The Highlander meets with Congress Members Mark Takano and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for an exclusive interview

Madison Rheins / The Highlander

By: Madison Rheins, Editor-in-Chief and Fatema Shalabi, Managing Editor

Congress Members Mark Takano and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gathered with United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Workers members in Downtown Riverside’s Back to the Grind coffee shop at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11 to discuss the union’s victory and how this step will strengthen the Green New Deal. 

During press interviews, an affiliate of National Public Radio asked, “What do you think is the biggest issue Congress is going to face in 2022 regarding race?”

Takano answered promptly, stating “… Republicans and the far right have made very clear what their playbook is, which is not to talk about economics or a social safety net, not to talk about the things that we need to do to truly come back a less divisive nation … They’re doing everything they can to focus political discourse on divisive culture war topics … in very nefarious, deceptive and exaggerated ways.”

He continued, “We have done some very real things through a number of legislations … that truly is going to build broadband access in low-income urban areas and push it out into rural areas … We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs accredited through infrastructure” … and “universal access to childcare.”

At this answer, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez continued with, “We know that race is going to play an enormous factor in the 2022 elections, not because the Democratic party wants that to be the case, but because the Republican party is making that the case, and what our party needs to do is decide how we are going to position ourselves and be.”

“Republicans are making sure we are talking about race anywhere because it’s a winning issue for them — particularly when Democrats are silent about it. They get to advance any narrative they like because many are scared to actually have this conversation.”

Moving forward with the interview, Editor-in-Chief of The Highlander Madison Rheins asked, “You have focused on the environment, citing a warming planet radically changed by greenhouse gases. What are your thoughts on the state of the world’s environment and what it means for the future, and what is the relationship between the Green New Deal, environmentalism and union workers?”

At this, AOC responded, “As a planet, we’re in huge trouble … the reason it’s important for us to have cohesive, unifying conversations about race is because as we’ve seen right here with the formation and the recognition of UAW union …  the gains of creating class and racial consciousness is the key to us building class and labor power in the United States.”

“Back in the day when the United States relied on an all-white labor movement, the material needs were very easy to build because everyone came from similar backgrounds. I think that it’s prevalent that really digging in on racial resentment in the United States has been a key to dismantling our material gains and the power of working class people.”

“When we raise our class consciousness, when you dismantle racial resentment, you can actually win a union fight, you can actually unionize your workplace and you can make demands —  not just for wages, but for public transit subsidies. We can actually lower our carbon footprint. If you allow corporations and CEOs to have their say, you can have climate emissions increases, but when you have a unionized workforce demanding things like public transit subsidies, these are concrete examples of how labor affirmatively reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”

Continuing about the Green New Deal, she explained, “The creation of millions of jobs in decarbonizing is how we develop the path to actually address our climate crisis in a real way.”

After answering this question, Congresswoman AOC went on to say that labor and unionization is a key tool for Black, brown, women and other minority groups to achieve pay equity, which can be seen in data that proves women in unions get paid more than women otherwise not protected. The studies cited by AOC also show that statistics surrounding Black workers and Latino workers show similar trends. 

In the end, Takano and AOC agreed that labor unions aren’t just a tool for breaking down racial resentment in the U.S., but that it’s also a tool for affirmative justice. 

Takano explained that the Inland Empire is a great example of environmental justice. He recalled his early years of smog warnings, coming home with burning lungs and how environmental justice in the IE has changed this. He emphasized that he is going to continue to fight for unionized labor in order to achieve more of these justices. 

The press meeting adjourned with both members of Congress expressing their gratitude for the UAW.