The annual SXSW Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas, has three official segments: music, film and interactive. But considering the speakers at this years event which is currently ongoing, they are well on their way to adding a fourth: SXSW Politics. The audiences in Austin this week often found the conversation drifting away from algorithms, AI and coding, to racism, healthcare and income inequality. And if there was a central theme at SXSW Politics, it was that the system in the U.S. is broken.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to the role of moneyed interests in government. “Special interests have taken over our government.” We are, in her view, reckoning with the consequences of “prioritizing profit and accumulation of money above all else and at any human and environmental cost.”
She called the divisions in our society a tool of the powerful. It is a strategy that “pits white working class Americans against brown and black working class Americans in order to screw over all working class Americans.”
Howard Schultz, former CEO of Starbucks who may or may not be running for president in 2020 as an independent, blamed it on a dysfunctional and broken two-party system. “Both parties are steeped in a level of self-preservation and self-interest that overrides their core responsibility to all of us.”
“American people have never been more dissatisfied. The two parties have never been more dysfunctional,” he said. Schultz noted that 100 million Americans didn’t vote in 2016. Some no doubt because of apathy but others because they didn’t think they had a very good choice.
But according to Stacey Abrams, who lost a contentious and controversial Georgia gubernatorial election in 2018, there may be another reason: voter suppression. Abrams lost the election to Brian Kemp, who was secretary of state at the time. According to Abrams, Kemp purged 1.4 million voters while he was in that position. She also noted that not all Georgians have equal access to the voting booth. Some African-Americans had to wait up to four hours to cast their vote.
The problem is not specific to Georgia. There is, Abrams noted, “no uniform Democratic process in the U.S. “
Ocasio-Cortez is too young (28) to run for president and who knows what Schultz will do. In his words he is “seriously considering running for president as a centrist independent outside the two-party system.” But the ideas they presented represent the choices Americans will have to derail Trump.
It not hard to figure out where Ocasio-Cortez is coming from. She is pretty clear and straightforward about her objectives, which are, in her words: “healthcare for all people, save our planet and all jobs paid a dignified wage.”
“It doesn’t feel good to live in an unequal society,” she said. In her home state in New York “there are more homeless than at any time since the Depression while so many penthouses are vacant because they are peoples’ third or fourth homes.”
Schultz, while not naming her specifically, described some of the progressive proposals as an “Alice in Wonderland” approach. “Moving toward socialism is an extreme proposal. The vast majority of Americans are not going to embrace socialism.” Instead he suggested that what is needed is to “disrupt the system with a centrist approach.”
He did add, “I will do nothing to re-elect Donald Trump.”
My conclusion from what I heard at SXSW: we could use some more under-30 Congresspeople.