AOC is too young to run for president and Joe Biden is riding high in the polls right now. But the elderly Dem is still going to have to contend with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if he wants to be the one anointed in Milwaukee next summer to take on President Trump.
And so will everyone else in the Democratic field. And not just those running for the White House.
Most of the coverage of the Sunrise Movement's Green New Deal Tour stop at Howard University Monday night focused on Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez's shot at Biden, whose campaign told Reuters last week that he favored a "middle of the road" approach to dealing with climate change. (See here, here, and here.)
It was quite a shot. Pointing to 1989 -- the year Ocasio-Cortez was born -- she noted that NASA scientist James Hansen testified to the U.S. Senate that climate change was a serious threat, and that the politicians who heard him did nothing, leaving AOC's generation at risk. Biden was a senator from Delaware at the time -- so she is not going to be having it from him. "I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say we need a ‘middle of the road’ approach to save our lives," she said. (See the clip below.)
Yes, it's a shot, but it comes in a larger context. She's not just angry at Joe Biden. That "I will be damned if..." is a warning that she is not going to sit on the sidelines for 2020. Indeed, the point of the event was to lay down the marker for what the Sunrise Movement wants to achieve next, and, said Executive Director Varshini Prakash, that's winning a House and a Senate "on the side of climate action and a president who's ready to get it done."
A middle-ground "corporate-driven" approach, said Prakash, "straight up, is a death sentence for our generation."
She laid down three points her movement intends to enforce immediately: making candidates sign the no-fossil-fuel-money pledge; commit to making the Green New Deal a "Day 1 priority," and joining in calling for climate debate in the campaign.
But don't forget about the House and Senate. The event's speakers included a panel of young, progressive campaigners, including Alex Rojas, the executive director of the group that propelled AOC to her surprise defeat of two-decade incumbent Joe Crowley in 2018, the Justice Democrats.
Rojas explained her team is not backing off primary challenges.
"We need to be able to get involved in the political process, specifically around primaries, to choose the Democrats that we want to ultimately champion things like a Green New Deal, like Medicare for All, like taking no corporate PAC, no corporate lobbyists money, free college, all of these things," Rojas said. "And the only way we're going to get champions is if we engage in competitive primaries. Otherwise we're going to get Democrats who talk about the party of 'no we can't,' and not the ones that are going to champion the policies that are going to save our lives."
"Getting involved in primaries is absolutely imperative, and it's a huge part of our strategy," she said.
So it was not just a shot. The shot was the exclamation point on a night that served up a threat (or promise) by fed-up young people to force accountability on their elders, paired with a strategy to do so and a track record of success.
And consider what they've done already. Less than a year ago, Ocasio-Cortez trounced Crowley. Six months ago, Sunrise sat in at House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi's office, where AOC showed up and added the attention from her new star power. Since then, according to CNN polling, combatting climate change has jumped to a top issue for 82 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. A Green New Deal resolution laying out principles has 94 sponsors in the House and 13 in the Senate.
The movement has only grown, and AOC's megaphone has only gotten louder. When/if she shows up at Democratic debates in Miami and Detroit later this year, you can be pretty sure she will draw as much attention as any one individual on the Democratic primary debate stage. Which one of them will want to be wrong on climate at that moment?