Newly-elected progressive members of Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, abandoned their new member orientation at Harvard’s Kennedy School on Tuesday night to lead a rally in support of single-payer healthcare, gun control, and laws to fight climate change outside in the freezing cold.
“This is why the Democrats won. This is why we’re in the majority. We refuse to put hope and aspiration and values on a shelf,” said Pressley, a Massachusetts progressive who beat out a longtime incumbent Democrat for her seat. “I was not sent to Washington to play nice.”
On Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old Democratic Socialist from New York, protested what she described as the disproportionate corporate influence at the three-day orientation, which is hosted by the Harvard Institute of Politics and co-sponsored by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Harvard program has hosted hundreds of lawmakers every two years since 1972 and aims to help newly-elected officials “forge bipartisan relationships and learn practical skills of lawmaking just one month prior to taking the oath of office.”
“Our ‘bipartisan’ Congressional orientation is cohosted by a corporate lobbyist group. Other members have quietly expressed to me their concern that this wasn’t told to us in advance,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday. “Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here. Where’s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?”
The Bronxite documented some of the week’s events on Instagram, including the Tuesday night demonstration, which she and a handful of other lawmakers attended in lieu of an event featuring US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is also Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife.
“Opening remarks is from Trump admin, so we’re holding a presser on healthcare & gun violence instead, with @AyannaPressley leading the charge,” she wrote in an Instagram story.
Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib — another progressive Democrat from Michigan — slammed President Donald Trump’s former chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who she said told the incoming lawmakers during a Thursday event that they “don’t know how the game is played” in Washington.
“Gary Cohn, former CEO Goldman Sachs addressing new members of Congress today: ‘You guys are way over your head, you don’t know how the game is played,'” Tlaib tweeted. “No Gary, YOU don’t know what’s coming – a revolutionary Congress that puts people over profits.”
The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive advocacy group, held something of an alternative orientation in Boston this week and joined with other activists to protest Harvard’s program.
“Make no mistake: This new member orientation is an orientation of the status quo,” Joia Mukherjee, chief medical officer of Partners in Health, told the crowd at the Tuesday rally, according to HuffPost. “And what we are voting for is justice.”