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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Criticizes Capitalism, Political Moderates at SXSW

Plus, a surprise appearance by Bill Nye the Science Guy

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is interviewed live onstage during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festival.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at SXSW on Saturday night, covering topics ranging from capitalism to automation and political moderates. The breakout star of the incoming freshman class of Democrats spoke with moderator Briahna Gray, senior politics editor at The Intercept, at the “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the New Left” event, where she criticized capitalism as “irredeemable.”

When asked about political moderates and incrementalism, Ocasio-Cortez didn’t hold back, saying “baby steps” are not the way to solve the problems our nation faces. “We’ve become so cynical, that we view ‘meh,’ or ‘eh’—we view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude,” she said. “And we view ambition as youthful naiveté when… the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of visions. The ‘meh’ is worshipped now. For what? Like, for what?”

When addressing the scourge of racism in America, Ocasio-Cortez pointed to Ronald Reagan as an example of drumming up racial fears, saying, “[Reagan] pitted white working-class Americans against brown and black working-class Americans to screw over all working-class Americans…when he started talking about ‘welfare queens,’” she said.

Talking about the Green New Deal, proposed legislation to address climate change as well as the shifting economy, she said it prioritizes those most in need of assistance. “We fix the pipes in Flint first. We fix the electrical grid in Puerto Rico first. And we fully fund the pensions of coal miners in West Virginia,” she said, causing the crowd to break out into cheers.

Ocasio-Cortez also spoke about our economy’s shift toward automation and robots, saying workers shouldn’t be fearful of this kind of future and instead should embrace it. She brought up an idea proposed by Bill Gates called a “robot tax,” that would tax companies who automate processes at a rate of 90 percent. The government would then reinvest that money in retraining workers for new jobs. “What [Gates is] really talking about is taxing corporations. But it’s easier to say: ‘tax a robot,’” she said.

Ocasio-Cortez then added, “We should be excited about automation, because what it could potentially mean is more time educating ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences, more time focused on invention, more time going to space, more time enjoying the world that we live in. Because not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage.”

Later during the discussion, Bill Nye made a surprise appearance to raise a question about older generations being afraid of sweeping changes like Ocasio-Cortez has proposed: “I’m a white guy,” Nye said. “I think the problem on both sides is fear. People of my ancestry are afraid to pay for everything as immigrants come into this country. People who work at the diner in Alabama are afraid to ask for what is reasonable. So do you have a plan to work with people in Congress that are afraid? That’s what’s going on with many conservatives especially when it comes to climate change. People are afraid of what happens when we try to make these big changes.”

After the applause for Nye’s question died down, Ocasio-Cortez answered, “One of the keys to dismantling fear is dismantling a zero-sum mentality… It means the rejection outright of the logic that says someone else’s gain necessitates my loss and that my gain MUST necessitate someone’s loss. We can give without a take. We’re viewing progress as a loss instead of as an investment. When we choose to invest in our system, we are choosing to create wealth. When we all invest in them, then the wealth is for all of us too.”

And, of course, after the event, Ocasio-Cortez and Nye took time to pose for a selfie.

 

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