Socialist activist and comedian Lauren Ashcraft spoke with New York County Politics about her primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens).
The West Virgina-born, Western Pennsylvania-raised Ashcraft was aware of injustice against the poor, people of color, and the disabled in American society early on. Her maternal grandfather, a who owned a small trailer repair business, became a quadriplegic following a work-related accident. Meanwhile, her paternal grandfather, a coal miner, died in the Farmington Mine Disaster of 1968. Her grandmother was a poor immigrant from Japan, which she related to the current wave of anti-Asian xenophobia amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ashcraft would go on to study international relations at West Virginia University. By her account, learning about the United States’ history of imperialism fueled her anger at the political status quo. In 2015, she moved to New York and got into the progressive politics scene.
“All of it just really hit me that corporate tax money has such a huge influence on our politics and that we as people have not been the priority of our government for so long,” she said. “We’re seeing that right now with the relief bills and the help really geared toward big corporations when even small businesses are struggling to get the loans that they need to survive as well.”
Ashcraft tied these issues to the matter of high rents in the district, especially in Uptown Manhattan and Long Island City and discussed her work organizing the Women’s March, using her comedic chops to aid it as an emcee. It was at the 2019 march when she saw U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Queens).
“[She] was brand new to the whole scene, and I had already seen her be able to make the Green New Deal part of everyday conversation,” Ashcraft recalled of the freshman congresswoman. “She had discussed it in her speech, and everyone knew what she was talking about.”
Ashcraft went on to claim that Maloney was not taking the issue of climate change seriously.
“There’s two different types of leaders,” she said. “There’s passive leadership that signs onto stuff, and then there’s people that are willing to put everything they have into making sure that would change and shape conversations…and that’s really what I think New York’s 12th District deserves.”
However, as a proud proponent of gender equality, she told NYCP that she respected Maloney for her role as a woman politician, citing her having children while on the City Council.
“Seeing women represent us in office has helped to pave the way for people like myself,” Ashcraft said.
Other issues that Ashcraft has proposed include nationalizing public transit funding and making the MTA free for passengers, as well as disability rights, which would include provisions in a Medicare for all bill.
Though Democratic Socialists of America candidates tend to appeal to the young, hip crowd, Ashcraft is optimistic that her campaign can appeal beyond this base, citing her volunteer base, which includes members as old as eighty.
“We’re really diverse in terms of LGBTQIA, and different religious backgrounds, and I think maybe it’s just a really welcome, inclusive team where we’re celebrating diversity as well,” said Ashcraft.