Bronx residents protest military recruitment event sponsored by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Photo: Twitter @brx_greens)
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the best known of the so-called progressives. Her leftist image is a pose which intentionally creates political confusion.
On Monday March 20th 2023, U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Adriano Espaillat co-hosted a “Student Services Fair” at Renaissance High School for Musical Theater and the Arts in the Bronx. As the official flier indicates, there was a large military presence. Alarmed that the two U.S. politicians, especially one who is a self-described “democratic socialist” and affiliate of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), were hosting this career fair, the Bronx Anti-War Coalition organized a counter-recruitment protest.
‘The Greatest Purveyor of Violence in the World Today’
The official flier for the event listed seven representatives that would headline the fair. Six of them represented branches of the military. Protestors observed dozens of uniformed military personnel walk into the fair through the main entrance, while AOC snuck in and out through back doors. She refused to address her constituents’ questions and instead sent a U.S. Marine colonel outside to address us. The military officer bragged about his time training Saudi troops and the countries he and his government have invaded.
The “duck test” is a form of abductive reasoning, usually expressed as "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck." The test implies that a person can identify an unknown subject by observing that subject’s habitual characteristics. It is used to counter abstruse arguments that something is not what it appears to be. This same reasoning can be applied here to deduce that this “student services fair” was in fact a military recruitment fair. Yet somehow, AOC continues to deny that the military played a major role at this event.
Dr. Martin Luther King was crystal clear on this question in 1967, exactly a year before the U.S government assassinated him: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” AOC herself has been on record speaking out against predatory military recruitment tactics targeting our youth. Why then did she decide to host a fair giving these predators access to disenfranchised high school students? The Bronx Anti-War Coalition understands that anytime and anywhere we see military enlistment officers or representatives of the U.S. service academies near our youth, we must confront them and chase them out of our communities.
After her security detail briskly whisked her through a backdoor clear of our protest, she decided to respond to us via instagram. Like other U.S. politicians who practice duplicity, she has a true gift for evasion. She smeared and lied about us in a nine minutes and thirty second video while doubling down on why she has a “responsibility” to inform Bronx youth about U.S. military enlistment “opportunities.” Did it not occur to AOC and her inner-circle to denounce the genocidaires in her monologue? Too busy victimizing herself, at no point did the Congresswoman address the reasons we were outside protesting: 1) to defend the multinational, working-class youth being used as cannon fodder to fight imperialist wars, 2) to stand for the Black, Indigenous and Latinx soldiers murdered on U.S. military bases, such as Abdul Latifu, Vanessa Guillén, Elder Fernandes, and Ana Fernanda Basaldua Ruiz, among hundreds of others, and 3) to give voice to the millions of victims in the Global South targeted and murdered by U.S. sanctions, drone attacks and unprovoked invasions.
This article explores why the anti-war movement has a responsibility to continue to confront AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, Bernie Sanders and any faux leftist professional politician and sheepdog who go along with the bipartisan pro-imperialist and pro-war status quo.
Military Recruiters not Welcome at Renaissance High School
A central part of AOC’s attack on our rally was that we were “outside agitators” who traveled from far away because we heard false rumors about her.
The reality is that the Bronx Antiwar Coalition is comprised of parents, teachers, students, activists, and community organizers from the Bronx and many are AOC’s constituents. Richie is a Special Education teacher at a public high school in the Bronx. Danny knows Renaissance High School well because it is part of the Lehman campus where he coached basketball for 3 years. Danny’s son Ernesto teaches fashion and modeling there for an afterschool program. We are not outsiders nor a threat to our children, as Ocasio-Cortez alleged; the politicians rubbing elbows with the NYPD and U.S. military recruiters are the true predators.
Hearing her gaslight us like a typical U.S. politician, we felt it was more important to expose this clever politician who provides a “leftist” façade for the Democratic Party. She is this generation’s Obama, another example of POC misleadership promoted by corporate media and treated like celebrities, used to give the same white supremacist, capitalist system a more diverse and modern look. While this comparison is not perfect, both politicians are very popular figures who have invited millions of the most dispossessed and disenfranchised to reinvest their hopes into an undemocratic and broken system.
It is important to move beyond liberal identity politics (i.e. one based on “representation” and “being seen” promoted by corporate “DEI” initiatives) and judge AOC and other so-called “progressives” on their actual voting record on vital issues for principled anti-imperialists. The “democratic socialists” in Congress and their affiliate association, the DSA, play a specific role in muddying the waters on what socialism is and what it means to be a socialist. They portray themselves as “socialists” but lack theoretical grounding in Marxism-Leninism, serving the establishment by smearing anti-war demands, like “abolish NATO” and “lift the sanctions,” as “pro-Putin.” We must study how truly transformative, socialist revolutions were successfully organized and led by the most oppressed in society. Study shows us that we cannot wait for a U.S. politician to serve the interests of the people, because the people’s interests are diametrically opposed to the careerist aspirations of politicians like AOC. Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara taught us that only an independent, mass movement of poor and working class people can take down the class enemy when he said, “I am not a liberator. The people liberate themselves.” Anti-colonial and revolutionary movements succeeded in 1917, 1949, 1979 and beyond. What other alternative to capitalism and white supremacy can boast of such a historical record?
AOC’s Record on U.S. Foreign Policy: The Truth is Always Concrete
True socialists are asking themselves: Why would the “progressive” Congresswoman from the Bronx vote for a $40 billion-dollar military aid package, among dozens of others, for a murderous proxy war against Russia with Ukrainian workers trapped in the middle? At this juncture of the internationalized proxy war, the U.S. government and NATO have undemocratically pumped over $150 billion of our money into this war. When was the last time she advocated for the nearly $1 Trillion Pentagon budget to be invested in our communities? Alongside her Republican colleagues in Congress, AOC proudly adorned the Ukrainian flag during Biden’s State of the Union Address. This was a symbolic moment because Republicans and Democrats claim to be at each other's throats but in actuality subscribe to the same unwavering american-dreaming and express the same loyalty to American Exceptionalism. Why hasn’t AOC ever mentioned the 2014 U.S.-backed fascist coup that installed a U.S. imperialist puppet in Kiev? What is Russia supposed to do as NATO – the U.S. and Europe’s attack dog– encircles them and attempts to revert them to the humiliating Yeltsin-years as a neocolony of the West? The U.S. and NATO sabotaged the Minsk I and II Accords which laid out a path towards peace in the region. AOC voted “Yes” in favor of the highly propagandistic April 2022 “Countering Malign Russian Influence Activities in Africa.” Is Russia to blame for political instability and underdevelopment in Africa? How many African nations are colonies and vassal states of Russia? Mouthpieces of U.S. imperialism constantly warn of the Chinese and Russian threat as they continue to be the number one labor exploiter, natural resource thief, military occupier and murderer in the world.
After the 2019 coup in Bolivia, the Congresswoman tweeted: “What’s happening right now in Bolivia isn’t democracy, it’s a coup. The people of Bolivia deserve free, fair and peaceful elections – not violent seizures of power.” That was correct, but then she backtracked, expressing, “The people of Bolivia deserve free, fair, and peaceful elections,” after Evo Morales had just won a democratic election. She then met with coup supporters.
AOC has never raised her voice against the CIA-orchestrated hybrid dirty war against Syria. Syria and Libya, similar to El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980’s, have been subjected to the most far-reaching U.S., Saudi and Gulf Kingdom intelligence efforts to overthrow regimes with interests opposed to the Pentagon. She and the rest of the Fraud Squad just voted to maintain imperial sanctions on Syria, even after well over 50,000 people died in the 7.8 magnitude, February 6th earthquake.
AOC has failed to speak out in defense of Venezuela’s world-inspiring Bolivarian Revolution? Why hasn’t she vocally opposed the deadly sanctions on the 30 million people of this nation? When asked who was the true leader of Venezuela, AOC said she "deferred to party leadership" in order to avoid taking a stance. This was a de facto endorsement of U.S. puppet Juan Guaido. She even participated in a standing ovation for the U.S.’ poster boy for regime change during Trump’s 2020 State of the Union.
How could a “socialist'' promote further U.S. aggression against China and support CIA-backed “independence movements'' in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet? Ted Cruz authored yet another declaration of war against China and guess who signed it? AOC stood shoulder to shoulder with every imperialist U.S. congress member when she voted in favor of the anti-China and anti-development bill, “PRC Is Not a Developing Country Act."
Has she stood up for Palestine? No. Did she defend Ilhan Omar during the AIPAC-Israeli lobby debate when Omar was under the gun by Zionist propagandists? No. Did she cave before “If Not Now,” a well-funded J-Street lobby? Yes. She “welcomed [Omar’s] apology” when Zionism owes millions of Palestinians much more than apologies, they owe them reparations and their land back. Where were the demands for an end to the Zionist’s apartheid state? AOC largely deferred to Pelosi, who she called “Mama Bear”, on important international issues.
The Knife that has yet to Be Removed: AOC within U.S. Politics
Malcolm X succinctly explained the role of liberals in the U.S.: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”
“The Squad” plays a necessary role in this era of woke capitalism and intersectional imperialism. They work to co-opt left movement language and shore up support for the establishment from the most oppressed layers of society, Black, Latino, Indigenous and poor white youth. The misdirection, illusions and confusion they cause are harmful to the anti-imperialist movement. The dictatorship of capital attempts to hide behind the youthfulness, perceived dynamism and non-traditional outsider aesthetics of “the squad.” The corporate media paints them as the ultimate “rags to riches” examples of the "American Dream" and represent the utopian notion that any Black, Arab or Latin@ child can become president of this country. No socialist would want to join much less rule over the sickest system the world has ever known. Puerto Rican political prisoner and mentor Rafael Cancel Miranda wrote: “Not even the devil himself could dream of an empire as diabolical as this yankee one.”
The Republicans, no strangers to performance politics themselves, characterize AOC and her ilk as the “far left,” focusing on her supposed socialist bonafides. When the cameras are rolling, AOC pretends to stand up to the white supremacists and misogynists but only when they disrespect her and her colleagues and only if they are Republican. But why won’t she stand up for the masses of oppressed nationalities and against U.S. imperialism and sanctions? Does her theatrical advocacy for crumbs truly represent a threat to the U.S. ruling class? Overall, Marx’s words from 1859, when he was engaged in similar debates with the liberals of his time continue to ring true, “The liberal outcry that follows an age of reaction is all the louder the greater the cowardice displayed by liberals in putting up with the reaction for years on end without protest.” While it's easy and fashionable to critique right-wing Republicans, AOC has been virtually silent on the role of Biden and the Democrats. Lacking a class-conscious program to improve the lives of workers in the U.S, the Democrats laid the foundation for a fascist Trump victory in 2016. Having learned nothing from being humiliatingly defeated by Trump once, are they going to make the same mistakes again, opening the road to another Trump victory in 2024?
AOC’s stance on the NYPD has been soft. She did “community outreach” with the NYPD who thanked her for “bringing community and police together.” Following the example of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and the original Rainbow Coalition, we need to mobilize our own people, alongside social workers and educators, to do this important community work. The NYPD is the domestic arm of the U.S. military in NYC, harassing, humiliating, brutalizing and murdering oppressed communities on a daily basis. The 1033 program gifts military grade weapons to local police departments, while military veterans have preferential hiring. Violence committed by the U.S. military against oppressed nationalities abroad is replicated domestically through local police departments.
Consistent with AOC’s histrionics, liberal apologists for AOC’s record have accused leftist critics of carrying out a “Cointelpro 2.0” against her. But doing ads for vogue, posing for the cover of Rolling Stone and Time magazine, and wearing a multi-thousand dollar evening gown with a tepid message to “Tax the Rich,” is performative. AOC is not a revolutionary. There is speculation she has presidential ambitions. What concrete demands and movements has she truly fought for and defended?
Sheepdogging Yet Again: No Liberal Illusions
Many of AOC’s cheerleaders celebrate that she has inspired a generation. Inspired them to do what exactly? To rise up against an oppressive capitalist system and fight imperialism? No. She’s inspired youth to engage in a certain type of celebrity-worship which gives the same exploitative system a polished facelift.
Intersectional imperialism is still imperialism. Women, the LGBTQ+ community and people of color rising up in the ranks of the U.S. government, the NYPD, the military and the CIA is not progress; it only further buttresses a system deadset against combating revolutionary organization. Largely ignoring meetings with working-class organizers in the Bronx, AOC prioritizes meetings with celebrities and now military recruiters.
As socialists and anti-imperialists, our orientation is rooted not in what bigots say in the beltway or gusanos in Miami. Our struggle goes way beyond exposing AOC and the Fraud Squad. Dead Prez’s song “Politricks” remains instructive: “Even if Obama wins, Uncle Sam ain’t my friend.”
Can anyone sincerely argue that AOC is our comrade? Her track record shows she is not an ally of the billions of workers and fighters around the world struggling against the antiquated U.S. unipolar model of hegemonic world domination, and fighting against the billionaires and fascists at home. She has proven herself to be just another bourgeois politician: a top sheepdog, high-level Democratic Party operative, careerist, and sell-out of this generation. Despite what she proclaims, actions speak louder than tweets.
 Renaissance High School for Musical Theater, Lehman High School, Pelham Lab High School, Schuylerville Prep, Bronx River High School, and Westchester Square Academy are the 6 schools that make up Lehman High School Campus.
 Some leadership within the DSA’s International Committee has done solid work the past few years to undo the horrible pro-imperialist record of this organization.
Richie Merino is a special education public school teacher in the South Bronx. He is also an anti-war and anti-imperialist organizer with the Bronx Antiwar Coalition (bxantiwar.org) and the International Action Center (iacenter.org).
Danny Shaw teaches Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Race, Ethnicity, Class and Gender at the City University of New York. He holds a Masters in International Affairs from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He is fluent in Spanish, Haitian Kreyol, Portuguese and Cape Verdean Kreolu. A Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and author of "The Saints of Santo Domingo: Dominican Resistance in the Age of Neocolonialism," he works to keep young people out of the military and prison industrial complex.