Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greg Casar Rally Progressive Voters in Austin
By Gabriella Ybarra
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, urged Austin voters to rally behind congressional candidate Greg Casar Sunday.
“We will not just lay back and allow fascism to roll out in the United States. We will not accept that as a foregone conclusion,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Because we recognize that this corporate takeover of our politics is helping contribute to that end, and the way we combat against that is by electing people who are actually faithful and give a damn about the people they represent.”
The rally, held at Mohawk in downtown Austin, was a get-out-the-vote event meant to energize progressive voters before early voting starts on Feb. 14. Casar, a 32-year-old former Austin City Council member, is running to represent U.S. House District 35, which includes East Austin, the I-35 corridor and downtown San Antonio.
The seat was held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who has served in Congress since 1995. Doggett is running for Texas’ newly drawn 37th Congressional District. In the primary, Casar will be up against state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, and former San Antonio City Council Member Rebecca Viagran.
About 900 people, the venue’s maximum capacity, packed inside Mohawk. Some people waited over three hours in a line that wrapped around the building to secure a spot at the front of the stage where Ocasio-Cortez and Casar spoke.
While progressives have struggled to gain political power in Texas, the heavily Latino District 35 is known for its progressive politics. Tara Pohlmeyer, Casar’s communications director, said Ocasio-Cortez saw this as an opportunity and reached out to the Casar campaign after endorsing him in January.
“(Ocasio-Cortez) sees the importance of this seat. This is a deep blue district. This is an opportunity to elect another progressive representative from the south,” Pohlmeyer said.
Casar has worked with San Antonio and Hays County throughout his career to pass policies like paid sick leave, raise the minimum wage and work against anti-immigration efforts, Pohlmeyer said.
“(Casar) has long-standing ties to these communities, and that is part of the reason why he’s running for Congress to represent the working families in Texas 35,” Pohlmeyer said.
As a teenager, Ocasio-Cortez worked as an organizer in Texas.
“It was grassroots organizers in Texas that first engaged with me. As a kid coming from a low-income family (that) helped me believe in myself,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “For that, I will always have a debt to you all and to this state.”
Attendees said some of their top issues were climate change, affordable housing, reproductive rights and immigration reform.
“I want someone elected who is pro-choice, pro-immigrant and pro-labor — basically the things that Greg (Casar) has supported so I have followed him since he was on the city council,” said Austinite Barbara Heins, 74.
Heins said she was happy that younger, more diverse generations came to see Ocasio-Cortez and Casar because it “really showed the changing demographic of Texas.”
Despite the limited success progressives have had in Texas, both Ocasio-Cortez and Casar said it was matter of time before that changes.
“Folks have asked me if I am going to go from the city council to being a minority progressive member of Congress, and to me, that is the entirely wrong question,” Casar said. “The right question to ask is when the vast majority of working Texans believe we shouldn’t have GoFundMe to pay for life-saving medication and the majority of people believe in ‘Medicare For All,’ then who is in the minority?”
Casar’s campaign released an internal poll last month showing that he was leading Eddie Rodriguez by 25 points.
Ocasio-Cortez pointed out a few of Casar’s accomplishments while on the Austin City Council, such as improving wages for some of Austin’s lowest-paid employees and fighting for reproductive justice. Casar, who has described himself as a democratic socialist, is known for his far-left views and for being the youngest elected city council member in Austin. He was 25-years-old when elected.
As attendees started entering the venue, pro-Palestinian protesters met them with a sign that read “AOC and Greg Casar support the genocide of Palestinians.”
Protesters were calling out Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to switch her 2021 vote funding an Israeli missile defense system from “no” to “present.” Ocasio-Cortez later apologized for the switch.
Protesters’ chants interrupted the beginning of Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, and despite the crowd’s efforts to drown out the sounds of the protesters, Ocasio-Cortez responded.
“I want to be unequivocal, we are here to stand up for the rights of Palestinians,” Ocasio-Cortez said, “don’t get it twisted.”
Casar also made an appearance with Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday in San Antonio, where the two campaigned with another progressive, Jessica Cisneros, who is running for a congressional seat in District 28.
Speaking at the rally in Austin, Casar echoed the message of Ocasio-Cortez. “We are the majority and it is beyond time to organize that majority to deliver a democracy that works for us in Texas,” Casar said.