AOC and Julián Castro join forces to build America’s progressive bench

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, two of the nation’s most prominent Latinos, joined forces on Tuesday night for a virtual grassroots fundraiser. Together, they laid out their plan to work shoulder-to-shoulder in building a national bench of diverse progressives at all levels of the ballot.

The fundraiser highlighted Castro’s newest organization, People First Future, which aims to help elect bold, progressive Democratic candidates who focus their campaigns on uplifting vulnerable communities. People First Future is an extension of the progressive mantle that Castro carved out during his 2020 presidential campaign. The Obama-era Secretary of Housing and Urban development and mayor of San Antonio ran on the frontier of bold policies to lift up marginalized communities, combat poverty, and reform the police.

“If you want to get progressive change done in this country, then you need to help elect people up and down the ballot,” Castro said about People First Future’s mission on the call. “Folks that are going to have the courage, the wisdom, and the vision to pull the lever in the right direction, not only pull the lever, but also to be visionary for the progressive future we want to build.”

A sign of its success, two of People First Future’s endorsed candidates won their runoffs on Tuesday. Congressional candidate Candace Valenzuela, an educator, will be the first Afro-Latina member of Congress in history, and Travis County district attorney candidate José Garza, a former public defender, will be one of the most progressive DAs in the country. 

Of the 18 candidates that People First Future has endorsed, more than three-fourths are people of color and half are from Castro’s home state of Texas.

Throughout the past year, Ocasio-Cortez and Castro have served as complementary progressive allies, and have mutually uplifted each other. Ocasio-Cortez applauded Castro for “pinpointing the specific policies that we need to change” in regard to immigration, race, and criminal justice,” and “[taking] on issues that most candidates shy away from.” Castro praised Ocasio-Cortez’s Just Society legislation, an anti-poverty package of six bills to tackle economic inequality. Most recently, the duo led calls to boycott Goya Foods, the country’s largest Latino-owned food company, after the CEO praised President Donald Trump.

Their mutual support was evident during Tuesday night’s fundraiser. Ocasio-Cortez recognized People First Future as “putting gas in the tank for changing our country,” and alluded to the defining issues that People First Future’s candidates would home in on: creating more affordable housing, overhauling police departments and ending qualified immunity, fixing a broken immigration system, and shrinking the power of special interests in government.

“This is the time for courage,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “When our problems and our crises are large and radical and sweeping, anything less than a large and radical and sweeping solution is going to fail people.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Castro, who both grew up in working-class families, share a collective vision for a people-centered future that will deliver social, racial, economic, and environmental justice for the most marginalized and the poor.

A product of the west side of San Antonio and the son of a Chicana activist and single mother, Castro grew up knowing the economic and racial struggle that many other candidates only learned about in textbooks. 

Accordingly, during the 2020 presidential election, Castro was the first candidate to release a detailed immigration plan and advocate to decriminalize border crossings, catalyzing other candidates to embrace the policy, and the first to address disparities affecting indigenous communities. Further, he was the first to bring up the transgender community at a debate, and the first to comprehensively address police accountability with a policy plan that included tenets of reform being addressed today in light of sweeping protests, from ending discriminatory policing that leads to the disproportionate killing of Black people, demilitarizing the police, and restricting qualified immunity — which allows police officers to avoid misconduct lawsuits.

Castro centered his policy creation on people — and the moral clarity and urgency that vulnerable people most proximate to the problem bring. From acknowledging undocumented immigrants as integral to the American story, to creating policies addressing homelessness in consultation with individuals experiencing homelessness, to creating a refugee category of people displaced by climate change, Castro focused on those too often left out of the conversation. The candidates that People First Future aims to support share this vision.

“If [the country] can work for the most vulnerable people, then it can work for all of us,” Castro said.

Serving as a policy trailblazer and pacesetter is a distinction that Castro shares with Ocasio-Cortez. A 30-year-old member of Congress from the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez brought issues like the Green New Deal, a 70 percent marginal tax rate, and abolishing ICE into mainstream political discourse. A freshman member, she has shaped the priorities and rhetoric of the progressive wing of the party like none other in recent history.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Sec. Julián Castro have served as policy trailblazers and pacesetters on the national stage. | Wikimedia Commons.

Texas is familiar to Ocasio-Cortez, whose first job after college was working as a community organizer in San Antonio, Castro’s hometown. In 2018, just three days before her upset primary election victory, she took time off from the trail to protest against family separations at Tornillo, Texas, the tent city that detained hundreds of immigrant children. In 2019, she returned to the border to tour detention facilities, and she has also traded barbs with Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

For the Latino community, which is on pace to become the plurality of Texas’ population by 2021, Ocasio-Cortez and Castro serve as avatars for accessing transformative solutions to fix systemic inequities that they have grown up confronting every day. Ocasio-Cortez and Castro, the nation’s most prominent and progressive Latino leaders, have joined forces to empower a generation of young people of color to serve their communities in office and have demonstrated that politics need not be circumscribed by institutional resistance to change. 

“This is about electing people who are true to the values that serve the communities that we came from,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “[People First Future] is part of the infrastructure that is going to help us build a true bottom-to-top progressive grassroots movement. This is the win-the-future work.”

Photo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Facebook / Julián Castro Facebook

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