By Miriam B.
“I did NOT endorse Andrew Cuomo,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declared to cheers and laughter at a town hall meeting with DSA on October 17. “Those words never came out of my mouth. When I make an endorsement, you know it.”
Ocasio and NYC-DSA had both endorsed Cynthia Nixon in her Democratic primary campaign to unseat Cuomo as Governor in September. A few weeks later, Ocasio had said in an interview that she supports “all Democrats, including the Governor” in the November general election. That statement prompted an open letter of concern from NYC-DSA’s steering committee. It also became another reason to hold the town hall, organized by the Queens DSA electoral working group.
Nearly 150 DSA members from across the city gathered for the townhall, the first formal meeting with NYC-DSA since Ocasio rocketed to international fame as the democratic socialist David who defeated Goliath on June 26, when she won the Democratic primary to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District. She defeated Joseph Crowley, a 20-year incumbent and head of the Queens Democratic machine.
DSA has benefited enormously from her victory, for which we had campaigned hard. DSA’s National membership has ballooned to 52,000 from 36,000 in June (and 6,000 three years ago), as Ocasio has campaigned across the country for other candidates who reject corporate donations and support many of our central issues, including Medicare for All, free tuition at public universities and trade schools, affordable housing and an end to mass incarceration.
But at the townhall, DSA members raised concerns about a number of statements by DSA’s best-known member. One asked about her view of the Israel/Palestine conflict. After tweeting that Israel's shooting of Palestinian protesters was “a massacre,” Ocasio told an interviewer on PBS’s Firing Line that she supported Israel’s right to exist and a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. At the townhall, Ocasio reaffirmed her support for Palestinian rights, while saying she didn’t want to be “prescriptive” about the solution to their plight. Israel and Palestine should come up at a solution, she concluded.
That statement drew a few grumbles about “typical politician,” but generally, Ocasio’s responses to often pointed questions were warmly received.
One member asked Ocasio if she thought recently deceased Sen. John McCain was a mass murderer. Ocasio answered forthrightly that the question was probably prompted by her tweet honoring McCain, after his death, for his decades of service. “That tweet was a mistake,” she said. “I’m not perfect.” If you have questions or concerns, just ask me, she added, promising to hold more meetings with DSA.
Would she vote for the US military budget? another member asked. Ocasio said she would generally follow the example set by Rep. Barbara Lee: voting against it most of the time, but making an exception if it included an important rider, such as ending the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy about service members’ sexual orientation.
Ocasio drew cheers for her forthright support of decriminalizing marijuana and sex work, and for saying she not only wanted to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), she wanted to end deportations of undocumented immigrants accused or convicted of low-level crimes. She noted, however, that she supports deporting immigrants who engage in human trafficking and violent crimes like murder.
Her response to a question about mental health policy also drew applause. It’s not enough for mental healthcare to be free at the point of service, as part of Medicare for All, she said. We also have to address the causes of widespread trauma, such as mass incarceration, undocumented status, and poverty. In mental health emergencies, ambulances with therapists on board--not police--should respond to calls to 911, she added.
The meeting ended on a high note. Ocasio invited all DSA members to a rally at LaGuardia Airport on October 20, in support of Delta workers’ right to organize. The rally was sponsored by Ocasio and NYC-DSA’s Labor Branch.