Over a thousand people convened at a campaign rally in San Antonio where U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) was stumping for Greg Casar and Jessica Cisneros, who are both running in U.S. congressional districts in the Bexar County region.

“This state is going to change the country,” Ocasio-Cortez called out to an applauding crowd gathered at Paper Tiger on the St. Mary’s Strip. “That’s why I’m here — for the long game.”

She praised the San Antonio Symphony players on strike — some of whom picketed outside the rally — as well as the local Starbucks workers who recently filed for unionization.

A spokesman for Casar’s campaign said the building had been filled to capacity, which was 1,200, but that even more had registered to attend. Attendees were required to show proof of vaccination.

Though most attendees were clear supporters of the campaigns, others were there to learn. Reagan Beres said she attended the event because she supports Ocasio-Cortez and wanted to learn more about the local candidates. Robert Irwin, another attendee, said he went because his friend got him a ticket, and while he’s not into politics, he wanted to know what the candidates had to say.

All three politicians support a raft of progressive policies such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and fighting restrictions on abortion.

Casar, a former Austin City Council member, is running in the Democratic primaries for Texas’ 35th district. The district’s newly redrawn boundaries encompass much of eastern Austin and eastern San Antonio. Incumbent Rep. Lloyd Doggett is running for a newly created Austin-area district.

Casar, like Ocasio-Cortez, is often associated with the Democratic Socialists of America, whose local chapters have endorsed both at various times. Casar led the charge for Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance, which preceded a similar ordinance in San Antonio. Those ordinances are now mired in court appeals.

Cisneros, an immigration lawyer based in Laredo, is mounting a second primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) for the 28th district, which laps at San Antonio and touches the Texas-Mexico border. Its recent redrawing includes more of Bexar County.

Cisneros is running with the support of Justice Democrats, the same progressive organization that backed Ocasio-Cortez in 2018.

Cuellar narrowly won over Cisneros in 2020. This time around, the primary has been charged by FBI searches of Cuellar’s home and campaign office headquarters. Cuellar’s campaign this week blasted Ocasio-Cortez as a “far-left” celebrity in a statement. “Members should take care of their own district before taking failed ideas to South Texas.”

Protesters across the street from the venue waved flags and signs calling Ocasio-Cortez a communist. At times they chanted, “AOC has got to go!”

Introducing the speakers was Alejandra Lopez, the president of the San Antonio Alliance, a public school teacher’s union. “This is about more than voting,” she said. “This is about building a multiracial coalition of the working class.”

Casar echoed the point, telling attendees that the movement they are building is bigger than elections — but that cynicism about elections is as much of an obstacle to overcome as rival campaigns.

“Texas is not a red state. It’s an under-organized state,” he said.

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Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham covered business and technology for the San Antonio Report.