Real Progressives Exclusive
In July 2021, social media, especially Twitter, went abuzz with a claim that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez co-owned the bar at which she worked prior to her run for Congress. This claim spread in primarily left-leaning Twitter accounts. Through her actions, AOC has proven untrustworthy to the American left, and this claim regarding the bar ownership and the possibility that AOC was the owner of a business seemed to further validate that distrust, at least for some.
Those who first reported this claim would say that it came from Paula Jean Swearingen, a former congressional candidate who was on the 2018 slate for the Justice Democrats alongside AOC. Additionally, Jackson Hinkle claimed to have a source within the Justice Democrats who had verified this claim. Not much later, Hinkle retracted the claim until proof could be found either way.
After a lengthy Freedom of Information Law (aka FOIL) process, documents released to myself on behalf of Real Progressives can fully confirm that there is no proof that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ever owned or co-owned the restaurant she worked at to establish her working-class credentials.
In fact, only three owners are listed, with an additional responsible party. And none of them are AOC or appear to have a social or financial relation to her. The listed owners are Carolyn Benitez, Charles Milite, and Eric Petterson. They have all been owners of the business since at least 1992, and the documents released to Real Progressives are from a 2019 business filing.
If AOC had been promoted to partner or owner of the company, this document from 2019 should reflect that. Seeing as it doesn’t, it is safe to say that either Paula Jean Swearengin was mistaken or lied. Without further evidence or context, it is impossible to know which. It is likely, however, that Paula Jean was simply, and honestly, mistaken, that there was no ill-intent in the claim, based on her public statements since then, such as this:
This being said, it is important to examine the full context of AOC’s rise to power and prestige. Despite her time as a bartender being a legitimate time in which her relationship to the means of production was the same as any other member of the working-class, AOC started an incubator business in her past. In fact, two Israeli capitalists are largely responsible for her success prior to her run for and election to Congress.
As the Times of Israel reported on October 20, 2020:
“But elsewhere on the internet, there are traces of Ocasio-Cortez’s less publicized gigs, in which two Israeli-Americans figure — Joe Raby and Chen Yerushalmi, men associated more with the world of venture capital and startups than with the working class.
It was under the aegis of these men that Ocasio-Cortez prepared curricula teaching entrepreneurial and self-presentation skills to ambitious young college students and graduates in the Bronx. These skills, which she helped teach to others, may have been instrumental in her own political rise.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesperson, Lauren Hitt, told The Times of Israel that the names Cheni Yerushalmi and Joe Raby “are not ringing a bell with us over here. It may be a fairly tenuous connection.”
Public sources, however, indicate that Yerushalmi was Ocasio-Cortez’s boss at a company called Gage Strategies, while Raby vetted candidates for the Sunshine Bronx business incubator that she applied to and was admitted to. Ocasio-Cortez herself publicly associated with both these employment experiences over a period of five years prior to her election to Congress.
An incubator and a book publishing company
A biography for a September 21, 2013, talk Ocasio-Cortez gave at Boston University, her alma mater, describes her as the “founder of Brook Avenue Press, a social enterprise dedicated to providing relevant educational products to children and parents in urban areas.”
She is also described on the same website as the “Lead Educational Strategist at GAGEis, Inc.”
Both the Brook Avenue Press and GAGEis (also known as Gage Strategies) operated from the Sunshine Bronx Business Incubator, a city-subsidized co-working space launched in 2012, where for about $200 a month entrepreneurs could take advantage of workspaces, conference rooms, mentoring and business training. Raby and Yerushalmi, its owners, were seasoned entrepreneurs in the co-working industry who had won a city contract in 2009 to develop the incubator with financial support from the city.”
The reason the issue of “Did AOC own the bar?” matters is because the relationship between a person and the means of production determines their class in any capitalist society, including ours. Under capitalism, the means of production are owned, controlled, and directed by people and entities with large amounts of capital, usually represented through a combination of money, stocks, and real resources and/or infrastructure legally recognized as their private property. With that legal recognition comes the enforcement of law, also known as the power of the state, which is represented and maintained through a monopoly on violence.
If AOC was an owner of the restaurant, then she would be what’s considered “petit-bourgeoise”. Not because the business is small, but rather because in this scenario, she would represent a combination of employment and ownership.
Per the Oxford Reference,
“Defined by Karl Marx as a ‘transitional class’, in which the interests of the major classes of capitalist society (the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) meet and become blurred, the petite bourgeoisie is located between these two classes in terms of its interests as well as its social situation. It represents a distinctive form of social organization in which petty productive property is mixed with, and owned by, family labour. Small shopkeepers and self-employed artisans are the archetypes.
Marx derides what he sees as the petit-bourgeois self-delusion that, because it combines both employment and ownership of the means of production, it somehow represents the solution to the class struggle. This class was progressive in a limited sense, as witnessed by its claims at various times for co-operatives, credit institutions, and progressive taxation, as a consequence of felt oppression at the hands of the bourgeoisie. However, these were (in terms of the Marxist view of history) strictly limited demands, just as the ideological representatives of this class have been constrained by their own problems and solutions. ”
Again, however, AOC was not an owner of the bar. For the period in which she was employed there, she was strictly a member of the working class.
If one were to take the separate facts of “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was working-class prior to entering Congress”, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was an intern for Senator Ted Kennedy”, and “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was vetted by the PACs responsible for her rise to power”, and analyze them together with her track record since entering Congress, the reason for her pattern of behavior as a legislator becomes clear: AOC is a class traitor. She is a person who is working-class but willingly and deliberately serves and advances the agenda of the capitalist ruling class. Given the relatively large amount of power she has as both a sitting member of the United States Congress and the “young and progressive” face of the Democratic party, she has a huge potential for effectiveness in advancing the agenda of the capitalists.
In case you hadn’t heard of her internship with Ted Kennedy, here is AOC herself talking about it on Twitter.
Another relevant fact is that AOC is, or was, a director of the Justice Democrats. When they selected her for their candidate slate, she also served as a director of the organization. The evidence for this can be found in her first Financial Disclosure Report. Her financial disclosure also reveals she was solidly working class.
The political project of the Justice Democrats has had the effect of elevating people such as AOC to positions of incredible power so they can become class traitors while obfuscating what it means to be politically on the left. Leftism starts at anti-capitalism. Any form of supporting, reforming, or maintaining capitalism is politically right-wing.