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Ocasio-Cortez Upset Fuels Momentum For Latina Democratic Socialist Julia Salazar's State Senate Challenge

Courtesy of the Julia Salazar for State Senate Facebook page
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Courtesy of the Julia Salazar for State Senate Facebook page

Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines nationwide last week with her stunning victory over incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in New York's 14th Congressional District primary. Ocasio-Cortez has been outspoken about her working-class upbringing and Puerto Rican heritage. She's also an advocate for universal healthcare and gun control and has vowed to abolish ICE, issues that clearly resonated with the primarily Hispanic Bronx and Queens neighborhoods making up her district.

Ocasio-Cortez is not the only young Democratic socialist woman mounting a challenge in New York. 27-year-old Julia Salazar, also a Democratic socialist and Latina, is running against incumbent Martin Dilan for New York State Senate in District 18, which encompasses parts of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Brownsville.

"I've been deeply inspired by Alexandria," Salazar said in an interview with Gothamist. "Even before her victory and her massive upset. I already really looked up to her. And so then to see her win by such a significant margin against the Queens Democratic boss and against the machine is really inspiring."

Running on a platform similar to Ocasio-Cortez's, Salazar vows to fight for affordable housing, universal healthcare, and improved rights for immigrants and workers, especially those part of public sector unions.

Salazar is familiar with the struggles of the working class and has a history of advocacy; the daughter of a single, immigrant mother from Colombia, she grew up in West Palm Beach and Harlem, working her way through high school and college at Columbia University. Salazar began organizing in college, "partly out of necessity," she explains. Living in a poorly-managed, neglected apartment building, Salazar convinced her roommates and neighbors to participate in a rent strike; the tenants eventually took the management company to court and won important concessions. "It was eye-opening for me," Salazar said of the experience. "And a very real reminder that these are systemic problems, and they demand systemic solutions."

As a grassroots organizer and advocate, Salazar's no stranger to the political scene in Albany; she frequently visited the state capital in her efforts to push for the elimination of cash bail and appointment of a special prosecutor for New Yorkers who are victims of police violence. "As urgent and as effective as that advocacy has often been, it's also exasperating to go back to the same legislators again and again," Salazar said. She credits her experience advocating in Albany as the "biggest thing" that inspired her run for state senate: "We have to replace legislators who are failing their constituents."

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Courtesy of the Julia Salazar for State Senate Facebook page

Salazar doesn't believe her Democratic socialism will alienate her from voters in her district. "To me, what [Democratic socialism] means is fighting for a more caring society in the most fundamental way... in the most sustainable way," she explained. "There are Democratic socialist policies— fighting for a single-payer New York health act, making sure that all our neighbors, regardless of immigration status, are protected, and demand for universal rent control— [that] are also just popular." Salazar refers to these issues as "common sense social policies" that just happen to be consistent with a Democratic socialist worldview.

In addition to single-payer healthcare and universal rent control, Salazar also vows to provide unrestricted access to abortion and reproductive health services, and has set her sights on repealing New York State's Taylor law, which forbids public sector workers to strike. And Salazar says that while New York is "technically" a blue state, outdated abortion laws are still on the books and need to be changed. "There is a lot of work to be done to defend and build the labor movement in New York," she added.

When asked her position on funding the MTA, Salazar believes the state should bear the burden of paying for necessary repairs, and supports Mayor Bill de Blasio's Millionaire's Tax proposal—which has repeatedly gone nowhere in Albany—"so that the cost is not inequitably distributed among working class New Yorkers who are already suffering as a result of MTA's crumbling infrastructure."

Since Ocasio-Cortez's victory, Salazar's campaign has received $8,000 from over 180 contributions, AM New York reports— the second-biggest day other than the launch.

Salazar has a response to those who think progressive, socialist policies have no place in the pre-codified dogma of the current Democratic party. "If anyone were to claim that the political ethos of the Democratic party is about just pushing for policies that reinforce the status quo and that political dynamic, then I think that they're out of touch with what's important to voters, what's important to New Yorkers," she said. "If anyone were to say that those policies we're proposing and that these lived experiences of voters are inconsistent with the character of the Democratic party, then we need to change the Democratic party."

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