AOC Brings the Texas Heat

Progressive star stumps for Casar, Cisneros campaigns

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greg Casar at Casar's campaign fundraiser at Mohawk on Feb. 13 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The brightest young star in deep-blue heaven descended unto the Austin-San Antonio corridor this weekend, as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., brought the light and heat to rallies firing up supporters of two fellow Justice Democrats aiming to join her in Congress, Austin's own Greg Casar and Laredo's Jessica Cisneros. (Two not-so-young stars in that firmament, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have also endorsed the two; Warren will be in town next week to get out Casar's voters.)

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rallied a crowd of Casar supporters at a Mohawk fundraiser on Sunday: “Just get out there and care for people”

Beginning in the Alamo City on Saturday, in the heart of the college-heavy neighborhoods along the N. St. Mary's bar strip, AOC made sure Casar and Cisneros got their own chance to shine and wow the friendly crowd of more than 500 activists, including a heavy labor presence galvanized by the local educators' union, the San Antonio Alli­ance. Outside, another union – the American Federation of Musicians' local representing the San Antonio Symphony, currently on strike – shared the narrow street with a loud hard-MAGA counterprotest of about 50 people, many carrying signs saying rude things about AOC in Spanish.

While Cisneros and Casar are more alike than different, their two races are very much not the same. Cisneros, an immigration defense attorney, is running to take out anti-choice, anti-labor, Trump-friendly Blue Dog Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, in a district, TX-28, that now includes as many San Antonio voters as it does folks along the border, and one where the GOP thinks it has a chance to flip the seat in November. Cuellar, first elected in 2002, has been in the news most recently for a high-profile FBI raid on his home and office, rumored to be linked to some grift involving Azerbaijan.

Cisneros came within 3% of beating him two years ago, without nearly as much backing as she has now, and with him having far more support from incumbent-protecting D.C. Democrats than he does now. Normally, having a member of Congress come out to campaign for a colleague's primary challenger is frowned upon, even for Squad members, but AOC pointed out that Cuellar "put my name in his mouth," so she returned the favor, with a litany of his misdeeds (but not the latest corruption chisme).

Casar, meanwhile, is running to represent a district, TX-35, that got even bluer in redistricting and now includes more voters in Travis and Hays counties than it's had over the past decade of being represented by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who's switching to the new TX-37. While Casar has energized progressives in the San Antonio end of the district – even he seemed a bit surprised at how firmly he had the crowd behind him – he brought AOC back to Austin to help seal the deal in a race where he's widely considered to be the front-runner.

He and AOC took the stage at the Mohawk on Red River Sunday afternoon to fire up a crowd of union workers, local politicos, and energetic progressive voters eager to send Austin's most progressive CM to Congress. The message from both was clear: Texas will eventually turn blue, and when it flips, so does the nation. To bring that day closer, the Texas left needs to build far more organizational muscle – a goal that made it worth AOC's time to come back to Texas, where she got her own start as a community organizer.

Casar's campaign messaging has already made this point: He will not only champion progressive causes in Congress, but use his increased influence to grow the left's political infrastructure within the state. It's been his go-to answer to a question he is repeatedly asked, including at both events this weekend, by the press corps (including the Chronicle): Why give up a safe seat on Council to be a back-bencher in a U.S. House where Dems may likely be in the minority after November?

Greg Casar on the campaign trail (Photo by John Anderson)

"The right question to ask is: When the vast majority of working Texans believe we shouldn't have GoFundMe [campaigns] to pay for life saving medications and the majority of people believe in Medicare For All, then who's in the minority? ... It is beyond time to organize that majority to deliver a democracy that works for us here in Texas." It's of no use to dwell on "what we can't do and what doesn't get done and get to work on what we must do for our community," as Casar put it in his remarks in San Antonio – a lesson he says he learned from Ocasio-Cortez herself.

The congresswoman from the Bronx followed Casar in both cities with a call to build a broad, class-focused coalition of Texas voters, organizers, and elected officials to reduce the influence of corporate interests in establishment politics. The Texas GOP's near-total ban on abortion, skyrocketing housing prices, and crumbling infrastrucuture – "these are the fights that are intersectional and necessary," Ocasio-Cortez said.

Ocasio-Cortez told the local crowd she wasn't worried about her pal Casar, because "Austin, we don't have to worry about ya'll ... you make good decisions, for the most part." She closed by repurposing a Maya Ange­lou quote about the power of making someone feel cared for, but through an organizing lens. "When you knock on someone's door and just ask them" about themselves "and they feel cared for, that can never be undone," Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd. "That is so transformative. And it is so radicalizing in one of those positive and generative ways. So just get out there and care for people."

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Justice Democrats, Greg Casar, Jessica Cisneros, Henry Cuellar, March 2022 Primary

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