Endorsing AOC is a Bridge to Nowhere

Over the past several weeks, DSA has been rife with discussions about the National Political Committee (NPC) considering re-endorsement of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the congresswoman for NY-14. The question arose suddenly; after receiving her endorsement request, the National Electoral Committee (NEC) declined to follow the normal process of having a candidate fill out a questionnaire and instead forwarded the decision to the NPC.

In this piece, we focus on the political and organizational implications of the endorsement question, specifically the relationship between DSA and AOC, AOC's impact on DSA, AOC's political alignment generally, and AOC's relationship with DSA over Palestine. Analyzing AOC and DSA’s relationship provides a clear and unmistakable answer: the NPC should not re-endorse AOC

DSA and AOC: What are we? 

Early in the current term, the NPC discussed the necessity of having a working relationship with our federal elected officials. Concerns about this lack of a relationship led to a vote to reach out to AOC’s team and begin the process of regular meetings. Despite this decision, only one initial meeting with AOC's office has been held. 

When AOC was elected, DSA was experiencing a surge in membership, with thousands joining monthly since Bernie's 2016 campaign. AOC's victory was a game-changer, resulting in the most significant single-day membership increase DSA has ever seen. The idea of a new congressperson calling herself a socialist was monumental. On the heels of Bernie’s insurgent run, it indicated that socialism was not something the American people would reject wholesale but might instead favor. Many DSA members have even credited AOC for their decision to join, a testament to her election's positive impact on our organization. However, despite the important role DSA played in AOC's victory, the relationship has deteriorated due to mutual neglect and genuine political differences. 

DSA still needs to formalize a structure for consistently meeting and collaborating with our federal electeds. Developing a federal Socialists in Office (SiO) program was part of the Red Star candidates’ campaign platform for the NEC Steering election. But NEC Steering, despite being dominated by members from Socialist Majority Caucus, Groundwork, and aligned members pushing for an endorsement, has made no progress toward developing a SiO. Instead, it abdicated the very question of endorsing AOC entirely to the NPC, which has similarly failed to move the initiative forward.

In its electoral organizing training, the NEC emphasizes that part of the "DSA Difference" is a two-way relationship with candidates. This is clearly not the case with AOC. DSA cannot even muster the capacity of our most ardent AOC supporters to develop the institutional structures to maintain a consistent two-way relationship with her and her office. There seems little point in giving her another national endorsement.

A slide from the NEC's Electoral Strategy 101: What is the DSA Difference?

Relationships are two-way streets, but DSA members' focus on DSA's side of the relationship with AOC obfuscates that reality. Yes, DSA must try to maintain a relationship with all of its nationally endorsed electeds. Still, these electeds should also be willing to maintain a strong relationship with the organization. Why else participate in such political relationships when they are so asymmetric? There is little evidence to suggest that AOC places much value on her relationship with DSA. In Ryan Grim's recent book The Squad, she complained about having any obligation to any organization for their support.

The real contention with this sentiment and AOC’s lack of engagement with DSA is that she does not see herself as a part of our collective project. Why should DSA continue to endorse someone who does not count herself as one of our own? It is typical for electeds, even congresspeople, to proactively maintain relationships with members of their community, particularly grassroots organizations that have ostensibly helped get them elected. Yet with AOC, we have rarely seen her attempt to engage with the national organization in any sustainable way that helps build the organization and the socialist movement it’s trying to develop. We cannot excuse AOC's lack of a substantive relationship with DSA as purely an issue on our end; she is also choosing not to engage. AOC's office has not been pushing for this endorsement; there is no indication that receiving DSA's endorsement is something she is prioritizing. Why, then, are we so concerned with this endorsement, given how little it affects or benefits the continued operations of DSA or the majority of its chapters?

AOC's Impact on DSA Today

Those in favor of AOC’s re-endorsement refer to the immediate impact of her 2018 victory as an example of her continuing positive impact on DSA. However, as much as her original election may have been a watershed moment in DSA's development, the organization has since won many other federal, state, and local elections. 

The country's political realities have changed dramatically since AOC’s underdog win in the Democratic party primary in 2018. Since AOC joined Sunrise Movement members in occupying the lobby of Nancy Pelosi's office, the United States has been awash with upheaval due to COVID-19, the BLM Uprisings, the 2020 election, increasingly intense economic strife, a burgeoning return of radicalism in the labor movement, the war in Ukraine, and the Palestinian cause becoming globalized with the Resistance's strike against Israel on 10/7 and the Zionist entity's ensuing genocidal response.

Nearly six years after her defeat of Joe Crowley, AOC's impact on DSA has all but vanished. She has been elected twice more without much fanfare or tangible impact on DSA’s growth. The politics of DSA's active membership have developed significantly, but she has played no direct role in this internal development. While her campaign and ensuing election generated excitement and a broadening of DSA members' horizons of what was possible, as she settled into Congress, her position within the socialist movement has drawn increasing scrutiny and debate. Beyond New York, AOC has little meaning to the day-to-day operations of DSA chapters. In fact, the only times she seems to come up is when she embroils herself in a controversy among the socialist left.  The framing of how AOC relates to DSA is often "yes, but she's good for the org," without exploring whether that is genuinely the case. 

This phenomenon brings us to the main point about AOC’s impact: it is not an unequivocal good for DSA; in fact, it is a net negative. The NPC cannot simply shrug off the fact that there is contention over re-endorsing AOC because a significant portion of DSA views her association with the national organization negatively. This is what brings us to AOC's politics.

AOC’s Political Alignment

On Friday, April 12, the New York Times reported that AOC had donated $260,000 to the DCCC for the first time since taking office. This donation came as a surprise to many: AOC has had a notoriously fraught relationship with the Democratic Party, describing at length some of the hostility she experienced as a new congressperson from establishment Democrats. Her defeat of Joe Crowley, a member of a political dynasty and one of the leaders of the Democratic Party in Congress, won her no favors and few allies. However, especially since the January 6 Capitol Riot, AOC has pivoted away from the fire that won her seat against Crowley, pursuing conciliatory politics with the Democratic Party leadership. The aim of this conciliatory policy has become clear with her early support for Biden's reelection; AOC is trying to be the bridge between the liberal and right-wing bulk of the Democratic party and the young, far more politically progressive and socialist-identifying younger generation. 

In light of Biden’s support for the Israeli mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza, AOC’s “friendliness” with the administration not only undercuts her image as an agitator against the political elite, it severely negates whatever radical message she hopes to promote. In fact, we’ve seen instances in which AOC has condemned Israel and U.S. support for the apartheid state and, moments later, posed with Biden, a self-proclaimed Zionist. The messaging becomes murky at best. It leads to more confusion as well. 

As Ocasio-Cortez stood by Biden to back his climate agenda, students in her hometown of New York City were protesting Biden’s pro-Israel policy.

An interesting quote in the New York Times article about AOC's donation to the DCCC was her emphasis on the impact of the January 6 Capitol Riot on her political calculations. AOC deemed it necessary to reconcile the emerging socialism-inspired left flank of the "Democratic Coalition" with the rest of the party as a necessity to combat Trump since, in her belief, he represents an existential threat to democracy in the United States. This stance means she is more than willing to advocate on behalf of Biden for President. From AOC's perspective, all of the bad that comes with Biden pales in comparison to what a second Trump term represents. This pivot has not gone unrecognized amongst the DC insiders.

AOC's pivot into becoming a bridge between the camps of the "Democratic coalition" is something she has embraced. AOC's Chief of Staff, Mike Casca, tweeted out the following quote from a May 4 op-ed in the NYT:

“Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is trying to achieve the one thing that might just shore up her fractured party: building a new Democratic coalition that can consistently draw a majority of American support.”

The NY Times op-ed by Gaby Del Valle of the Verge frames AOC's political alignment in the same way: AOC is attempting to "bridge" the divide between the left-socialist youth and the traditional right-wing power brokers in the Democratic Party. 

A candidate’s political alignment with DSA is essential any time we are determining whether an endorsement is appropriate. AOC's decision to become a bridgehead for Biden on the left is clearly contrary to our politics and contrary to the overall mission of winning socialism and justice in the U.S. and abroad. Among DSA members, there is little desire to align our organization with the Democratic Party to defeat Trump. Even while Trump was still in office, DSA officially took the "Bernie or Bust" stance for its approach to the 2020 election. Since making that decision, the political sentiment amongst members and many Americans has generally only hardened against working to support Biden or the Democratic Party in their aims. AOC's stance starkly contrasts with DSA's two other federal electeds, Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush, neither of whom have come out to support Biden publicly and who have instead increasingly attacked Biden for his conduct in office. DSA, very simply, cannot reconcile AOC's political alignment with our own. 

AOC's Relationship with DSA and Palestine

Post-Bowman, DSA's ability to organize for Palestine and its relationship with other organizations for Palestine took a significant hit. Congressman Bowman's decision to visit Israel and vote for the Iron Dome roiled the organization, causing deep rifts and justified cynicism about DSA's commitment to Palestinian liberation. As a socialist organization, and especially in this critical moment for Palestinian resistance, DSA cannot afford to attach itself to anyone who is shaky on the topic of Palestinian liberation. In the context of DSA's recent history on the issue of Zionism and Palestine, it is essential to consider the concerns about AOC's stance on Palestine in the re-endorsement deliberation. 

While Bowman took most of the criticism from those within DSA for his yes vote on Iron Dome voting, AOC voted "Present." At that point, worry about AOC being out of alignment with DSA on the issue of Palestine developed. Since then, she has only given more cause for concern. On October 17, AOC went on CNN and told the world there was "openness" to future support for the Iron Dome. Perhaps some of the more right-leaning members of the organization could excuse her for that since it was only ten days after the Palestinian Resistance's Al-Aqsa Flood operation. Yet on April 20, several months into the Israeli genocide in Gaza, AOC signed on to a Congressional statement affirming Israel's right to self-defense and support for Iron Dome funding. Neither Rashida Tlaib nor Cori Bush signed this letter. Amongst her Iron Dome flip-flopping, AOC crossed the BDS picket line and gave remarks alongside Bernie Sanders at the Standing Together national convention. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) condemned the Standing Together organization just a week prior due to the organization's willingness to normalize apartheid. 

Breaking with the rest of DSA's federal electeds, on November 28, well into a month of Israel's genocide of Gaza, AOC voted for H.Res.888 - Reaffirming the State of Israel's right to exist. This bill states not only that Israel has a "right" to exist but that denying this right is a form of anti-Semitism. While it may "only" be a Congressional statement, AOC told the country that she views those of us who deny the legitimacy of the apartheid state of Israel to exist as anti-Semites. This sort of rhetoric has been consistently deployed by Joe Biden, who she is publicly standing behind, as he condemns the student movement for divestment and boycotting of the Israeli regime and justifies the brutal state violence against the encampments. Just days ago, she came out praising Biden’s “historic shift” on delivering offensive weapons to Israel, neglecting to acknowledge the caveat that the Biden administration admitted Israel was already supplied enough by the US to invade Rafah and is continuing to supply Israel with weapons for a ground invasion. AOC, one could argue, has become a progressive token useful to the right-wing Biden Administration. She is someone who can protect the Democratic coalition against left-wing criticisms, all the while allowing Biden the ability to pursue a dangerous and diabolical foreign policy that continues to kill and maim thousands of innocent people in Gaza and the West Bank. AOC's position on Palestinian liberation is NOT reconcilable with DSA's, and DSA absolutely cannot afford to blind ourselves and go forward with endorsing her again.

Where We Stand

If the NPC wants to re-endorse AOC, it should ask for a meeting with AOC’s office to discuss DSA’s standards and expectations for her to receive an endorsement. Some of these expectations would be: 

  • Publicly opposing any and all US government spending on Israel.
  • Withdrawing her endorsement of Biden for President due to his active support of the genocide in Gaza. 
  • Agreeing to collaborate with DSA on developing a federal SiO at the national level alongside our two other federal electeds.
  • Designating an official staff liaison for communications with DSA’s NPC. 
  • Make no further donations to the DCCC or affiliated fundraisers for the DNC.

Until the NPC has an agreement with AOC and her office to build a two-way relationship and meet the basic standards of the DSA Difference, we must decline to endorse her.

Today, AOC has no continuing relationship with DSA's political leadership. Those in DSA who have the power to do something about it have declined to do so, and AOC has yet to make much effort to change this dynamic. While AOC has had a historic impact on DSA, her impact today is negligible, and her public endorsement by DSA will be a net negative for the organization. AOC's early political alignment has considerably shifted; she has taken up the mantle of a peacemaker between the Democratic Party and the socialist-left movement to support President Biden's reelection. Finally, she has taken public stances on Palestine that are in direct opposition to well-established and understood DSA positions. Without a profound functional change in her relationship with the organization, it is not in the best interests of DSA or its members to re-endorse AOC.

Further Discussion

If you're interested in discussing this piece with other DSA members, head on over to the DSA Discussion Forum at discussion.dsausa.org.

The forums are open to all DSA members in good standing. If you haven't made an account, you can do so at optin.dsausa.org, and if you're not a DSA member in good standing, sign up or renew your dues at act.dsausa.org/donate/membership.