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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Politics of Dancing

ColumnJanuary 10, 2019
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By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan

“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution,” are words attributed to the great early 20th-century anarchist thinker, writer and crusading social-justice activist Emma Goldman. While she may not have uttered precisely those words, the sense of the phrase was on full display in Congress last week, as a video circulated of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dancing with friends while she was an undergraduate at Boston University, 10 years ago. The video surfaced in a failed attempt to discredit the new member of Congress as she was sworn in as the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ocasio-Cortez’s response to the online criticism was short and brilliant, tweeting a video of herself dancing into her new congressional office. The video got tremendous attention. What was largely overlooked was the tune that she was dancing to: the classic 1970 anti-war anthem “War,” sung by Edwin Starr. It rocketed to No. 1 in the summer of 1970, and has been a staple anthem against war ever since. “War, What is it good for, Absolutely nothing,” the chorus goes. Ocasio-Cortez mouths the words as she dances through her congressional office door.

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign website details an array of progressive policies, including a “peace economy” that reads, in part: “As of 2018, we are currently involved in military action in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in these countries have been killed either as collateral damage from American strikes or from the instability caused by U.S. interventions. Millions more have fled their broken countries, contributing to the global refugee crisis … we must end the ‘forever war’ by bringing our troops home, and ending the air strikes that perpetuate the cycle of terrorism throughout the world.”

She recently corrected Fox News host, and unofficial consigliere to President Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, who accused her of the heresy of calling for an “end to military airstrikes.” She responded in a tweet, saying she supports “ending unjust wars” entirely.

Since prevailing in the Democratic primary to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District, defeating powerful Democrat incumbent Joe Crowley, Ocasio-Cortez has been regularly targeted by the right wing. Last July, she said on “Democracy Now!” that “the issues I ran on were very clear … improved and expanded Medicare for all; tuition-free public colleges and universities, as well as trade schools; a Green New Deal; justice for Puerto Rico; an unapologetic platform of criminal-justice reform and ending the war on drugs; and also speaking truth to power and speaking about money in politics.”

The Green New Deal calls for the rapid and radical decarbonization of the entire economy, transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in hopes of staving off the worst effects of climate change while there is still time. The Green New Deal also demands a “just transition,” ensuring that workers displaced from shuttered industries like coal mining get the support they need to move into other productive work.

Ocasio-Cortez joined in a protest with the youth-led Sunrise Movement, sitting in at the office of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ocasio-Cortez was calling on the new Democratic majority in the House to impanel a “Select Committee for a Green New Deal,” which would have broad authority, including subpoena power, to push the project forward. Clearly, the pressure campaign had an effect but fell short of the activists’ demands. Pelosi restarted the dormant House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, making it advisory-only. The new chairperson of that committee will be Democrat Kathy Castor of Florida, who, critics point out, has taken tens of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel interests (although a spokesperson said she will forgo such contributions going forward). Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response: “We don’t have time to sit on our hands as our planet burns. For young people, climate change is bigger than election or re-election. It’s life or death.”

As she was sworn in to Congress on Jan. 3, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore all white “to honor the women who paved the path before me, and for all the women yet to come. From suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the mothers of the movement,” she said.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez respects her elders. The old guard in Congress, both Republican and Democrat, shouldn’t fear that this youngest woman ever elected to Congress will be dancing circles around them; instead, they should follow in her footsteps.

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