Progressives arrive at US Congress

Mohsin Siddique | Published: 00:00, Mar 07,2019 | Updated: 22:32, Mar 06,2019


Freshman Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York is alarming some Democrats by pushing the party to the left. — Common Dreams/The Associated Press

WHEN she arrived in Washington DC in late December for the preliminary ceremonies, briefings, etc, for the freshman class of representatives to the US Congress elected in 2018, she openly admitted that she did not have enough money to rent an apartment in DC. She did not realise how expensive it is to live in the nation’s capital. She tried to save knowing that it will be tjhree months between the time she was elected and seated before she could draw a salary, but her previous job was no money-maker either.
You see, the newly elected Congresswomen Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s previous job was as a bartender in New York city. She took the opportunity to point out how the working people are excluded in running for office and right-wingers, who criticised her for being poor, have no idea what life of ordinary people is like in America, the richest country in the world. The 29-year-old Congresswomen, known as AOC, the youngest ever, is not without qualifications. She has degrees in economics and international relations from Boston College, being among top 10 per cent of her graduating class.
She won the primary election — competition within the party — against an established well-financed Democrat named Joe Crowley (he spent more than $4 million; AOC spent $0.3 million) who had the seat for the past 20 years. The district includes the eastern part of the Bronx and portions of north-central Queens in New York City, one of the poorer sections of Brooklyn and Bronx, home to mostly the Black, Hispanic, especially Puerto Ricans, and many Bangladeshis.
She took no money from rich people or corporations and easily won the general election. For several months before the election, she was going door-to-door, literally, to talk to voters and ask for their votes. Her campaign staff were mostly volunteers, young and old people of various races. One of her ‘senior advisers’ is Texas-born Saikat Chakrabarti, a 2007 Harvard graduate in computer science. He is her chief of staff on Capitol Hill.
She may be new to Congress, but she is no shrinking violet, neither does she care about the unwritten rule that first-term Representatives keep a very low key. Almost immediately after the swearing in, she immediately created a political storm by introducing a controversial radical idea: the ‘Green New Deal’ in the spirit of the ‘New Deal’, the domestic programme of the administration of US president Franklin D Roosevelt under which major social programmes such as social security, Medicare and Medicaid, health care support for the retired and the poor, were implemented. The Geeen New Deal proposal calls for a total end to coal burning for fuel production and a switch to renewable sources such as wind, sun, etc. The plan was announced formally with the support of many Democratic lawmakers and a companion resolution was introduced in the Senate as well.
What freaks out the conservatives is her proposal to pay for the Green New Deal: she wants a 70 per cent tax on income above $10 million. And she points out that this is not radical or a new idea. Through the Eisenhower administration, taxes for the very rich were in that range. She is demanding additional funds for affordable health care for all, free college education, etc. She has completely rewritten the political norms for the newly elected representatives. The right-wing media is on a war path against her, calling her a communist, and that makes her more popular with more and more people, especially with the younger voters who are not afraid of socialism. After all, these are the ones who participated in Occupy Wall Street not that long ago.
Indeed, the increased progressive trend is reflected in the election of three other candidates who identify themselves as Ilhan Omar (Somali-American, Minnesota’s 5th congressional district), Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district), and Rashida Tlaib (Palestinian American, Michigan’s 13th congressional district). To add to the fear of the Republicans and Conservatives is the election of one+ may be three more after the runoff election) of the recently held election for the Chicago city — all members of AOC’s part, Democratic Socialist of America. The newly elected progressive women are raising uncomfortable questions — about anti-Muslim bias of some of their colleagues, about the US’s Israel policy, about racism social injustice, etc, and all indications are that they will continue to do so.
Bernie Sanders admitted that the Democratic Socialist is providing national platform outside the Congress. And when anyone of them shows up, the meeting place gets oversold. And that benefits Bernie. It does not mean that he will win but he and the four trouble-makers intend to keep progressive ideas as part of the conversation Americans must engage in. They are realistic and determined. When reminded that the Republican-majority Senate will never pass a Green New Deal legislation, AOC pointed out that her intention is to make the deal into a mass movement that will force the adoption of deal proposal.
The Democratic Socialist of America is not a Marxist organisation. It is not planning to convert privately-owned means of production under social collective control. Its goal is more like Scandinavian social democracy. Given the history of repression of communists and socialists in this country, reforms that the four-women brigade is trying, if successful, would be significant, given that we are talking about the belly of the beast.

Mohsin Siddique writes from Washington, DC.

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