By Charlie Finnerty and Celia Bernhardt
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined Halloween festivities at the Queens Night Market in Corona Park Saturday Oct. 28. The congresswoman was a judge in the event’s costume contests, met dozens of community members and sampled food from vendors. After three weeks of chaos in congress following the Republican ousting of Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House, Ocasio-Cortez said she was glad to be back in the district connecting with constituents.
“You’ve got to be where the people are,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “To be able to be back in the community after being stuck in DC for a while, I just want to kiss the ground when I land at LaGuardia. It’s really great to be able to be here, bring folks together and just be a person, hang out, be with our neighbors.”
The Night Market was rained out the preceding four weekends, but visitors enjoyed a bout of good weather on Saturday night — just in time for the Halloween-themed finale to the Market’s season. Competitors in the costume contest vied for prizes including a football signed by Eli Manning, tickets to Forest Hills Stadium events and round trip Delta Airlines flights. After the contest concluded, scores of attendees lined up to greet Ocasio-Cortez.
Events like the Night Market provide crucial opportunities to meet with constituents in a casual setting and have open dialogue about community needs to break away from the broadly accepted policy prescriptions of the Hill, Ocasio-Cortez said.
“There’s often such a huge disparity between Washington consensus and everyday people,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Being back on the ground — having these conversations with folks and actually hearing from our community what their thoughts and perspectives are — it’s super grounding and helps me give me a lot of confidence in being able to advocate for our community in Washington.”
The congresswoman said the recent violence in Israel and Palestine highlighted the especially rigid approach to US foreign policy in DC. An attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 killed over 1,400 Israeli civilians and ongoing mass bombing of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force which has killed over 8,000 Palestinians. Ocasio-Cortez, alongside fellow Queens representative Nydia Velasquez, is one of 18 members of congress who have called for a ceasefire. She said constituents she spoke with at the Night Market expressed gratitude for her stance on the issue.
“Usually in Washington there’s a very strong foreign policy consensus, it’s very uniform and we never hear anything outside of that. For a very long time, you couldn’t even say the word ‘Palestine’ in Washington. People were just thankful in a borough with the diversity that we have, that we can hold space for the humanity of Israelis and Palestinans,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We can do both, we can fight for everybody. This is a borough that can be safe for every single community and can advocate and protect the rights of every single community.”
Asked about the current influx of asylum seekers to New York City and Queens, Ocasio-Cortez called for a measured and humanitarian response and highlighted the city’s history as a global hub for migration. The city has welcomed over 100,000 asylum seekers in the last year, a noticeable rise from recent years but a number that pales in comparison to 20th century peaks in immigration when some years saw over a million new immigrants enter the country through the city.
“There are of course logistical and resource constraints that accompany any migratory or refugee situation the way we have now, but they will not break our city. However, the rhetoric surrounding these migrants often makes the situation worse and can be inflammatory,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We don’t need to approach this with a deficit-based point of view. This is what our city has always been built on. We have dealt with waves of migration that were far larger than this before, the actual challenge has been that it was much easier to get a job and it was much easier to get documented. That’s really the path that we should look towards now. We have to make sure that we can make this logistically as easy as possible so that people aren’t stuck in these systems.”
Ocasio-Cortez said the values and strength of Queens’ communities inspires her work in congress as she heads back to DC this week.
“Our community is important,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “If we can make this work in Queens, we can make it work anywhere in the country. I’ve always felt that way and that’s why I’m so proud to represent this borough.”