On Saturday evening, Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush held a rally in celebration of her birthday. Bush, who is running in the Aug. 7 primary against seven-term incumbent William “Lacy” Clay Jr. in Missouri’s First Congressional District (St. Louis), brought in some star power for the event: Democratic socialist and Bronx native Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Over the years, I have attended my share of political events: tea party protests, a Rick Perry speech on tax cuts, a Ted Cruz rally, and even a speech given by President Donald Trump earlier this year. But nothing prepared me for the stark difference in tone.
Bush’s rally packed a few hundred friends and activists into a bar called the Ready Room in St. Louis, and almost from the moment I walked through the door, I was surrounded by a group of women who were discussing over drinks the reasons they had gotten involved in politics – the two things they all had in common were anger and fear. One even said, “I just couldn’t stand being angry and afraid all the time.”
As the rally kicked off, a series of invited guests took the stage, each sharing the reasons that they supported Bush. Several mentioned the Ferguson protests – which began after police officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014 – and recalled being tear-gassed and arrested alongside Bush.
Others invoked the “Israeli occupation of Palestine” while still others told stories of “woke” grandchildren who asked over pancakes whether ICE was going to come and arrest them.
One even praised the strength and dedication of convicted cop-killer Assata Shakur – while Ocasio-Cortez (who was waiting in the wings) and Bush nodded along.
But then Ocasio-Cortez spoke, followed by Bush, and I saw something truly terrifying. I saw just how easy it would be, were I less involved and less certain of our nation’s founding and its history, to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage.
- I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education.
- I saw how easy it would be, as someone who has struggled to make ends meet, to accept the idea that a “living wage” was a human right.
- Above all, I saw how easy it would be to accept the notion that it was the government’s job to make sure that those things were provided.
I watched as both Ocasio-Cortez and Bush deftly chopped America up into demographics, pointed out how those demographics had been victimized under the current system, and then promised to be the voice for those demographics. The movement, Ocasio-Cortez shouted, “knows no zip code. It knows no state. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no documented status.”
Bush, after saying her piece, noted that she had been careful to allow speakers from across all demographics to make it clear that she was not running to represent just one particular group, but all.
I left the rally with a photo – in part to remind myself of that time I crashed a rally headlined by a socialist, but also in part to remind myself that there, but for the grace of God, go I.