"And they said it won't work in the Midwest."
That was how New York democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez opened her speech at a packed and enthusiastic rally in Kansas City Friday night, one of two events the 28-year-old congressional candidate held alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in an effort to prove that an agenda confronting entrenched corporate power and demanding economic justice has far-reaching appeal.
"Whether you live in Vermont or the Bronx or Kansas, you are outraged by a situation in which three people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
The two rallies on Friday—both of which were filled to capacity, with the Wichita event drawing an estimated 4,000 Kansans—were organized on behalf of progressive congressional candidates James Thompson and Brent Welder, both of whom are running on platforms that mirror those of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez: Medicare for All, a living wage, tuition-free public college, robust support for unions, and other central progressive priorities.
"I'm running for Congress because billionaires and giant corporations have too much control over our government," Welder, a former labor attorney who doesn't accept corporate cash, said to applause Friday evening. "As a worker's rights advocate and labor lawyer, I've spent my career fighting the giant corporations that rig the economy against workers and our community."
Since Ocasio-Cortez's landslide victory over corporate Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in New York's primary last month, pundits and Democrats alike have raised doubts about the viability of democratic socialism beyond "the coasts" and have cautioned candidates against sprinting "too far to the left" in Midwestern states like Kansas.
If the overflowing rallies and electric atmosphere at Fridays' rallies are any evidence, these warnings couldn't be more wrong-headed.
- 3,000 people gathered in Wichita, Kansas,
- on a Friday at 1pm,
- 3 months before the general election,
- to support a civil rights attorney running without corporate money on a boldly progressive agenda.
The Midwest feels pretty alright to me! pic.twitter.com/qJQlGPdCOR
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) July 20, 2018
In Kansas City Kansas.
To all the naysayers who insist that you can’t win in the midwest running on a bold progressive platform... Yes We Kansas pic.twitter.com/ED5BW4Jfyr
— Brandooon (@Brandon_Ballweg) July 21, 2018
"Whether you live in Vermont or the Bronx or Kansas, you are outraged by a situation in which three people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America," Sanders said during the afternoon event for Thompson, a civil rights lawyer who hails from the Koch brothers' home district of Wichita.
"I just do not accept what the pundits are talking about when they say blue state and red state and purple state," Sanders added. "I believe that any state in this country where working people are struggling is a state prepared to fight for justice."
"I do not accept what the pundits are talking about when they say blue state and red state. I believe that any state where working people are struggling is a state prepared to fight for justice." @BernieSanders in Kansas for @BrentWelder #KS03 pic.twitter.com/KcUqd9rdc2
— People For Bernie (@People4Bernie) July 21, 2018
Ocasio-Cortez echoed Sanders' sentiment Friday afternoon, arguing "there is hope for the progressive movement" wherever there are working-class people, adding that Kansans can achieve progressive change in their state with the same grassroots tactics that propelled her to an upset win last month: Organizing relentlessly and knocking on doors.
"Corporations are buying politicians left and right. We've seen a lot of that in Kansas, and I think it's clear that has hurt working people."
—James Thompson, Kansas congressional candidate
"If you have never knocked on a door before, I am talking to you," Ocasio-Cortez declared. "If you have never voted before, I am talking to you."
At present, every U.S. senator and representative from Kansas is a Republican, the governor's mansion and the Kansas legislature are dominated by the GOP, and the state is still struggling to recover from former Gov. Sam Brownback's catastrophic "conservative experiment," which included massive tax breaks for the rich and deep spending cuts to public services like healthcare and education.
Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, Welder, and Thompson all decried such austerity and fealty to corporate interests and billionaires like the Kochs on Friday, while clearly arguing that politics-as-usual from the Democratic Party will not be enough to overcome these powerful interests.
"Corporations are buying politicians left and right. We've seen a lot of that in Kansas, and I think it's clear that has hurt working people," Thompson said. "So I think there should be a few of us in Washington who just can't be bought off, who are just going to be on the side of the unions."
As for the current Republican-controlled Congress and White House that are hell-bent on gutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in the service of delivering more tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, Sanders concluded: "They ain't gonna do it, because we are gonna stop them."
Watch the full event for Thompson:
Watch the full event for Welder: