How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is Making the US Less Scared of Socialism

Each country, whether it likes to admit it or not, balances income and wealth equality within its borders through a mixture of state-run schemes and taxation policies etc. In India, we have welfare schemes like the Niradhar Yojana etc. In the US though, this kind of state-sponsored welfare raises many political hurdles. But the country’s historic aversion to socialism is getting turned on its head by the rising popularity of democratic socialism.

What happened?

In the states of Pennsylvania and New York, four women have won the decisive primaries of their districts, each identifying with and endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America. One out of these four fantastic women is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat the 20-year incumbent representative of her state despite being predicted to lose by several percentage points. The most interesting common factor among these four candidates, apart from them being women, is that they are all millennials, as pointed out by a New York Times article.

What does it mean for the US?

In the words of Ocasio-Cortez “In a modern, moral and wealthy society, no American should be too poor to live.” She extends her interpretation of democratic socialism to the basic issues gripping ‘modern’ societies right now. She wants housing for all. She wants college education in public universities to be tuition-free. Also, the issue for the US – decent healthcare. Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t want anyone to take a financial hit because of medical costs.

Her win has sparked a wave of cultural shock in the US. It was generally considered unthinkable to want to redistribute wealth amongst the population. The US has traditionally shied away from, even actively shunned, socialism and communism. In fact, a big part of Trump’s electoral appeal was his promise to enacting massive tax cuts. On the extreme end is Ocasio-Cortez, who envisions her constituency running on public funds (also called taxes).

It will be interesting to see her put her plans in motions, especially if the soon-to-be-elected New York governor disagrees with her. For now, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon has said she is backing Ocasio-Cortez. If they both win their respective races, then one of the world’s wealthiest countries is going to have two elected politicians who subscribe to socialism. The closest the US left wingers had ever gotten to democratic socialism before this was Bernie Sanders. But he was heavily criticised for his policies, and disliked by many on the liberals and conservatives alike.

What does it represent?

In the one and a half years since Trump’s victory in 2016, electoral talk has really started to focus on issues of diversity in terms of race, culture, gender and sexuality. People are critical, they question the establishment and aren’t afraid of speaking out. There are rallies, marches and tons of social media solidarity posts on any given day – questioning the government, questioning the way things are and demanding better.

However, despite this, US Democrats and liberals have been mum on the ‘S’ word – socialism. Even Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic party’s speaker, was quick to say that Ocasio-Cortez’s win was not a demographic one and that it did not stand for anything larger. Say ‘socialism’ and most Americans start fearing for their freedom and their brains run to the communist scare of the Cold War.  But democratic socialism is slightly different.

Millennials, having come of age around the 2008 recession and suffered through economic constraints that spared previous generations, are mobilising on the grounds of empathy and equality. Democratic socialism taps into this concern for everyone.

The political philosophy doesn’t infringe on people’s rights, but aims to make society more equitable. The means you are born with should not limit you, society should provide everyone with the same opportunities. In such systems, medical assistance isn’t a privilege for the wealthy few, but a right for everyone.

State institutions can do much to bolster and dismantle the accumulation of class and caste privilege, for once the US’ millennials are asking more of their state. Maybe, one day, Indians will too.

Mandar Gupte, 24, is currently working in an Adivasi community development organisation called Disha Kendra. He tweets at @gupte_mandar and you can find him on Instagram at mandargupte93. 

Featured image credit: Youtube