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Rising Democratic Star Ocasio-Cortez Urges Students to Become Activists

Congressional candidate, CAS alum: persistence, courage needed to achieve social justice

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star in the Democratic party, urged BU students to become activists for social justice despite the odds when she spoke at the Tsai Performance Center on Monday.

Using her own life and long-shot congressional campaign as an example, Ocasio-Cortez (CAS’11) told the crowd of nearly 500: “I could not bear to be hopeless anymore, so I chose to do something…. On June 26, we upended the political establishment.”

That’s when the 28-year-old stunned longtime US Representative Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th District, which includes areas of Queens and the Bronx. A first-generation Puerto Rican American long focused on social injustice, she ran on a platform that included Medicare for all and criminal justice and immigration reforms—at first campaigning between shifts at her restaurant job.

With her congressional victory all but assured (the 14th District is overwhelmingly Democratic, and she’s expected to handily beat little-known Republican candidate Anthony Pappas in November’s midterm election) Ocasio-Cortez has been spending much of the last few weeks campaigning for other progressive candidates and causes around the country.

Earlier on Monday, she was one of several prominent Democrats who spoke at a large rally at City Hall Plaza, where protesters had gathered to urge the US Senate to vote no on confirming Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation hearings have been marked by sexual assault allegations. “It’s traumatizing. I feel for every woman and survivor in America to just live through this week,” she told the BU audience, but added that the problem extends beyond Kavanaugh.

“I cannot convey how serious and dangerous it is and how imperiled our most basic political institutions are right now,” she said. “When people say, how could this have happened—it is because of the slow slide of our public institutions, when too many people sat on the sidelines and read the news and said, ‘Wow, that’s crazy. Time to go to class.’

“We want to pretend that this moment is normal, just a little bit more partisan than usual,” she said. “But this is no longer a partisan battle. A generation ago, committing perjury and lying to Congress multiple times in your nomination hearing would have been an automatic disqualifier. To see the rules that we are willing to dismantle just to insert a partisan pick is truly concerning.”

A wide shot of a darkened auditorium at Boston University during a speech by 2018 mid-term elections candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The photo shows a wide shot of the audience compared to a seemingly small Ocasio-Cortez alone on the lit stage.

Rising Democratic star Ocasio-Cortez spoke and took questions for nearly an hour on Monday.

Ocasio-Cortez said that the way the nation can get through this moment is through activism. The “tiny gesture” made by Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) last Friday, when he asked for a week’s delay in the Senate vote so the FBI could investigate the charges against Kavanaugh, she noted, was inspired by two activists who cornered him in an elevator and told him their stories of sexual assault. One of those women, she said, was an immigration activist from her district, who risked everything to speak out.

We need to be championing the causes of our neighbors, she went on, and make sure that the people experiencing injustice are not the only ones advocating for themselves.

“We cannot in this moment allow just women and survivors to be fighting for their own rights, because that makes it harder,” she said to loud applause. “So what I’m asking is for all of the men here to step up, because we’re not in the room when it’s all men and someone says something disgusting.… Sex assault is not about a crime of passion, it is about abuse of power. Men and allies, now is your moment.”

The students in the audience found her message compelling. “She was just so inspiring,” said Giancarlo Lobo (COM’20), a campus activist for divestment from fossil fuels. Ocasio-Cortez took questions after she spoke, and Lobo asked her for advice about grassroots campaigns and getting people to care about an issue. She emphasized the importance of two things: consistency of message and persistence, citing the old anecdote about record companies knowing they could make any record a hit if they could get it played on the radio enough.

“I’m just trying to grow our campaign and make it stronger,” Lobo said afterward, “and listening to a BU alum telling me how to do so is the most valuable thing I could ask for.”

“I admire her conviction and her faith in the truth and that the truth will eventually prevail,” said Masha Vernik (CAS’19). “That’s something I look for in myself a lot, and it’s so easy to steer away from that in a world where we’re told, for example, not to believe survivors of sexual assault and to doubt social justice and see it as something we have to fight for, not something that’s deserved. I look up to her as an inspiring person, to remind myself to focus on what is true and what is right.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s visit was organized through the College of Arts & Sciences political science department, but many cited the efforts of Samantha Delgado (CAS’20), who introduced the congressional candidate. And the event wasn’t all geopolitics: Ocasio-Cortez managed a shout-out to her old dorm crew in Warren 16-B. The friends she made at BU, she said, remain her closest friends and helped her throughout her campaign.

Ocasio-Cortez “was a bright shining light” when she was at BU, recalled Raul Fernandez (COM’00, Wheelock’16), a Wheelock College of Education & Human Development lecturer, who was in the Tsai audience. Fernandez said she was a student ambassador at the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground, when he was assistant director, and she came around often for the regular Coffee and Conversation events.

“Everybody knew her as one of the smartest people in the room for sure,” says Fernandez, who shares her Puerto Rican heritage. She didn’t talk about political ambitions then. “Her main focus was using the time she had on this planet to benefit people in the community.”

17 Comments
Joel Brown, Staff Writer for BU Today, Bostonia and BU Today Marketing & Communications
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

17 Comments on Rising Democratic Star Ocasio-Cortez Urges Students to Become Activists

  • Greg Winterhalter on 10.02.2018 at 11:08 am

    So proud that Alexandria is a BU Alumn! She is a great communicator!

  • Richard Chappo on 10.02.2018 at 11:23 am

    Will you also be inviting republican speakers? Students shouldn’t hear just one side. If so that’s called indoctrination.

    • Karey Ststin on 10.02.2018 at 1:33 pm

      You invite your own speaker. Check the definition of indoctrination, that’s more the practice of “fake news” advoctors

      • Daniel M on 10.03.2018 at 7:44 pm

        Why should he have to invite his own speaker himself (like thats reasonable)? Cortez was organized by the Poli Sci Department, so the school should attempt to bring in someone of the other side to represent different viewpoints. If youre too closeminded to go, then dont bother. some of us actually like open political discourse.

    • Jose Artigas on 10.02.2018 at 2:16 pm

      Why? So they can further promote their hateful rhetoric & policies? AOC’s running on a platform that includes Medicare for all, criminal justice and immigration reforms. Do we need to hear from others besides our disgrace of a president that such good things are actually bad? So they can reiterate that Brett Kavanaugh has a fine character, & that sexual assault survivors don’t matter? There’s no shortage of chances to listen to this nonsense.

      • Carlos on 10.05.2018 at 12:41 am

        Well because you should always try to listen to what both voices have to say about it, you shouldn’t really be making decisions based on a single point of view from one side of the aisle.

  • Aaron Chevalier on 10.02.2018 at 11:33 am

    Will it be available to watch online?

  • BU mom on 10.02.2018 at 11:43 am

    The old record company adage could also apply to propaganda, repeat a lie often enough and gullible youth will make it a mantra. The sad thing is she was an Econ major but does not understand economics or mathematics. BU needs to teach that due process and civil rights apply to all people. Is the school really in favor of socialism? This school charges 60K a year So the grads can have a restaurant job at age 28?

  • Jose Artigas on 10.02.2018 at 2:11 pm

    AOC is indeed a rising star — not just among Democrats, but for the entire country. She offers the necessary youth, energy & fresh perspectives to lead us forward. Also true for Ayanna Pressley (too bad we can’t have both her & Mike Capuano in Congress). The BU community is rightly proud of our connection to these tremendously promising public leaders. We still have the audacity of hope!

    • Meera on 10.02.2018 at 9:54 pm

      Agree with you Jose!

  • mike siroky on 10.02.2018 at 5:14 pm

    As a BU graduate, I have to say Ocasio-Cortez’s ignorance is a national embarrassment to the school.

    “I would love to get inaugurated January 3rd [and on] January 4th we’re signing healthcare, we’re signing this…”

    A member of Congress is never “inaugurated”. They are sworn into office.
    Furthermore, members of Congress do not “sign bills”, they vote on bills. Then, if passed by the Senate, the bill is signed by the President.

    • Meera on 10.02.2018 at 9:51 pm

      Mike: why an ad hominem attack on an intelligent and inspirational alum? When you can’t knock the logic her arguments, you focus on semantics. I am personally very proud of her, and you should be as well.

      • AS on 10.03.2018 at 7:57 am

        Meera,

        semantics are one thing. But Alexandria graduated with a degree in Economics and International Relations 4th of her class, however has stated publicly that the unemployment rate is low because individuals have multiple jobs, which is nonsense since every individual is only counted once, regardless of the number of jobs. She also stated that Warren Buffet should finally be paying the same tax rate as his secretary, according to her that would be 15%, presumably because she has never held a job that paid enough so that she would face such a tax rate. This makes you proud? Someone graduating 4th of her class with a degree in Economics and no basic understanding of Economics? I think it should make you question how someone becomes 4th of her class that way. I would say this is embarrassing.

      • Eric on 10.03.2018 at 12:51 pm

        Meera: It’s not really an ad hominem attack to point out that someone who doesn’t understand what the job IS is not qualified for the job. If AOC doesn’t even know how congress works why in the world should she get the job in congress?
        An ad hominem would be if Mike had responded to policy positions by talking about how incredibly stupid AOC is. However, that isn’t what he did. The argument is “Is AOC a qualified and intelligent individual who deserves to be elected into congress?” In that context any and all legitimate discussion of her character and intelligence are entirely justified because it is exactly her character and intelligence that are the subject of debate.
        Sadly she seems to be a poorly educated and ignorant individual with no desire to actually listen to anyone outside of her echo chamber.
        She tried to get CHILDREN to be political activists for her which is disgusting on so many levels.
        She thinks people dying early puts an strain on the health care system (hint: dead people don’t cost more than living people and everybody dies once)
        She thinks people working 2+ jobs has an effect on unemployment rates being low.
        She talks about the Israeli occupation of Palestine but can’t explain what that even means.

        I’m Canadian, I agree in theory with a lot of what AOC says she wants but only in the same way I agree with a 5 year old who says “We should always be fair and treat people equally.” The 5 year old is right but lacks the education and life experience to actually explain why that is true and is just regurgitating something they heard a grown up say.
        Having the right conclusion is fine but if how you get there is completely wrong that doesn’t really make you right.

  • Brad S on 10.03.2018 at 6:12 pm

    This is more of an indictment on BU not educating their students. How would a Congressional candidate that graduated #4 in BU class think she would be “inaugurated” into Congress.

  • Big Tim on 10.03.2018 at 8:04 pm

    Is it true that Ocasio-Cortez specifically identified Ana Maria Archila as being from her district and that said that she, Archila, was risking deportation?

  • gc on 10.04.2018 at 1:55 pm

    I dont agree with most of her views. She thinks government should provide people with everything. She can’t explain how to realistically pay for it.
    She deserves credit for her hard work to win the election
    People think she was poor growing up
    when in reality her father was an architect and she grew up and went to Westchester high school a very wealthy county
    So she came from privaledge Lucky to go to Boston U and worked with Senator
    Kennedy after graduation
    I heard her interviews on PBS and she needs to do more reading on international issues She needs a coach

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