DENNIS ATKINS
DENNIS ATKINS

The movement that could change politics

ALL politics is local, always has been and always will be (until the Russian and Chinese bots take over the world).

The most stunning example of this came last week in New York where an entrenched Democrat veteran Congressman in an urban district was felled by a 28-year-old Puerto Rican novice, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Ocasio-Cortez set her district - covering the eastern Bronx and north central Queens - alight with a street level campaign kicked off with an in-your-face TV spot which took it up to the incumbent, Joe Crowley who will now finish his career just short of 20 years in Congress.

Crowley was fourth in line in the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives - at 56 he was the youngest and regarded as most likely to succeed current leader, 78-year-old Nancy Pelosi.

He was also the longstanding party boss of the Queens Democratic machine but that was all worth nothing when it came to fighting Ocasio-Cortez and her millennial army.

"Women like me aren't supposed to run for office," says Ocasio-Cortez at the start of her electric video over footage of her tying her hair up. "I wasn't born to a powerful or wealthy family.

"I was born in a place where your zip code determines your destiny."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez greets a pedestrian who congratulated her near Rockefeller Center in New York last week. (Pic: Seth Wenig/AP)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez greets a pedestrian who congratulated her near Rockefeller Center in New York last week. (Pic: Seth Wenig/AP)

She observes that everyday it gets harder for working families like mine to get by - "the rent gets higher, health care covers less and our income stays the same".

Against a shot of her changing her shoes on the subway stations, Ocasio-Cortez says the election she's in to become the Democratic candidate was about people versus money.

"It's time we acknowledged not all Democrats are the same, that a Democratic who takes corporate money, profits off foreclosure, doesn't live here, doesn't send his kids to our schools, doesn't drink our water or breathe our air cannot possibly represent us," she says in a direct provocation to Crowley.

Crowley outspent Ocasio-Cortez $18 to every one of hers and had the big names in the Democratic Party behind him. He lost by 15 points.

Ocasio-Cortez ran a very low budget, street-level energetic campaign in which workers who had been blooded two years ago on the presidential nomination of Bernie Sanders took on and frightened Hillary Clinton.

That ad was written by Ocasio-Cortez and made by friends - no political consultants made a cent out of any of it.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tireless campaigning unseated Joseph Crowley in a major upset. (Pic: Susan Walsh/AP)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tireless campaigning unseated Joseph Crowley in a major upset. (Pic: Susan Walsh/AP)

Hers is no isolated case. Three young women, Summer Lee, 30, Sara Innamorato, 32, and Elizabeth Fielder, 37, defeated two members of a Pennsylvania political dynasty and took an open seat from a big union-backed establishment candidate last week.

Elsewhere, nine times elected Boston machine politician Michael Capuano, 66, is being challenged by the same kind of insurgent street-level campaign that brought down Crowley in nearby New York.

Ayanna Pressley, a 44-year-old local who comes from a minority background is running on the same Democratic Socialist program Ocasio-Cortez championed.

Importantly, she has in her corner John Walsh, regarded as the pre-eminent grassroots campaigner in Massachusetts who ran campaigns for high profile Democrats, former governor Deval Patrick and serving Senator Elizabeth Warren who is the leading left winger in the US Congress.

A fascinating thing about the success of these young political candidates is that they are embracing Democratic Socialism, once regarded as political kryptonite if you wanted to get elected.

However, in both the United States and Australia more and more young Millennials are saying they prefer the concept of socialism.

A recent poll here, conducted for the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, found 58 per cent of Millennials said they had a favourable view of socialism while just as many, 59 per cent, believed capitalism had failed and government should have more control over the economy.

When Donald Trump ran for the White House one of his very successful slogans was to "drain the swamp" - to get corporate interests, dark money and the power of lobbyists out of Washington. It hasn't happened. In fact many believe the power of vested interests has grown in the last 18 months.

If you want to do business with the Trump administration it's best to stay at the Trump Hotel in Pennsylvania Avenue.

Companies seeking deregulation are invited in to rewrite the legislation themselves and Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner made $US182 million in outside income last year while ostensibly working in the White House.

No wonder candidates like Ocasio-Cortez are bringing down the establishment. The test will come when these young lawmakers get into office and have to deliver. But you can expect they will make their voices heard.

If you don't know what's happening in your streets, the people on your streets will come and get you.

Dennis Atkins is The Courier-Mail's national affairs editor.