Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tells packed rally: ‘We will not go back, we will go forward’

Paul Schwartzman

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told a crowd of Democratic activists it had taken the United States more than two centuries to elect an outspoken group of minority women to congress and that “we will not go back”.

Speaking at a rally in suburban Maryland on Thursday, Ms Ocasio-Cortez did not refer directly to president Donald Trump, who this week used Twitter to portray the freshman congresswoman from the Bronx – and three other first-term House Democrats – as unpatriotic leftists who should return to their countries of origin.

“It has taken us 240 years to have this unique composite in the congress, in this moment, and we will not go back,” she told more than 700 cheering Democrats at the Silver Spring Civic Centre.

“We will not go back to the days of injustice. We will not go back, we will go forward. But we sure as hell will not stand still.”

The rally was a benefit for Democracy Summer, a programme that representative Jamie Raskin started more than a decade ago to train new generations of Democratic activists.

Mr Raskin is not accustomed to drawing big crowds when he hosts fundraisers for the programme. But after his office announced Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance last week, his phone began to ring endlessly.

Within hours, all 700 tickets were gone, and his office had to start a waiting list.

“Usually I’m the attraction, which tells you about our comparative popular appeal,” Mr Raskin said before the rally.

Referring to Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s star power, he said: “She makes news when she gets a cup of water.”

The congresswomen Mr Trump targeted – Ms Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – are all women of colour.

Ms Omar, a refugee from Somalia, is the only one born outside the United States. She returned home to Minneapolis on Thursday from Washington, and was greeted at the airport by enthusiastic crowds.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez received a similar hero’s welcome at the civic centre, in the heart of Mr Raskin’s deep-blue district just outside Washington.

“It has been a kind of crazy week, hasn’t it?” she said as she began her remarks.

“America has always been the story of those fighting to advance the rights of others,” she continued. “And some, clinging to the past, to preserve the rights of a few.”

Hundreds of people stood in long security lines in the stifling heat to get a glimpse of the 29-year-old Democrat. A choir sang folk songs as they waited.

“She speaks very profoundly for the millennials my age coming from immigrant backgrounds,” said Samantha Labastida, 23, a child care provider from Wheaton. “She’s the voice we have been yearning for.”

A few feet away, Tynan Jackson, 23, an Ohioan who is interning in Washington for the summer, said it’s Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s background as a political neophyte that attracts him.

“She’s an outsider like Trump, but with her it’s a positive,” he said.

“She doesn’t have any money, she’s from the Bronx, and she canvassed in shoes that whittled to the sole. She’s genuine.”

But Jim Greenberg, a retired academic administrator who described himself as a pragmatist, said he worries that Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s “bombastic” criticism of establishment Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would harm the party.

“It gives Trump and the Republicans ammunition,” he said. “She voices things at times that are not helpful to our side of the coin – the blue side.”

In November, Ms Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest person elected to congress in November when she won her seat representing a district that stretches from the Bronx to Queens.

She had ousted 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary, a victory that was widely regarded as the most surprising upset in the 2018 midterm elections.

She has remained a force since taking office, pressing a progressive platform that includes Medicare-for-all, free public college, and a “Green New Deal” to address climate change and economic inequality.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez and her three colleagues, who refer to themselves as “the Squad” on Capitol Hill, have tangled with fellow Democrats, including Ms Pelosi, who has portrayed them as marginal players in Washington.

Mr Raskin – who works with Ms Ocasio-Cortez as the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties – predicted when he introduced her on Thursday night that she would be “one of the greatest members of the Congress of the 21st century”.

He described her victorious campaign as a “historic inspiration.”

When it was her turn, Ms Ocasio-Cortez returned the favour, saying Mr Raskin was the kind of lawmaker she was hoping to find when she reached Washington – “voraciously intellectual” and “able to quote Jefferson at the drop of a dime”.

She went on to describe the United States as rooted in dualities – “the good and bad, America is the hope and despair”.

After her remarks, she joined a chorus in singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”, then elicited a few squeals from onlookers when she waved before slipping out a back door.

As the crowd departed, Paul Weidorn, 63, a high school teacher who lives in Severna Park, said he was impressed by her words and passion.

But he said Ms Ocasio-Cortez needs more than just heated rhetoric.

“It all sounds great, but how do you turn it into something that happens?” he asked. “When you get down to the nuts and bolts, how do you turn it into legislation?”

Washington Post