Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest congresswoman in history to reach the United States House of Representatives, is revolutionizing American politics. At just 29 years old, AOC – as she is known in the press and on social media – came to represent New York’s 14th congressional district with a campaign completely financed by ordinary people. She did not even receive a penny from private companies. And most importantly, she defeated Joseph Crowley, a House veteran who had held his seat since 2013 and represented other districts since 1999.
Why has the appearance of Ocasio-Cortez on the American political scene generated such a stir?
In the first place, since the beginning of her campaign she has overcome several of the stereotypes that could put her at a disadvantage: her youth, her lack of political experience, being a woman, being Latina, being a Democrat, and being a socialist.
With that profile, she generates immediate rejection from the most conservative sectors of the American political spectrum and presents herself as the antithesis of Donald Trump.
Second, her proposals – which she describes as close to the socialism of Scandinavian countries – include ambitious plans for the environment, access to health for all citizens, and free higher education, things that have not been a priority in the Trump government.
Since taking her place in Washington DC on January 3, 2019, she has been at the center of the political debate for proposing the Green New Deal. It is an ambitious program of sustainable energy that does not compare with any of the solutions proposed by other politicians to combat global warming.
Similarly, AOC has dominated social media since posting a video of herself dancing in the doorway of her congressional office after the GOP tried to sabotage her with an anonymously posted video of her dancing at a party when I was younger.
The Road to The House of Representatives
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born into a family of Puerto Rican mother and father of Puerto Rican descent in the Bronx, New York. She graduated with distinction in International Relations and Economics from Boston University. During her studies, she was a fellow at Senator Ted Kennedy’s immigration office. In this office she was the only person who spoke Spanish, so she had to deal with all kinds of situations in which Latin American families with their migratory conditions found themselves. And because of her job, she was able to see the enormous lack that existed in the sector of the population.
In 2012, Ocasio-Cortez created Brook Avenue Press, which publishes children’s books that portray a positive image of the Bronx. With local actions like these, she gained the support of her district, so it was the people who supported her candidacy and took her to the Chamber.
Along with two friends, Ocasio-Cortez embarked on a road trip across the United States, touring Ohio, Indiana, and several other states, meeting people and chatting with ordinary Americans. The trip ended at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where AOC and her companions engaged in dialogue with Native American Indians to learn about their stories and needs. There she began her idea that it was necessary to start a national dialogue, where the desires and needs of the people were taken into account to make them reach politics.
After graduating from college, AOC moved back to the Bronx and worked as a waitress at a taqueria and as a bartender at a restaurant in Manhattan. With a shoestring budget and a tiny rented office, Ocasio-Cortez decided to quit her job and push her campaign for the House, in the company of a team of fewer than twenty people.
Joseph Crowley, her opponent, had at least 10 times her campaign budget. Approximately $3 million in funding for Crowley’s campaign came from Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies, and luxury real estate firms. In other words, a large part of Crowley’s financing came from the same investors as the Trump campaign, even though the former was a Democrat and the latter a Republican.
In short, AOC pointed out how the political division in the United States is not really between the left and the right (which end up being supported by the same investors), but between those who have money to finance their campaigns and those who do not. She, of course, was one of those who didn’t.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign video shows in two short minutes what her life is like as a working-class woman from a Latino family. With simple details like swapping her heels for flats to ride the subway, Ocasio-Cortez was close to ordinary women, as well as demonstrating her persuasive talent by writing the commercial herself.
Against all odds and without any political experience, in November 2018 Ocasio-Cortez won her position representing the 14th district, made up of neighborhoods from the Bronx, Queens, and Rikers Island, a position she began exercising in January 2019.
AOC and Her Political Stream
Although the Green New Deal is an unprecedented proposal in terms of its ambition, its name refers to the New Deal created by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt to combat the effects of the Great Depression and the Crash of 29.
Similarly, Ocasio-Cortez proposes a return to the tax policy of the John F. Kennedy administration, where a 70% tax was levied on the richest Americans, who currently represent less than 1% of the population.
In the time she has held her position in the Chamber, AOC has become known for her progressive policies, among which are:
- The Green New Deal aims to end carbon emissions by 2030, through a radical shift in transportation and buildings towards renewable and sustainable energy. Environmental change, moreover, aims to go hand in hand with a change in the structural racism that has characterized American society, through the inclusion of people of color and immigrants in the change plan. The main criticism that has been leveled at the GND is that, although it sounds very ambitious and has a clear goal, it has not been established how they are going to achieve the transformation by 2030. However, she is like Greta Thunberg with political.
- Medicare For All, with which it is intended that all Americans (men, women, and children) have health coverage and, in this way, it is possible to prevent people from going bankrupt by financing their medical treatments for diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and many others. AOC affirms that the opening of health coverage would also generate thousands of new jobs.
- Free higher education, so that all Americans can access the university if they so wish and thus expand the coverage in education that is currently up to high school.
The question, of course, is how does the House representative intend to finance all these projects? According to Ocasio-Cortez, the money already exists, but it is currently being invested in other areas that could perfectly suffer cuts, such as military investment or the tax reduction for the richest people that was implemented with the Trump government’s GOP Tax Bill.
In addition to these proposals, AOC has spoken out for the withdrawal of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the immigration agency with deportation powers founded by George Bush in 2003, from the border with Mexico. In the same way, she has opposed the continued financing of this agency, since during the immigration crisis of the Trump government it has perpetrated human rights violations.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been presented as the antithesis of Donald Trump across the board. From her environmental policy, her progressive ideas regarding education and health, and her empathy towards the migratory situation of millions of people in the United States, the congresswoman has opposed all the policies of the Trump government. She is also challenging the policies of the present president. On top of this, she is a working-class Latina woman, precisely the opposite of the billionaire white man who used to hold the presidency then.
For this reason, some people believed that she fits the bill to be the next president of the United States, also occupying the place of the first woman to hold this position. However, for the 2020 elections, AOC did not meet the requirement of being 35 years old, so the Democratic party had to launch the socialist candidate Bernie Sanders, from the State of Vermont.
However, by 2024, Ocasio-Cortez could be the Democratic candidate to bring about a sea change way different from the Trump era. Like Hillary Clinton, AOC could win the popular vote because it is on the networks, and especially among millennials, that it has been most welcomed. It remains to be seen if, as happened with Clinton, she will be sidelined by the Electoral College (the commissioners elected to elect the president and vice president, representing each state) and be surpassed by the Republican candidate.
In the same way, the arrival of a woman like Ocasio-Cortez to the congress -and for some, possibly to the presidency- of the United States is undoubtedly something to talk about, since it would be an unprecedented achievement and would turn the American (and therefore world) politics that has historically been so conservative.
What can the World Learn from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
So far Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been showing a new face of world politics, where climate change is among the priorities and where women (and especially women of color) are making their way more and more imminently like the present US Vice President Kamala Harris.
To many political experts, the appearance of Ocasio-Cortez in American politics has helped to remove the stigma of socialism. And it seems like, there is no reason why one cannot speak of socialism or should associate it with totalitarianism.
Her role, then, has been in moving the American political spectrum further to the left, bringing diversity to the political contest. In addition to this, I think, Ocasio-Cortez has helped to show that the main conflict that American society suffers is that of inequality and that is where her proposals point.
The turn to the left that AOC is generating could be seen as something negative by some since it could give the Republicans a better chance of winning the next presidency. Even so, we may see Ocasio-Cortez as a “paradigm figure” in North American politics for representing so many minorities at the same time. This generates changes at the identity level and generates greater diversity in politics.
AOC is also paradigmatic, for being so young, which means that she is not afraid to say things that make her uncomfortable or even make fun of herself as she did with the dancing video. This – in contrast to how American politics normally plays out – is a new and different way.
American politics has in common with many other nations that it has been historically very conservative, so the appearance of figures such as AOC point to the process of renewal of the political class that has been taking place little by little in both countries.
However, I have serious doubts that such a figure could appear everywhere since even young people tend to be very conservative, not only politically, but also in their resistance to having a more rebellious attitude or to “kicking the board too much”.
In the east (except China and Vietnam), socialism and the left carry the stigma of guerrillas, which also makes it difficult for politicians who fall on this spectrum to get very far. In addition, world politics is not so daring, and it is still very difficult for a character like AOC to appear among our political figures.
Still, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents all the changes that the world is heading for and that many of us are crying out for. If a renewal of the political class – old, masculine and conservative – is possible in a country as conservative as the United States, wouldn’t it also be possible anywhere in the world?
Maybe or maybe not, however, slowly but surely, political figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are bringing changes. And she, without any doubt, is a true and powerful changemaker in politics!