Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) gave a sweeping, 75-minute panel discussion on the second day of SXSW 2019, speaking before a thousands-strong audience about a multitude of subjects including the intersection of race and class and identity politics. The panel concluded with questions from the audience, and Ocasio-Cortez got an all-star assist from one attendee in particular: Bill Nye the Science Guy.
“As you may know, I’m a white guy,” Nye began his address to Ocasio-Cortez. “I belong to two unions. But I think the problem on both sides is fear. People of my ancestry are afraid of having to pay for everything as immigrants come into this country. The people who work at the diner in Alabama are afraid to try to ask for what’s reasonable. So do you have a plan to work with people in Congress that are afraid?”
Nye said this fear related particularly to climate change and cited Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the United States Constitution, which “promote[s] the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
“I think one of the keys to dismantling fear is dismantling zero-sum mentality,” Ocasio-Cortez began, in what would be a lengthy response. “What does that mean? It means rejecting outright the logic that says someone else’s gain necessitates my loss, and that my gain must necessitate someone else’s loss, and must come at the cost of another person. We are increasing our capacities for productivity. We can give without a take.”
“We’re viewing progress as a cost instead of just as an investment,” she continued. “The difference between a cost and an investment is an investment yields returns. And when we choose to invest in our systems, we are choosing to create wealth. And when we all invest in them, the wealth is for all of us, too.”
Ocasio-Cortez encouraged panel attendees to engage year-round in local government if they wish to see change, urging them to call their congressmen and congresswomen with the same regularity that they call their neighborhood Chinese restaurant for takeout. By holding their elected officials accountable, Ocasio-Cortez said, these people can effect change.
“Courage is self-propagating,” she told the SXSW crowd. “So the first person who stands up has to encounter the most amount of fear and discomfort. But once that person stands up, it becomes immensely easier for the second person and the third and the fourth—until it doesn’t take any courage at all to stand up for something and do something. So what I would say is, the biggest antidote to fear, when you see someone that is being fearful, is to choose to be the person that is courageous.”
Her appearance received a mob scene of fans and protesters alike, with far-right conspiracy publishers and conservative university groups jostling for attention beforehand.