Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an equal-opportunity irritant. The newly elected congresswoman doesn’t just drive Republicans to distraction, she routinely riles establishment Democrats with her refusal to meekly toe the party line. Ocasio-Cortez, to the chagrin of many of her colleagues, has no interest in diluting her views and occupying a “safe” middle ground. If that wasn’t obvious enough already, AOC made her derision for political moderates extremely clear in a speech at South by Southwest on Saturday.

“Moderate is not a stance. It’s just an attitude towards life of, like, ‘meh,’” Ocasio-Cortez told a packed room at the tech-centric festival in Austin, Texas. “We’ve become so cynical, that we view … cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude, and we view ambition as youthful naivety when ... the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of vision. The ‘meh’ is worshipped now. For what?”

It’s a shame Ocasio-Cortez didn’t reference ‘centrist dads’ in her speech, as I reckon the British insult could do with being popularised in the United States. Despite this omission, however, the congresswoman was spot on. On both sides of the Atlantic, the “meh” is worshipped while progressive politics are condescendingly dismissed as unworkable. In Britain, people see Corbynism as an existential threat to Labour; in America, people see the likes of Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez as an existential threat to the Democratic party. More than ever, it would seem that the greatest enemy of the left isn’t the right, but the centre.

This reverence for the centre is frustrating, considering we live in an age of extreme inequality. There is nothing moderate about the world’s 26 richest people owning as much in assets as the 3.8 billion who make up the poorer half of the world’s population. (Even billionaires such as Ray Dalio and Warren Buffett have been frank about the fact that capitalism isn’t working for most people.) Nor is there anything moderate about the climate crisis. We face massive systemic problems and fixing them requires massive systemic change. Yet the establishment keeps telling us incrementalism is the reasonable answer to an unreasonable situation. It keeps telling us we are naive if we think the world can change. It keeps telling us to be “pragmatic”. It keeps telling us, in essence, to shut up and accept the status quo.

What so-called moderates seem unwilling to accept is that the status quo has changed and that centrism is a fringe position now. While socialism used to be a dirty word in the US, it has recently gone mainstream among younger generations, and is more popular than capitalism. An extremely condescending article in New York magazine even called socialism “a new way to date in Brooklyn”. The centre snarks about progressive politics being unviable, but progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez, have had a far greater impact on society in recent years than their “sensible” centrist peers. Just look at the way in which Ocasio-Cortez’s “unrealistic” Green New Deal has sparked a meaningful discussion about climate change in US politics, for example. So let’s stop worshipping the “meh”, shall we? Now more than ever the world needs radical change.

Arwa Mahdawi also writes The Week in Patriarchy, a weekly newsletter on feminism and sexism. Sign up to receive it by email.