The world of American politics can be a daunting and overwhelming place but nonetheless, very interesting. A face that has been popular amongst the political scene recently in the US is a member of the Democratic Party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known fondly by her initials AOC. Since 2019, she has been the representative for New York’s 14th congressional district (including parts of the Bronx and North-Central Queens and Rikers Island) and it’s safe to say she has had big shoes to fill but is absolutely bossing her role! Her refreshingly powerful energy has brought a new vision to politics and as a woman who never seems to shy away from her expressing her opinion, she couldn’t be more fitting for the subject of the EmpowHER column.
In her campaign video Courage for Change, Alexandria starts by saying; “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office. I wasn’t born to a wealthy or powerful family—mother from Puerto Rico, dad from the South Bronx. I was born in a place where your zip code determines your destiny”. Since then she has become the youngest female congresswoman and infected millions with her ideals of manifesting your own future. She truly is the ‘Jenny from the block’ of US politics.
Who is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
Alexandria Ocasino-Cortez (AOC) was born on October 13th 1989, into a Catholic family in the New York City borough of the Bronx. Her father, Sergio Ocasio was born and raised in New York City and met Blanca Ocasio-Cortez, Alexandria’s mother, while visiting Puerto Rico as a young man. When they decided to move to New York, Alexandrias’ mother couldn’t even speak english and was doing whatever she could to provide for the family, driving a school bus, cleaning and answering phones. Sergio founded a company specialising in building and landscaping services, as well as architectural and engineering services. Alexandria attended Yorktown High School, finding a real love for learning and education, excelling in microbiology, science and engineering. Alexandria honoured both of her parents in an Instagram post explaining they “…started from scratch: new languages, new life, new everything… so I [Alexandria] could have an education”.
As the proud daughter of her mothers Puerto Rican roots, in high school she took part in the National Hispanic Institute’s Lorenzo de Zavala (LDZ) Youth Legislative Session. This led her to becoming the LDZ Secretary of State while she attended Boston University. Her father sadly died from Lung Cancer in 2008, in her second year at Boston, and she became involved in a lengthy battle to settle his estate which she explains now as the experience that helped her learn “first-hand how lawyers can enrich themselves at the expense of struggling families. During her time at college, Ocasio-Cortez worked as an intern for US Senator Ted Kennedy in his section on foreign affairs and immigration issues. She was only 19 when she began this role, using her skills as a spanish speaker to help others in the community. She graduated in 2011 from Boston University with a Bachelor of Arts in international relations and economics.
Her journey into politics
After her graduation, Alexandria moved back to the Bronx and took a job as a waitress and bar staff to help her mum fight for the ownership of their home. She later launched Brook Avenue Press, a now non-existent publishing firm for books that portrayed the Bronx in a positive light. Ocasio-Cortez also worked for the nonprofit National Hispanic Institute. During the 2016 primary elections, she worked as an organiser for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign and afterwards travelled the US, speaking to people affected by the Flint water crisis and Dakota Access Pipeline. Whilst this was ongoing, her brother had nominated her for a progressive candidate role, soon after 2016 election day, for which she received a phone call from the new congress.
She began her campaign in April 2017, whilst still waitressing, and was the first person since 2004 to challenge Joe Crowley, who had been the previous 14th district representative for 20 years. She defeated Crowley in 2018, gaining 57.13% of the vote, a victory which was named “one of the biggest upsets in recent American political history” (The Guardian). Taking the office at age 29, Alexandria is the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress. AOC entered with no seniority but with a large social media presence, using her millions of followers over all her platforms to gain herself loyal supporters, especially young people. After being told by her family when she was growing up that The New York Times was too expensive to buy and being told by her teachers that the paper was too advanced for her, now she keeps landing on the front page.
“I wake up every day and I’m a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx. Every single day.” – AOC
AOC’s political positions
I have found real value in learning about this impassioned and headstrong woman, who has risen to such great heights from a financially unstable background. She grew up experiencing the reality of New York’s rising income inequality, inspiring her to organise her community and run for office. Since her journey to Congress in January 2019, AOC has remained committed to serving working-class people over corporate interests and advocating for social, racial, economic, and environmental justice (https://www.ocasiocortez.com/). I think no matter your individual political views, you cannot deny the impressiveness of Alexandria’s humble rise in US politics. She has mentioned on her social media that she has experienced sexual assault, verbal abuse, sexism and racism during and after her campaign. Alexandria has defied long-standing expectations about how young women, and especially women of color, behave in the corridors of power whilst at the same time surprising critics who once dismissed her as merely a “bright and shiny new object” (The Guardian).
Alexandria supports many progressive policies such as tuition free public college, a federal job guarantee, cancelling student debt, abolishing US immigration and customs enforcement, enacting gun-control policies and energy policy relying on 100% renewables. She is a prominent figure of heading towards anti-poverty and LGBTQ+ equality.
“Like many other women + working people, I occasionally suffer from impostor syndrome: those small moments, especially on hard days, where you wonder if the haters are right. But then they do things like this to clear it right up,” (AOC Twitter)
I think many will warm to Alexandria’s genuineness and her ability to simplify things, talking to the public in understandable, normal terms. She recently mentioned how she has been teaching other people in Congress how to use social media. Her first lesson? Be true to yourself and don’t pretend to be something you’re not. She has generally used short words and punchy statements. Complimenting that speaking style, she’s expressive in the sense that she uses strong body language. Her entire face and body are committed to every word that she speaks. With this approach, she comes off as passionate, powerful, and likeable. AOC’s transparency, tell-it-like-it-is attitude, and powerful expressions are the reason she has been successful in winning supporters.
What’s next for AOC?
I truly believe the sky’s the limit for Alexandria but as is the same for many US politicians, her next moves are unpredictable. We could expect to see Alenxandria work her way into the Senate or potentially even one day running for president! Although this might not be for a good few years, she seems to have won the hearts of her district and social media followers. After her immense involvement in charity work, I can’t imagine this will stop anytime soon. In february 2021 she announced her plans to raise money to help victims of the extreme weather and power grid failure in Texas, raising almost $5 million in less than 96 hours. Her quick wit led her to use Twitch as a way to connect with citizens and helped her raise $200,000 in a few hours for a charity supporting eviction defence and food pantries. In the future I can envision AOC continuing her social media storm, raising more money for excellent causes and progressing her way through Congress. In the last few years, tragedy and uproar seem to have torn through the US. Although just a small change, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has proven to us all that you don’t need to be a man or have wealth, reputation or power to achieve greatness and infect others with positivity and passion. Who knows, in years to come we may see her settling into The White House!