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'Radicalized' couple behind viral AOC ad launches pro-socialism, Netflix-like service

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Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes, of Detroit is taking momentum from making a campaign video for Congresswoman Aleaxandria Ocasio-Cortez to start Means TV
Kimberly P. Mitchell, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT – A young Detroit couple who helped New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez win election last year as a Democratic Socialist are now launching a pro-socialism media company from their house.

Their company, Means TV, is an Internet-only streaming service that, for a monthly $10 subscription, would offer entertainment programming with “pro-worker” and “anti-capitalist” viewpoints, including original TV shows, talk shows, comedy sketches, reality TV and on-the-ground reporting.

The service is the brainchild of filmmakers Naomi Burton, 29, and Nick Hayes, 22, a girlfriend-boyfriend duo who gained national attention last year for producing a campaign video for Ocasio-Cortez that went viral and helped to propel the formerly unknown candidate to an upset Democratic primary victory.

Means TV began releasing preview videos last month and Burton and Hayes are aiming to raise $500,000 through the website by May 30. That amount could finance an initial year of programming, which would roll out late this year or early 2020, they said.

The service would use edgy VICE Media-style videos and a Netflix-type on-demand model to capture the attention of millennials and members of the younger Generation Z, who may feel dissatisfied with where they think society is headed and aren’t familiar with other economic systems.

“Our future is almost guaranteed to be worse than the future of our parents (at our age), which is essentially the case now,” Hayes said Tuesday in a interview at the house he and Burton rent, which for now is also Means TV’s headquarters.

“When I talk to young people, especially those who have come from poverty, there is no hope for a better future,” he said. “They know that the whole ‘I’m going to maybe be rich someday’ is a trap.”

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Burton and Hayes said they were both brought up in Democratic-voting households and over time lost faith in that political party’s elected officials.

“I grew up with this idea that Democrats were morally right. And after 2016, I realized that they’re all full of (expletive) – it’s not true. After eight years of Obama, nothing happened, except things got worse,” Burton said.

Rising popularity 

Means TV’s debut comes at a time of rising interest in socialism among Democrats, which is often traced to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign for president.

Some of Sanders’ policy ideas that were once considered far left, such as Medicare for All, have since become mainstream in the Democratic Party.

Last summer, a nationwide Gallup poll found that 57% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents held a positive view of socialism with only 47% having a positive view of capitalism, down from 56% in 2016.

Means TV would join the recent wave of new streaming video services aimed at niche audiences.

One of those services, Vet TV, founded by a former U.S. Marine with a target audience of post-9/11 military veterans, produces a steady stream of new TV shows and comedy sketches with dark and irreverent humor.

The service launched in 2017 following a $300,000 Kickstarter fundraising campaign and an additional $300,000 in contributions from the founder and his parents, according to media reports. Vet TV subscribers pay $5 per month.

Vet TV did not respond to a comment request.

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“It’s basically like the right-wing, pro-military version of what we’re trying to do,” Hayes said, adding that they disavow the frequent crude jokes on the platform.

The pro-socialism left has a few media outlets such as Jacobin magazine and the podcast Chapo Trap House, but has lacked a video platform to introduce the ideology to a bigger audience, they said.

“There is nothing that is explicitly pro-worker that isn’t just sad documentaries that are three hours long,” Burton said. “We already are depressed enough. We already have anxiety. We need something that can laugh at the situation that we’re in, but also plug in some ideas like ‘I deserve better pay’ or ‘I deserve health care.'”

What is socialism?

There appears to be a wide range of definitions for socialism among its current proponents.

Some desire a stronger social safety net and more income equality among citizens, but still want to live in a competitive market economy like that of Sweden. Others, including Burton and Hayes, hold more classic views of socialism that, if enacted, would involve dramatic upheavals and wealth redistribution.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez , with Sen. Ed Markey, D-MA., delivers remarks on the ‘Green New Deal’ resolution during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019. The resolution emphasizes massive public investment in wind and solar production, zero-emission vehicles and high-speed rail, energy-efficient buildings, and smart power grids, as well as ‘working collaboratively’ with farmers and ranchers to move towards sustainable agriculture techniques. SHAWN THEW, EPA-EFENewly-elected House Members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, left, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), center, and Abby Finkenauer, D-IA, right, huddle from the wind and cold as they arrive to gather at the U.S. Capitol for a class photo on Nov. 14, 2018. Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

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Democrats have a more positive view of socialism than capitalism

“What is socialism? It’s worker control over the economy, basically,” Hayes said. “Instead of all of our factories and offices and means of production basically being owned by two or three dudes, everyone who works there owns that facility and operates it and manages it, and decides how much people get paid.”

He continued, “So that completely changes the economic power landscape in a way that radically transforms our social relationships, and radically transforms our politics.”  

‘Bernie radicalized us’

Burton grew up in Ann Arbor and graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in communications. She then worked at public relations firms, where a past job included social media for General Motors.

Hayes is from suburban Chicago and moved to Detroit to attend the Motion Picture Institute in Troy, although he left the film school after a few months. He went on to become a freelance filmmaker and shot commercials for automakers.

“He made the car ads, I tweeted about the car ads,” Burton said.

The couple met in 2016 at a Detroit chapter meeting of the Democratic Socialists of America, where they were among the few people in the room under age 60. The chapter has since gained an influx of other new young members who were Bernie Sanders supporters.

“Bernie is definitely the person who radicalized us,” Burton said. “He’s the reason we’re here.”

The two began dating and went on to form their first company, Means of Production, to help promote leftist causes and candidates.

They gained Ocasio-Cortez as a client after reaching out on Twitter and offering their video services at a rate that was within her fledgling campaign’s budget.

Burton and Hayes worked on other political campaigns last year for leftist candidates, including an unsuccessful primary challenger to Rhode Island’s sitting Democratic governor and the successful campaign of new Michigan’s Washtenaw County Commissioner Katie Scott.

Scott, who was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists yet considers herself a Democrat – “probably more of a left-leaning Democrat” – said the filmmakers created a very effective campaign ad and distribution strategy that contributed to her upset victory in the August primary.

“I was running against a 14-year incumbent and I ended up winning in the primaries in every precinct,” Scott said. “I knocked on a lot of doors, but the ad helped.”

As for the filmmakers’ new project, Scott said that she believes Means TV could offer a valuable alternative perspective on many issues.

“There are not just two sides to a story,” she said. “There are all sorts of multifaceted angles, and this is a way to show us new angles.”

Pro-solidarity

Burton and Hayes plan to invite their many local and nationwide contacts in the video, entertainment and political fields to help produce content for Means TV.

They said they intend to hire full-time employees and eventually transition from a limited liability company into a business cooperative with shared ownership, profits and votes on key decisions, including how much Burton and Hayes would be paid.

The majority of Means TV’s content will focus on the lives of everyday workers, they said.

“The overall project’s goal is to build solidarity,” Hayes said. “What if the media we watched wasn’t aggressively anti-worker? You know, like ‘The Office,’ but with some solidarity.”

Follow JC Reindl on Twitter: @jcreindl.

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