SILVER SPRING — People were lined up around the block in downtown Silver Spring to see one person — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
The freshman congresswoman has made waves since her election in 2018, and came to Silver Spring at the zenith of her popularity and controversy. An outspoken tweeter, and considered to be one of the most-progressive members of Congress, Ocasio-Cortez, 29, has made herself popular in deeply Blue places in America — evidenced by the large crowd that came to see her on July 18.
Speaking in front of a group of young Democratic Party activists, Ocasio-Cortez encouraged them to continue to resist the president’s policies, saying he has brought racial equality backwards.
“If we do not move forward, we will move back, and there is no staying still,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We wish we could, right? We wish the world could not change. The world will change. It is up to us on how it will change.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8) served as the master of ceremonies for the event, which was meant to help promote the Democracy Summer Program, a Democratic group that organizes young people to canvass for candidates backed by him.
The Silver Spring Civic Center has been the venue of choice for Raskin during his brief career in Congress. It is where he held his election victory parties; it is where he organized a meetup for the 2017 Women’s March; and it is often where he holds political rallies. But none of those events drew the lines that Ocasio-Cortez’ visit brought.
Often referred to by just her initials “AOC,” Ocasio-Cortez’ short political career is defined, in part, by her willingness to take on the Democratic establishment. At the age of just 28, Ocasio-Cortez, a bartender at the time working in New York, defeated establishment Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley. Her unlikely victory, along with her progressive positions on immigration, climate and labor issues, propelled her to stardom in the Democratic Party.
“I as a young woman working in the political sphere have been greatly inspired by her,” Camilla Duke, Maryland program director for Democracy Summer. “I think she is fearless in a way that few of us can ever hope to be.”
But this has not come without controversy.
Since she came to Congress, Ocasio-Cortez has pushed against House leadership, drawing the ire of Nancy Pelosi. In a 60 Minutes interview, Pelosi was specifically asked about Ocasio-Cortez, downplaying her influence.
In return, in an interview with The Washington Post, Ocasio-Cortez said that Pelosi often singles out women of color for criticism.
“When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more-moderate members, which I understood,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “But the persistent singling out…it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful . . . the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”
Often propelled by her social media savviness or disdain for Republicans, Ocasio-Cortez has a habit of keeping her name in the news.
Last month, during one of her many Instagram live-streaming events, Ocasio-Cortez compared American detention centers for migrants to concentration camps, specifically using the phrase “never again” a refrain often used by Jews when discussing Holocaust remembrance.
“I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that we should not — that never again means something. And that, the fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the home of the free is extraordinarily disturbing,” she said.
Those rebukes received criticism from not just Republicans, but the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., which put out a statement urging people to refrain from making those type of analogies to the Holocaust.
At the event, last Thursday, Raskin downplayed the division.
Raskin, a self-described progressive and liberal, has found himself a position in the Democratic establishment, serving as a Democratic leadership representative for the caucus. In the House, Raskin has landed major committee assignments, arguably giving him an increasingly bigger voice within Congress. He has seats on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, both of which are conducting investigations into the Trump Administration.
The two members of Congress share assignments on the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, where Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin have developed a bit of a mentor-mentee relationship.
Ocasio-Cortez specifically praised Raskin, a law professor by trade, for being the “intellectual voice” behind so many of the policies she supports, and refers to him as “Tio Jamie,” or “Uncle Jamie” in Spanish.
In turn, Raskin said he admired Ocasio-Cortez’s rise to Congress, praising her willingness to take on the party establishment in New York City.
However, with the theme of the night being the need to organize, Raskin said that activists should not back primary challenges to Democrats in 2020, the very thing that made Ocasio-Cortez’s rise possible.
“You know, I really don’t even like the idea so much of outside forces getting involved in primaries, you know,” Raskin said. “People got to sort it out. But once they’re in, then we got a national political interest, in the Democratic Party, to get them all elected.”
Despite public Democratic infighting, Raskin insisted that the party is unified.
“We’re a very big party. We know there are constant Republican efforts to drive us apart, but whatever political or policy differences we have within our caucus are nothing compared to the vast gulf that separates us and Donald Trump,” Raskin said.
On July 14 Trump took specific aim at the Democratic party by suggesting that they “go back” to where they came from.
“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came,” Trump tweeted.
While Omar was born in Somalia and emigrated to the U.S. in 1992, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib were born in the United States.
Ocasio-Cortez did not address the president’s tweet at the rally, but she did reflect on what her election, and that of the other members of the squad, means to America.
“It took us 240 years to have this unique composite of a Congress in this moment, and we will not go back,” Ocasio-Cortez said.