Who exactly is the woman behind the pristine white caped blazer, signature red lip, and unapologetically bold hoop earrings? How is she breaking social and political barriers in an attempt to address the deeply rooted issues inherent in our country’s government?
The media frenzy around up-and-coming Congresswoman and Democratic politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is truly one for the record books. The U.S. Representative for New York’s 4th Congressional district thrust into the spotlight when she won the position over Congressman Joe Crowley. At 29 years of age, Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. This is an impressive feat considering that in 2018, Cortez was waitressing and bartending in the Bronx in order to support her mother and make ends meet. This story of resilience, fighting back against notions of white men acquiring and sustaining positions of power is what serves to fuel Cortez’s likeability factor.
This factor comes further into play when analyzing Cortez’s early life. Many individuals, especially Spanish-speaking immigrants, are able to connect to her upbringing and perseverance throughout her education. She graduated from Boston University while simultaneously grappling with her father’s death from lung cancer and the controversy surrounding his estate. Following her tough upbringing, Cortez eagerly pursued opportunities in nonprofit organizations and political offices that incorporated issues she was passionate about: minority rights and immigration. She sought to provide a voice to the lower classes in a bureaucracy that only seemed to cater to the wealthy and powerful. She worked as an organizer in Bernie Sander’s 2016 presidential campaign. This opportunity provided her with the ability to tour the country; she learned about the Flint water crisis in Michigan and the construction of the Dakota pipeline over sacred ground. Visiting these places gradually made Cortez realize how deeply the inequality divide penetrated. The only way she believed it could be fixed is if she added her own voice to politics to shed light on these cast-aside issues. This is what triggered her 2018 campaign and subsequent rise to stardom.
Cortez’s stances on policies and key issues generate mass appeal among local New Yorkers and Americans alike. She supports the idea of a single payer health care system that covers all aspects of healthcare: medicine, dental, mental, and vision. This universality, she feels, would help people from all different backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses get the healthcare they rightfully deserve without worrying about additional financial burden. Like Bernie Sanders, she also supports tuition-free public universities with possibly forgiveness/pay-back for student loan debt that has made it increasingly more difficult for young adults to pursue career opportunities. Other policies include: remedying the mass incarceration problem in U.S. prisons, legalizing marijuana (with restrictions), and abolishing I.C.E. in order to provide more straightforward venues for illegal immigrants to pursue citizenship and better futures.
Cortez’s continued use of social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram further her voice and credibility among younger voters. Engagement through these platforms allows for a wider dispersal of information. Mistakes are inevitable, but Cortez’s direct approach of tackling her shortcomings and addressing the old “incriminating” videos of her dancing in college (by posting an Instagram video of her dancing into her office in Congress) serve to humanize her. Despite her recent fame, Cortez is still navigating her way through adulthood. Her tenacity in the face of adversity is admirable as she breaks barriers and addresses injustices in what had previously been a male-dominated field. In doing so, she has awakened the youth of the nation who has rallied behind her.
Nevertheless, the young Congresswoman’s outspokenness has not escaped some harsh criticism from her Republican opponents. In regards to those who picked at her humble beginnings, Ocasio Cortez hit back on Twitter with this sassy remark:
“I find it revealing when people mock where I came from, & say they’re going to ‘send me back to waitressing,’ as if that is bad or shameful. It’s as though they think being a member of Congress makes you intrinsically “better” than a waitress. But our job is to serve, not rule.”
These resonating words highlight how Cortez refuses to let this criticism detract from her overall message and initiatives which strive for equality and more representation for the middle and lower classes.
Her latest initiative expresses radical new ideas that are even more progressive than the stance some Democrats have chosen to adopt. Some politicians are even claiming that she is leaning towards the Democratic Socialist viewpoint of Bernie Sanders. Her proposed Green New Deal legislation pushes for the implementation of a renewable energy system and electrical grid in the U.S. by 2035 in an attempt to fight the very real battle against climate change. According to an MSNBC interview she conducted with Chris Hayes about this plan, Cortez stated:
“Historically speaking, we have mobilized our entire economy around war. But I thought to myself, it doesn’t have to be that way, especially when our greatest existential threat is climate change. So to get us out of this situation, to revamp our economy, to create dignified jobs for working Americans, to guarantee health care and elevate our educational opportunities and attainment, we will have to mobilize our entire economy around saving ourselves and taking care of this planet.”
Overall, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embodies what many hope to be the future politicians of tomorrow. She is bold, unforgiving, yet compassionate, and does not shy away from the pitfalls inherent in our government that other politicians tend to gloss over. However, only time will tell if she can enact these policies and spark the real change that Americans have been promised.