The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Virtue of Just Showing Up

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a march organized by the Women’s March Alliance in Manhattan, N.Y., January 19, 2019. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talks to Democratic Left, a publication of the Democratic Socialists of America, about how she fell in with the DSA:

What was your path to joining DSA?

I love this question because I think that my path in DSA very much shaped my organizing strategy. I didn’t grow up in an incredibly ideological household. I have friends that grew up the children of unionists, professors, individuals two or three generations deep into working class movements. That was not my family. I grew up very working class. My mother cleaned houses. My father had a small business. Both my parents grew up in extreme poverty.

What initially drew me to DSA was the fact that they showed up everywhere that I showed up. I started my work as a community organizer before I even knew about the existence of DSA, and I was busy doing work in my community, working with children, working with families, advocating for educational equity. A friend of mine invited me to a DSA meeting in the Bronx/Upper Manhattan Branch. We were in the basement of a church uptown, in Washington Heights I believe. It was my first time being exposed to DSA, and to me it was like, ‘Okay, we’re hearing all this rhetoric and having discussions.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, another group of folks talking.’ Like this is great, this is encouraging.

This was around the time when DSA was picketing one of the major camera companies in New York City, trying to call attention to the warehouse workers. And they brought undocumented warehouse workers to the meeting, and translated their testimony. And on top of that, the chapter had free childcare provided to anyone who wanted to show up. And that to me … at the end of that meeting, I was like, ‘Okay, this is real.’

You know, there’s a lot of people who talk about class issues, there’s a lot of people who are deep in the discourse of struggle. But to me, as someone who grew up in these environments, it was the translation to action that was distinctive to me.

That is what made DSA initially distinctive to me, and made it something that was flagged to me as worthy of continued attention.

Read that again — “they showed up everywhere that I showed up.” Now, showing up is not going to win over everybody. I suspect that if a group of Objectivists were showing up at all the same places as AOC, she probably would not be quoting Ayn Rand today. You are likelier to win over people who already share some aspects of your worldview in common. But there is still no substitute for being involved, whether in local communities or in the Internet communities that increasingly parallel them. If you have an answer for why your ideas can help people, and actually take one-on-one action to help them, you can win converts. That’s been true as long as there have been politics of any kind, and it will always be true.

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