From identity politics to immigration to the progressive surge in Congress, New York Rep. Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez has been a distinct voice and has become one of the most recognizable names in politics.
Her initials AOC have also become popular in the media and her appearance at SXSW was a testimony to that as she took the stage for her featured session — “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the New Left” moderated by The Intercept‘s Senior Politics Editor Briahna Gray. Oscasio-Cortez was welcomed with a standing ovation and spoke on the aforementioned issues that have continued to make headlines since Donald Trump took office, and it was all summarized at the end when Bill Nye made a surprise visit during the Q&A portion.
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Mr. Nye The Science Guy stepped up to the mic with his query like any other SXSW attendee. “I’m a white guy,” he started. “I think the problem on both sides is fear. People of my ancestry are afraid to pay for everything as immigrants come into this country. People who work at the diner in Alabama are afraid to ask for what is reasonable. So do you have a plan to work with people in Congress that are afraid? That’s what’s going on with many conservatives especially when it comes to climate change. People are afraid of what happens when we try to make these big changes.”
After giving Nye her own standing ovation, she answered in front of the standing-room-only audience: “One of the keys to dismantling fear is dismantling a zero-sum mentality.”
She continued, “It means the rejection outright of the logic that says someone else’s gain necessitates my loss and that my gain MUST necessitate someone’s loss. We can give without a take. We’re viewing progress as a loss instead of as an investment. When we choose to invest in our system, we are choosing to create wealth. When we all invest in them, then the wealth is for all of us too.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s featured session was thoughtful and almost State of the Union-like, with plenty of applause breaks between her thoughts on race, class and how to work toward change on a multitude of issues that stem from those two things. She urged the audience to do away with the “meh” mentality when it comes to politics, and dismiss cynicism, saying that it is seen “as an intellectually superior attitude.”
Inspiration for progress and change flowed through the conversation as if we were listening to an audio book of AOC’s greatest hits: “We need to be really zeroing in on the malpractice of governance and how special interests have captured the only tool that we have to govern ourselves fairly and not at a profit,” she said. At another point, she urged: “We should distance ourselves and start getting away from this idea that we should only care about ourselves.”
But there was one point in the session that stood out, when two young women from Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s documentary We Are The Radical Monarchs (which makes it world premiere March 10 at SXSW) stepped up to the mic and asked “What advice do you have for girls of color who want to break into politics?”
The girls asking the questions wore Girl Scout vests, but they are really part of the Oakland-based alternative to Girl Scouts called The Radical Monarchs, a group specifically for girls of color between the ages of 8-13 who earn badges for participating in social justice causes such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights and disability justice.
Without missing a beat, Ocasio-Cortez said, “Stop trying to navigate systems of power and start building your own power” which was met with a flood of applause.
Rachel Lears’ documentary Knock Down the House featuring Ocasio-Cortez will screen at SXSW March 10.
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