White people need to organize and have open conversations about race in order to disempower President Donald Trump and achieve economic justice, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in a new interview for Pod Save America.
Ocasio-Cortez, who represents a New York congressional district bridging Queen and the Bronx, spoke with host Jon Favreau to discuss the Green New Deal, patriotism and economic justice. But it was immigration that Ocasio-Cortez identified as "probably the most difficult" issue for the Democratic party.
"We have members from all over the country, we have members who won really tough districts, and immigration is the one issue that really touches a big nerve. So it's a challenge," Ocasio-Cortez said.
Gallup polling conducted in June showed 23 percent of Americans thought of immigration as "the most important problem," behind only "government," which 26 percent of Americans agreed was a more important problem to be solved. More than three-quarters of Americans believe immigration is good for the country, but a significant minority, 35 percent, believe immigration levels should be reduced, according to the poll.
"There's the short term political work that a lot of people are engaged in, which is winning elections. And then there's the long-term political work, which is transforming the ethos of the country and really debating our long-term values," Ocasio-Cortez said.
"The messages that moved voters furthest away from Trump were economic in nature. It was about his Medicare cuts, his tax cuts, his trade war with China," Favreau said, citing Crooked Media polling to suggest immigration may not be the best issue for Democrats to center from an electoral standpoint. "How do we reconcile the need to battle Donald Trump on issues of race, but also get an economic message through that we know will galvanize a majority of people?"
"One of the things we need to do is really dismantle this idea that it's either race issues or class issues," Ocasio-Cortez responded. "We need to learn to talk about this intersectionally. It's going to take a lot of white people. We need white people right now, to do the work. We need white people to organize themselves and do that kind of work."
Ocasio-Cortez cited the political action network SURJ, or Showing Up for Racial Justice, a group which organizes in majority-white communities around issues of racial justice. "It's white people talking to other white people about race," Ocasio-Cortez said. "And that, I think, is a lot of what we're going to need, in addition to a whole lot of other work, because racism is economic."
Ocasio-Cortez and other self-identified democratic socialists like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders often cite racial justice as a reason to support programs like Medicare for All or the New Green Deal that would make sweeping changes to the economy, since it is minority groups that are disproportionately harmed, such as the higher uninsured rate among the black, Hispanic and Native American population. By orienting policy discussion around universal programs, while also acknowledging the disparate economic impact on racial minorities programs like Medicare for All could address, Ocasio-Cortez sees an opportunity to electorally defang Trump's appeals to racism and prejudice.
"There's a reason Donald Trump is using racism as a cudgel, because it's how he gets away with his corruption. That's how he steals the bag," Ocasio-Cortez said. "He's going to use racism. The reason he's trying to center issues of race, of immigration, etc. is to sink the economic agenda. He's trying to eclipse it. And the only reason that has power is because we refuse to talk about. And so race is going to be an issue, and the key is whether we're going to allow him to define that conversation, or if we're going to insert ourselves into that space and define that conversation."
Ocasio-Cortez advocates addressing immigration head-on, rather than avoiding the issue in an effort to mollify potential voters, as particularly pressing in light of the looming climate crisis.
At a Capitol Hill panel discussion with Sanders in 2018, Ocasio-Cortez described the transition to renewable energy outlined in the Green New Deal proposal as "the vehicle to truly deliver and establish economic, social and racial justice in the United States of America."
"This is going to be a global issue," Ocasio-Cortez said. "Climate change alone is going to drive 100,000s of people to be changing and migrating across the world."
The UN agrees, adopting the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018, which states "climate, environmental degradation and natural disasters increasingly interact with the drivers of refugee movements."
Trump commonly compares undocumented immigrants to an "invasion" or infestation harming the country, which Ocasio-Cortez describes as "a myth the President is peddling." Research backs her up, with economists consistently finding that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, benefit the economy overall, paying billions of dollars more in taxes than they use in services and creating millions of jobs with their spending.
"Where migrants go, prosperity follows," Ocasio-Cortez said.