Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke to a sold-out crowd in the the Mission on Tuesday night. Photo by Charlotte Silver.

Not even five minutes into Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s sold-out appearance in the Mission Tuesday night, a chorus of chanting cut across the 670-strong audience at the Gray Area Theater:

“From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.”

The interruption was a response to a comment Ocasio-Cortez made in July when asked by a conservative talk-show host about her position on Israel.

To the disappointment of some on the left, she prevaricated and affirmed her support of a two-state solution, seeming to backtrack on the more explicit criticisms of Israel’s military that she made before crushing establishment Democratic powerhouse Rep. Joe Crowley in June’s Queens Democratic primary — and putting herself in position to become the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress.  

Ocasio-Cortez took the interruption like a pro. She thanked the audience members who interrupted her speech for their advocacy for the marginalized and added, “Whenever we converge, it’s a time to educate.”

The former grassroots activist — who says her goal is to reclaim the party for working-class people and people of color — is fast becoming a Democratic star. But the interruption was a telling moment: Ocasio-Cortez’s attempts to mainstream left-wing policies will, inevitably, lead to conflicts among outsiders uncomfortable with insider status — and insider politics.

As such, following Ocasio-Cortez’s 20-minute speech, Alisha Foster, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, said she would have liked for the candidate to have been more “explicitly socialist.”

“It felt like a watered-down message. She was jumping around and discussing tactics for getting elected, but she avoided the big issue, which is capitalism.”

Nevertheless, Ocasio-Cortez told the audience that what she is doing is about “movement.” She told people not to think of politics as a zero-sum game, in which winners take all, but about moving things forward incrementally, campaign by campaign. “We need to think about the long-term. That’s our job.”

The audience cheered, but not as loudly as when she first stepped on stage. The long line outside the venue and the buzz built up her introductory speakers suggested a roaring headlining act. But it never came. Ocasio-Cortez’s peripatetic speech, detailing her instantaneous rise to stardom and the need to transform the Democratic Party, left the energy of the crowd diffused.

On June 26, Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary in an overwhelmingly Democratic New York City district — meaning her eventual election to Congress is nigh certain. Her catapult into the spotlight has enabled her to embark on a cross-country tour, stumping for progressive Democratic candidates in places like St. Louis, Wichita and Detroit.

She wasn’t stumping for anyone in San Francisco Tuesday, although the sold-out gathering at Gray Area was her second fundraiser of the evening, and ultimately generated $15,000 dollars. The first was a private fundraiser where donations ran up to $2,700 a pop.

Supervisor Jane Kim introduced Ocasio-Cortez and remained positioned behind her on the stage for the duration of her speech. Ocasio-Cortez said she is “connecting the dots” between the Bronx, Detroit and Baltimore, and she wants to expand the electorate by appealing to the needs of people traditionally alienated by the electoral system.

Audience member Harvey Williams was ready to give Ocasio-Cortez the benefit of the doubt: “I think she understands the issues, but politics is politics. It’s inevitable that she will have to make sacrifices in the two-party system.”

Inevitable, perhaps, but Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t talking sacrifices Tuesday night. “We need to be really clear about what we’re about,” she said, “because we need to reclaim this party.”

For 22-year-old Avery Yu, healthcare for all, housing as a human right and abolishing ICE are the position statements that moved her to shell out her hard-earned dollars and brave a movie premiere-like line. “All those things seemed like pipe dreams for me,” she said.

As of last night, they did not.

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. Glad this event was covered, but this article really fails to capture the excitement in the room that evening. Where the heck were the reporters standing during the event? The cheers only got louder for AOC! Anyways, I waited in line for almost 2 hours and a very intelligent 19-year old policy intern for Hillary Ronen (student at UC Berkeley) next to me was interviewed. It’s too bad her interview questions weren’t included here about the ISSUES. Sadly, this is a pretty disappointing re-cap of a super exciting, packed-house evening. Quite surprising from the staff at Mission Local – I even commended the reporter for the good work done in our community while he was walking around. Hopefully the people in the crowd shared their OWN insight via social media. It was one of the most exciting political talks I’ve attended in SF. It was great to learn about the Progressive Alliance, and all its member organizations! Better luck next time…

  2. They’re not happy she wasn’t more critical of capitalism? Christ. They have no idea how to get elected or being together a majority of 65% of people under a common platform. Go Alexandria. This article has a horrible headline.

  3. This article is disappointing. I honestly don’t feel that it captured the real mood of the place and the people. Please contact the organizers of an event next time to get more information next time. You didn’t even mention how Jane Kim brought the crowd to an uproarious applause five or six times during her welcome speech. I love good journalism and I read everything. Please make more of an effort next time.

    1. Hae Min —

      I’m sorry you feel that way. It would be one thing if there was a question of facts or how-do-I-spell-that-name? — but the last thing I want my reporters to do is to contact event organizers to tell them what they saw with their own eyes. We spoke to them before, for our preview:

      The fervor of the opening speakers is, in fact mentioned in the article.



      1. It’s almost like they want her to be so extreme that the Republican trackers can blast her and smear her? Maybe some of these DSA people aren’t that smart. She should imitate Bernie Sanders. Not the DSA. I think she’s learning that.

      2. Ok. That’s fair. Yes, I did read the previous article.

        “The audience cheered, but not as loudly as when she first stepped on stage. The long line outside the venue and the buzz built up her introductory speakers suggested a roaring headlining act. But it never came. Ocasio-Cortez’s peripatetic speech, detailing her instantaneous rise to stardom and the need to transform the Democratic Party, left the energy of the crowd diffused.”

        The emotion that I felt in the room and the comments I heard from dozens of people are sharply different from this interpretation of the vibe. Most people I spoke with felt deeply inspired and moved even to tears. I fear that the personal cynicism may have jaundiced the reporters’ view of the event and the speech. Clearly mood-taking is all subjective, but I wish you had actually been there to take your own temperature of the room. I love Mission Local. I read it every week. I deeply respect the work that journalists do. I just think your reporters missed on this one. The focus and the perspective does not accurately reflect the general mood of the crowd, and very little new or thoughtful analysis was given. I know you all work on deadlines, but this just seemed sloppy and harsh without being insightful or accurate.

        Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also mentioned some of the stops that she made along the way like Ohio, the home of the Koch brothers. She talked about standing with the courageous people along her route who are all going against the Democratic Party’s tactic of moving to the middle and bowing to corporate sponsorship. She talked about feeling that she had to do more. She talked about stepping up to oppose oppression at the borders and at the polls. I wish the article had said more about the actual speech so that readers could make up their own minds.

    2. I hope Jane Kim won’t lose some of her respectability by associating herself with the socialist Ocasio-Cortez who helped Trump win the White House by smearing Hillary while working for the traitorous 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign.