SAN FRANCISCO — Urging activists to pull the Democratic Party to the left, progressive superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got a hero’s welcome Tuesday night from Bay Area fans hungry for her stridently liberal message.
The 28-year-old New Yorker, who electrified liberals by defeating the fourth-highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives last month, closed out a cross-country tour at a packed Mission District theater.
In a 19-minute speech that was interrupted with cheers and applause after almost every sentence, Ocasio-Cortez urged her party to reach out to working class and minority supporters who feel left behind by politics.
“Our swing voter is not red to blue, it’s nonvoter to voter,” she said. “They stay home because they don’t feel like we’re fighting hard enough for them.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, shared anecdotes of how her life has been turned upside down in the month since her victory. Her upset primary win swept her from bartending gigs to getting stopped on the street for selfies.
“There is no normal way to prepare as a human being for what is happening,” she said. “Literally, just imagine you just wake up one morning and CNN’s writing articles about you — that’s kind of my life right now.”
She pointed out that she’s still paying off her student loans, and suggested more candidates talk about real-world financial issues and struggles they face.
Some Democrats have fretted that her hard-left approach could cost them seats in what’s shaping up to be a promising election cycle. But Ocasio-Cortez argued the party shouldn’t shy away from progressive stances on issues like Medicare for all or a federal jobs guarantee.
“When they told me that I had to wait my turn — nah,” she said. “Because we’ve been waiting for all of American history for justice, and we’re not going to wait anymore.”
Notably, Ocasio-Cortez didn’t mention President Trump or even refer to him in her speech — a rare omission for just about any Democratic politician in California over the last year and a half. Instead, she focused on her own stances and efforts to change the party.
At one point, her speech was drowned out by chanting activists denouncing Israel’s repression of Palestine. Ocasio-Cortez — who has previously struggled to articulate her position on the conflict — thanked them for supporting marginalized communities but avoided discussing specifics.
Her San Francisco appearance capped a whirlwind trip barnstorming for progressive candidates around the country, including in Kansas and other Republican-leaning areas. She hasn’t endorsed any California hopefuls, but has backed a number of other liberal primary candidates in a bid to “reclaim this party.” She’s helped them raise money through her huge online following and dispatched organizers to support them.
Ocasio-Cortez spent her day in the Bay Area meeting with Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and a group of retail workers. And while she railed against the influence of money in politics in her speech, she also held a fundraiser at a women-only clubhouse in the Mission where tickets went for up to $2,700. The money went to her general election coffers, even though she is an overwhelming favorite in her Bronx-and-Queens district. “We’ve still got an election to win in November,” her spokesman Corbin Trent said in an interview.
Progressive activists and elected officials who showed up at the sold-out party Tuesday night lauded Ocasio-Cortez for reinvigorating liberals around the country and serving as a model for the Democratic Party.
“She has proven we do not need to be timid in order to win,” said San Francisco Supervisor and former mayoral candidate Jane Kim. “This woman gave us faith in the system.”
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