When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat Congressman Joe Crowley, a 10-term Democratic incumbent, in New York’s 14th district primary, her victory wasn’t just a coup for residents of the Bronx. It was a win for the left insurgency in the Democratic Party.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tried to downplay the significance: “They made a choice in one district.… It is not to be viewed as something that stands for everything else.” But Ocasio-Cortez’s win demonstrates the viability of a left that campaigns on issues like single-payer health care, college-debt forgiveness, and affordable housing. Getting candidates like Ocasio-Cortez elected, however, is only the first step. Once in office, progressive politicians need to keep pushing left policies, and that requires grassroots support.
I talked with George Goehl—executive director of People’s Action, a community-organizing network that trains activists and policy-makers, holds protests, and helps direct progressive groups behind a common left agenda. We talked the day before Ocasio-Cortez won, and Goehl’s analysis speaks to what happens when she and other left candidates step into the halls of power.
Joseph Hogan: The collapse of the political center has had its share of bad effects—Trump, of course. But then there’s the possibility for something good to come of it too, right?
George Goehl: Without question. I think the collapse of the center opens up space for new ideas. The question is: Who can articulate them better and faster? Who can actually reach the working class? I think that’s in some ways a big part of our struggle. I question whether the left is talking to the working class—black, white, Latino, native, Asian—in the way we need to. But if we actually organized around a big agenda, I think we’d be pleasantly surprised.
JH: Democrats seem poised to win big in November. And let’s say they do. What next? What do we need to do to make sure that getting Democrats in office will actually lead to progressive change?
GG: We need to be ready to govern. We need to be organized around an agenda; people need to know where and how they’re supposed to move. If there’s going to be a blue wave, it will happen in statehouses—that’s where the biggest opportunities will be. So, how are we teeing up right now? We have to know, in each state, what is the plan to reach 100 percent renewable energy? How do we get to single-payer health care?