Words by Cristina Cala for The Why Women Project.
Progressive New York Democratic candidates Cynthia Nixon and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are taking power into their own hands. And establishment Democrats don’t love it—even the ones being endorsed by the Women’s Equality Party of New York.
The issue is, those Democrats are men.
The two women running as Democratic socialists for gubernatorial and House seats, Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez respectively, spoke to Mic on Wednesday at a launch event for the digital publisher’s Facebook Watch news program, Mic Dispatch, about being left out of that conversation. You know, the one about the inclusion of women in spaces they’ve not traditionally been invited, in a meaningful effort to achieve gender parity.
“You are always going up against the odds when you’re running as a woman because basically the only way for us to get seats, is to be given permission to run, to say oh, you can do it. So then we have to cause trouble to claim our seat,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
The Women’s Equality Party, started and funded by Nixon’s opponent, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, failed to endorse the only female candidates in their specific races: Nixon running for New York governor in the in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary, and Ocasio-Cortez up for House representative of the 14th Congressional District of New York in the General Election Nov. 6. Instead, the Women’s Equality Party endorsed Cuomo, who is listed as the first donor on WEP’s supporter Web page—and 20-year incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley of New York’s 14th District, who 28-year-old newcomer Ocasio-Cortez defeated in the federal primary in June, catapulting her image as the young, female Socialist candidate for change.
“We’re talking about taking power,” Nixon said.
Both Ocasio-Cortez and Nixon’s male opponents are on the New York ballot under party endorsements that would arguably belong to their female challengers, with Cuomo on the Women’s Equality Party ballot line and Crowley remaining on the Working Families Party line despite losing the primary to Ocasio-Cortez, an educator, 2016 Bernie Sanders organizer and advocate of abolishing ICE.
The disconnect is a reminder that it’s been time to look at who gets to represent women and the values they believe in. Who campaigns for the working class’ struggle with affordable wages and housing (Ocasio-Cortez), who doesn’t accept corporate donations that create conflicts of interest (Nixon), and who is making the products we buy (definitely not the male founder of Feminist Apparel who last week fired nine staffers after they confronted him about his admitted history as a sexual abuser and its role in his motivation to start the company, which sells “Ask for consent” and “Don’t Rape” T-shirts). It’s why women are mobilizing.
If Democrats want to campaign on equality for women and companies want to reflect the values they say they support, they’ve got to include the women and workforces who have made their bids, be it for political office or parity.
“Congress is 80 percent male. That’s embarrassing, y’all,” Ocasio-Cortez pled, turning to the audience of influential figures in media, politics and the arts. She repeated herself: “Congress is 80 percent male, which means that there are massive blind spots in how we pursue legislation that deals with healthcare, equal rights, pay, etcetera.”
Still, though necessary friction for the challengers to win, this tension between incumbents and newcomers (who’ve been told they’re too progressive, Ocasio-Cortez shared during the Mic interview) can create an in-party divide for Democrats. In the battle between the patriarchy (see, again: 80-percent-male Congress) and this new season of progressive women, the power struggle is real.
Nixon says she does not want to divide the Democratic Party. To people like former Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent, who wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday urging voters to support primary loser Crowley as the Working Families Party candidate on the ballot, Nixon says, “We’re in the Democratic Party, too. We’re not your enemy, actually, we’re your best hope."
The gubernatorial hopeful spoke of women candidates not as a trend, but a movement on the rise. “I see Alexandria and she sees me and we know why we’re running, and we know why so many other women that we’re supporting [are running]—and not only women, progressives who are really challenging the status quo. We’re smaller in number now but we’re a mighty force,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez, who identified as a Democratic Socialist earlier in her campaign than Nixon, was more defiant about her approach.
“People are saying … you’re destroying the party, you’re too young, you’re not ready, you’re naïve, you’re uneducated. Blah, blah, blah, blah. That is what I’ve been told, and that’s what women have been told their whole lives whenever they want to do anything ambitious. So you know what, screw it, they’re gonna say it. Cause some trouble, get that 50 percent, get that parity, get that gender-expanding representation in Congress because you gotta claim it—you gotta take it,” she monologued in a crescendo of passion.
“Because if we’re gonna wait for—sorry, I’m sorry,” she said, turning again to address the audience directly. “If we’re gonna wait for the 80 percent of dudes in Congress to give me permission, I’m gonna be 80 by the time I get in there,” Ocasio-Cortez quipped to applause.
If they win, change is certain. Nixon would be the first female and first openly LGBTQ governor of New York. And Ocasio-Cortez would be the youngest woman elected to Congress.
Editor, The Why Women Project