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AUSTIN, Texas — A freshman congresswoman drew bigger crowds at South by Southwest than any presidential candidate, and no one was surprised because it was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The annual festival of music, film and tech has gotten political this year, with more than a half-dozen declared and potential 2020 candidates of all political stripes making the pilgrimage to this mecca for upwardly mobile young techies and hipsters.
But Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old left-wing Democrat from New York, was the star of the political track, attracting more interest Saturday than two senators — Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar — a former governor, a mayor and the former CEO of Starbucks.
More 2020 candidates are set to speak Sunday, but in smaller venues than the massive ballroom that Ocasio-Cortez filled to the brim, which didn’t come close to accommodating everyone who wanted to get in.
In her remarks, Ocasio-Cortez torched political moderation, which she equated with worshiping mediocrity, defended democratic socialism and took a question from Bill Nye, better known as The Science Guy.
“Moderate is not a stance. It's just an attitude towards life of, like, ‘meh,’” she said, shrugging her shoulders for emphasis. “We’ve become so cynical, that we view ‘meh,’ or ‘eh’ — we view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude, and we view ambition as youthful naivete when ... the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of visions.
“The 'meh' is worshipped now. For what?” she continued to cheers.
Speaking in the same room where former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz warned earlier in the day that socialism is taking over the Democratic Party, Ocasio-Cortez defended her self-described democratic socialism and dismissed “fear-mongering” about it.
She dismissed concern about the government taking over corporations, which she said she doesn't favor, by saying “corporations have already taken over our government.”
Instead, she said, her view of democratic socialism emphasizes making everything, politics and the economy, more democratic. And she said capitalism — which she defined as an ideology of “putting profit above of everything else in society” — “cannot be redeemed.”
The lawmaker took questions from the Intercept's Briahna Joy Gray, and when the audience had a chance to ask some of their own, a familiar face appeared at the microphone, prompting a standing ovation: TV personality and science advocate Bill Nye.
He asked what can be done to make people that look like him (older white men) feel less afraid by the types of policies she's promoting.
She said she appreciated the question and acknowledged that the fear from people currently in power is a major obstacle to change, but said they need not be afraid: “There can be a give without a take.”
“When you see someone who is fearful,” she said the best thing to do is “be the person who is courageous.”