certain demands on the Party or candidate. Alexandria agrees and continues “and it’s also just a basic principle of our democracy. We should be governing based on a consensus of the people, e.g. 700,000 people in my district. No matter how well-meaning, there shouldn’t be one voice whose amplification can be purchased. John hasn’t quite figured out what makes a good or a bad corporation, but notes that Alexandria is bound by the guidelines of Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress. Not only - says Alexandria, have we signed a pledge not to take big money, or PAC money, but also one saying that - should we be and when we are elected, we will not leverage the relationships we made while in service to the lobbying of policy afterwards. Alexandria and the Justice Democrats that she has met really mean it. Most if not all come from working backgrounds – she tells us. We know we are to turn those keys over and preserve the spirit of what this democracy is about.
It appears that Joseph Crowley – John says, wasn’t even elected to the position and here’s what he had to say about the message of the Democratic Party. “We are all working on that. We’re hoping to have it up and running and out this fall.” You’d think it was a clothing line or something – John exclaims! What’s your message as a Democrat? I’m so glad you asked me that, because we need to get this out over and over again. The Democratic Party is supposed to be the champion of the working class. I do not know - she states emphatically, what is so hard to understand about that! We need Single-Payer healthcare, a living wage, access to women’s health, a renewable energy economy by 2028 and mass (and proper) infrastructure which includes Gigabit (Speed) Internet. We also need jobs and free public college tuition and vocational education for Americans all across the country, because as our economy develops, our educational requirements develop too. We didn’t start this country with K-12 education. You had Kindergarten schools that became nationalized and then 100 years later you had elementary schools that became nationalized. People take for granted that nationalizing high school wasn’t even fully fleshed out until the 1950s and here we are another 60 years later and we are going to add on and make a national program, a nationally accessible one to further educate the population to (meet) the demands of our economy – and that is part of the normal course of history – it’s so important to emphasize that. It isn’t radical or new. We are advocating for the issues that the majority of Americans agree upon, such as climate change, such as government federalized healthcare (60% agree) and increased access to public college and vocational education. We’re not trying to push anybody anywhere. We are trying to represent the nation as it is, and the people and their beliefs and their will – as they are, she argues passionately as her hands emphasize what she says. John smiles and says that’s a good message, and way better than “We’re working on it.” The latter Alexandria doesn’t understand either, after 7 months (07/19/2017) of this administration. We’ve delivered the message alright, but we just don’t have people that work for us who like it - says John. Laura Livengood adds that it shows the corporate roots. That’s corporate messaging - We are agreeing to what we are going to be saying in front of the people as opposed to behind their backs. I work in Marketing PR - Laura continues, I see it all the time in the same way a corporation would decide what its key messages are going to be, no one can say anything until they all agree what that is going to be. Alexandria continues. It also speaks to the income inequality gap. When there was only a small wealth gap a donation didn’t make such a difference that your decisions influenced your policy that much. When there is as now a huge income gap, then those influencing policy at the top are so far away from the will of the people. John comments that to compete with that kind of power we have to combine our resources and our moneys. Alexandria adds that we can also do so by working together as coalitions and groups, and media outlets. This is the revolution that Bernie Sanders was asking us to start at the beginning – says John!
John Ellis now has a question of his own. It concerns cannabis. New York has legalized medicinal. Where do you stand on recreational cannabis? Alexandria answers that the State itself has legalized it in a way that sabotages itself, in the manner in which they have structured the dispensary licenses… The big story that came out a couple of months ago – she says, was that the board that was in charge of rolling this out didn’t even have a single cannabis expert on it, which Alexandria thinks is a little suspect at this point. She is supportive of legalization, decriminalization and de-scheduling of marijuana because of the effect that it has on her community and because of the effect that it has on men of color in the U.S. They are disproportionately targeted for incarceration and cannabis is used as an excuse, unlike or much more than with other groups. Alexandria believes in recreational use too and thinks that New York should use Colorado and Washington as a template. It generates an incredible amount of revenue and investment for schools and infrastructure and the type of progressive legislation that we’re seeking to advance. Tell everyone you meet (running in) New York - says John, that Colorado just passed (07/19/2017) a half billion dollars in profit. The first thought was to invest in education, but now they are looking beyond to see what else to invest in. So, infrastructure … Think about this - says John, how much money from booze has been re-invested into the community? Just curious – he says. Alexandria replies – probably not much and adds that the impact of alcohol and how it’s marketed … distributed in communities is huge. It can be incredibly harmful to our communities as well. And there have been no deaths from cannabis so far – John says, unless you’re talking about synthetic cannabis which has killed 100 people in PA recently. That has been a big problem in New York too – Alexandria replies. We had a K2 epidemic which they called “a zombie epidemic”. People were having seizures in the subway stations in Harlem a year ago. It’s a nasty chemical - says John. It’s basically plant matter, which is sprayed with synthetic chemicals to try to mimic the effects of … “neurotoxins” - says Alexandria. Yes – John responds. No wonder people are OD’ing. That’s ridiculous!
John Warren in YouTube chat asks about Alexandria’s opinion on gentrification and how one balances the urge for developers to make profits while tenants need affordable housing. Alexandria replies that this is a huge issue in New York where the housing inventory is extremely limited. The New York Times had a great article a year or two ago (in 2015 or 2016) - she says, on late-stage gentrification. That is what we are seeing now, as even the major chains in SoHo such as Michael Kors, can’t afford to sustain their rent in some of the most fashionable and hip areas of New York City. Imagine the situation for working families in areas like Queens! Many development corporations and private developers contribute a lot to city council races and to corporate Democrats that turn a blind eye. This has led to lethal incidents because these private developers when they build, use non-union and untrained, undocumented workers. We’ve had about 30 to 35 individuals die on construction sites in the last year in the New York City area – she tells us. Randy Bryce “Ironstache” spoke of non-union workers causing issues - says John. Not being trained properly is one of them right there, and I don’t imagine that they are building the best of structures either. It’s extremely concerning –says Alexandria. Economic development of a neighborhood is one thing, displacement is another. Also, in New York City we have a huge problem with the global 1% using real estate to hide their wealth. Manhattan has had less than a 1 to 2% inventory rate – in terms of apartments available for purchase on the market, but they have a 50% vacancy rate – she exclaims! There are a whole slew of people who own apartments in Manhattan but don’t live in them because they’re living in other locations in Russia, San Francisco, China or Western Europe. Small businesses in the area are suffering because of that. Take a bus trip down Midtown Manhattan right now and you’ll see that almost every single block has a shuttered business. Businesses can’t survive when no one actually lives in the city. A lot of these communities are getting people who want to buy buildings for Airbnb or buy a building out, or want to raze a building and build a luxury condominium to sell (it) out to people who don’t even live in the community. Our local economy is suffering very hard as a result – she says. What would you propose to do about it - asks John? Alexandria replies that a lot of this work needs to happen on a local level. She thinks they need to much more highly tax people who don’t live in the city. There has been a residency tax that has been floated, saying that if you cannot prove residency (actual presence) in the city for 6 months out of the year, then your property tax or one of your taxes goes up. That’s one way to attack this problem – she says. Another important way is that we need to really crack down on dark money. It is essential that we (get) and enact campaign reform then we’ll get candidates that have the political will to actually crack down on these issues. People - says John, who will actually write the legislation to change these laws. People like you! And the other Justice Democrats – Alexandria adds. John agrees and adds that Nina Turner said recently (07/19/2017) “I don’t care what Party you are, if you are interested in working for the People.” Alexandria agrees and talks about Robb Ryerse - a Republican B.N.C. candidate out there in Arkansas, as her colleague. He agrees with me on Single-Payer healthcare, on a living wage, infrastructure investment and on addressing climate change … There is an advocate for workers out in Arkansas! We have to stop seeing each other as colors or letters and start seeing each other for the values we have. John adds - as humans that need to survive on this rock.
I think this is a tongue in cheek question from YouTube chat - says Laura. What is the main difference between you and your opponent? Alexandria and John laugh. Let’s start with this one – says Alexandria. I’m a resident of the district and he’s a resident of Washington D.C. That’s good enough the team feel - and Markus laughs. John mentions that one of the stories on Joe was that he is (paying) a family member some money for an office in a district that’s not even his. It’s a way to kick money back – John says, adding that for him the easiest way to define the difference is corporate Democrat versus People’s Democrat. Bought and paid for - says Laura, versus woke and progressive.
For information - John says, Erastus Root was the original, the O.G. of New York’s 14th. He was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the 8th U.S. Congress and served from 1803 to 1805. John suggests we can use this individual to explain how the parties flipped, as this seems to be an issue that people don’t know (about) anymore. As an Abraham Lincoln nerd - Alexandria says, bring on people like him. Elect them all, regardless of label. This she says is about a values–based democracy and values-based elections.
Alexandria closes by asking New Yorkers, and even people who know New Yorkers to tell as many people as they can about her campaign. She repeats her issues and emphasizes Single-Payer healthcare and most importantly for her the issue of fighting to get money out of politics, so that we can continue to have a (sustained) system of candidates who fight for everyday Americans and most importantly the voters across the country. Continue to remain involved – she says. The entire foundational belief of the progressive movement in this country is that we can fight for our neighbors and they can fight for us. We want all of these issues to be dealt with, and all together. And we won’t settle until it is all done! We have a vision…I have faith that we will get there.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is on a roll! Wow! The links are in the video description. Good luck on June 26th, 2018 Alexandria.