Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, a political novice, has emerged as a powerhouse in her short tenure. 

AOC Speaks

Image by Reuters

She climbed to a new level after her encounter with Ted Yoho, Republican Rep. FL. It started out as a passing incident on the steps of the Capital. Rep. Yoho took umbrage with her, for having partially attributed the growing incidence of crime in New York to increasing poverty, a point with which most sociologists and criminologists agree. For this, Yoho called her out as “disgusting” and “out of her freaking mind.”

Then, according to a reporter who overheard the exchange, in his parting words, he called her a “fucking bitch.” The next day he was instructed by the House Minority Leader to apologize, which he did halfheartedly, saying his words had been misconstrued, and as a husband and father he was very cognizant of his language.

On July 23rd, AOC stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and took apart Representative Yoho. Among other things she repeated the two words he had used to describe her. It is doubtful that these two words had ever been written into the House record before, but that is what Ocasio-Cortez does, she shocks and disturbs people.

AOC further explained, “Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man…I am someone’s daughter, too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of this House towards me on television. And I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.

Wow! Powerful words and in no time her speech went viral and was seen by over six million on social media. The savvy AOC had 15 fellow Democrats to back her up at that session, all speaking about disrespect to women. The next day Ted Yoho was asked to resign his position on the board of a national Christian organization that works to fight hunger.

Born in the Bronx New York, Ocasio-Cortez then grew up in suburban Yorktown Heights, the daughter of an architect. AOC was no slouch academically, coming in second in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with a microbiology project. She attended Boston University on a scholarship, during which time her father died of cancer. While in college, AOC served as an intern for Senator Ted Kennedy in his section on foreign affairs and immigration issues. During the 2016 primary, Ocasio-Cortez worked as an organizer for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, demonstrating her affinity for the Democratic Socialist Party.

To help her mother, a house cleaner and bus driver, she took the now-famous job as a waiter and bartender. One day, at the suggestion of her brother, she got a phone call from Brand New Congress, which was recruiting progressive candidates. That was it.

In easily the most exciting event in the 2018 election upset, the then-29-year-old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez scored a shocking primary upset: she drubbed Joe McCauley, a 10-year incumbent House leader, who was reputedly being groomed to be the next Speaker of the House. After beating McCauley in the June primary, AOC then went on to handily beat her Republican challenger, Anthony Pappas, in the November 2018 election. This occurred in the heavily Democratic New York 14th District, a multi-ethnic district comprised primarily of Hispanics, with a number of African-Americans, Asians, and whites as well. The district straddles the Bronx and Queens. Ocasio-Cortez won by garnering three-quarters of the votes.

It has been well documented how she began her campaign in April 2018 while waiting tables and tending bar in a Mexican taco restaurant in New York City’s Union Square. She said that “for 80 percent of the campaign, I operated out of a paper grocery bag hidden behind that bar.” Ocasio-Cortez wisely built her campaign with grassroots mobilization because she knew that she couldn’t match Crowley’s fund-raising advantage. She made a point of not taking donations from corporations, which she was unlikely to get anyhow.

Her campaign posters were vivid and took on a revolutionary look from the past. She ran a youth-oriented, techy campaign. A Crawley operative acknowledged that AOC had run a strong campaign, doing a good job of organizing and creating a spike among young voters. Ocasio-Cortez called for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and supporting Medicare for All. With a sprinkling of radio, the campaign mostly went digital, including digital advertising. She had a bigger following than her opponent, Crowley, on social media.

AOC attributed her primary victory to relentless canvassing, endorsements (D. Rep. Ro Khanna, CA, and Cynthia Nixon-D. candidate for Gov. of New York) and social media attention (YouTube, Huffington Post, The Intercept and Refinery29). Once she got past the primaries, she had the endorsement of President Barack Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders as well as of many progressive organizations.

In Washington DC she quickly connected with Ilhan Omar (MN), Ayanna Presley (MA), and Rashida Tlaib (MI), three more young Democratic female progressives, who were quickly labeled “The Squad.” Ocasio-Cortez became the primary spokesperson for the group, advocating for a change in the House leadership. That quickly died down and the four then made their peace with the Party leaders. In July 2019, the Squad were the recipients of a president Trump tweet, saying that they should “go back and help fix” the countries they come from rather than criticizing the American government. It was noted by the media that three of the four women were born right here.

As a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, like Bernie Sanders, and part of the Democratic Party, Ocasio-Cortez has quickly made a name for herself as a critic of the banking industry, in her role as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, and for pushing, as she had in her campaign, for a Green New Deal and Medicare for All and for abolishing ICE.

There were clashes with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders when she first came to office, but that has largely subsided as she became more politically adroit. She is a co-author of the ambitious Green New Deal, a plan for dialing back planet-warming emissions that went nowhere in Congress. Ocasio-Cortez is now a recognized star of the Democratic Party. She has 7.2 million followers on Twitter. As an indication of her popularity, she is a constant target of Republicans and even of the President, who depict her along with Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders as dangerous radicals.

While she won her House seat with virtually a non-existent budget, she has since become a magnet. In her successful 2020 primary fight against Michelle Caruso-Cabrera she raised $8.2 million, over seven times the amount of her middle-of-the-road challenger, whom she soundly defeated. AOC is expected to again carry her seat by a large margin in the 2020 election.

What makes Ocasio-Cortez such a stand-out to millennials and older voters as well? It doesn’t hurt that she is attractive, almost beautiful. Then there is her story of having come from nowhere to upset a powerful politician at the tender age of 29. Unlike other first-term female Democratic Congresswomen, she isn’t a professional politician, having no prior experience. Yet she is obviously very intelligent and dances rings around her opponents, as she did to Representative Yoho. Ocasio-Cortez is also forthright and articulate in advancing specific progressive legislation which she advocates. If you catch her on C-Span grilling some administration person, fellow Congressman or businessperson, she is unfailingly polite, direct and probing. AOC uses social media at an extremely high level and has many followers to whom she tweets frequently.

The front pages and news networks just gravitate toward her. Take her comments about the Trump administration detention centers in the Southwest, just five months after taking office. Ocasio-Cortez said that the Trump administration was “fascist” and the camps in the southern border were concentration camps, amid reports of human rights abuse and child separations.

She had Fox News in a lather, saying she was saying something that is historically wrong, morally incorrect, and totally detestable. Well, maybe she had gone too far, but she was closer to the mark than her right-wing critics. The Jewish Community Relations Council also expressed concern about the language she used to describe conditions in the camps. They objected to Ocasio-Cortez equating the detention centers to Nazi concentration camps, feeling that the terminology to describe these contemporary concerns diminishes the Nazi’s attempt to eradicate the Jewish people.

Following the detention camp incident, Charlie Kirk, founder of the Trump-supporting group Turning Point USA, said that AOC is the most powerful Democrat in America, having more social media power and the ability to draw crowds to a much greater degree than other Democrats. He described her as angry and committed to radical ideas.

All that fame in a short period of time comes with a price. The conservative media has gone after her with a vengeance. Ocasio-Cortez has been vilified by Fox News and other conservative media like no one except a Democratic president or candidate. For example: in early 2019, she was getting more coverage on Fox news then either candidate except Senator Elizabeth Warren, and even more than Bernie Sanders. This gives an idea of how the right hates and fears AOC. In national polling, she is basically viewed unfavorably. This is considered to be because of her extensive negative coverage, primarily on Fox News. As a resul,t Ocasio-Cortez is better known by Republicans than Democrats, which contributes mightily to her negative ratings.

There are rumblings that AOC is anti-Semitic because of her favoring a two-state solution for the West Bank and her being for legislation that would penalize Israel if it goes ahead with further annexation of West Bank lands. This may be so, but many Jews speak out against Israel for the same reasons.

Also, she increasingly has spoken out against actions that are clearly anti-Semitic. This includes calling out the president for attacking “Shifty Schiff” as “atrocious anti-Semitism,” also attacking the president about his saying, “Jewish people are protecting their money by favoring Democrats,” marching in a New York parade against anti-Semitism, and criticizing British Labor candidate for Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn as being anti-Semitic.

In an Elizabeth-Warren-Cherokee-native-American moment, AOC claims Sephardic Jewishness in her ancestry, although she was raised Catholic. She reminds questioners that in Puerto Rico, where her grandparents were from, there is an amalgam of people from everywhere, with much intermarriage. The connection, which she claims may go back hundreds of years, surely doesn’t hurt her with the Jewish community.

Well, maybe the right is overstating her power: remember, there is still Nancy Pelosi. But AOC is easily the second most well-known member of the House, and she has only been around for about a year and a half. She is given to righteous exaggeration, but her objectives are noble. What she is fighting for are what most Democrats want: better health care, a better environment, better jobs, collaring banks and big business, better treatment of immigrants, and doing away with brutal police. Her problem with the more moderate Democrats is that she want its all now, not gradually down the road. Perhaps she will harness some of her anger and zeal and come a little more toward the center, without losing her power. That would be something.

AOC— “Hope is not something that you have. Hope is something that you create, with your actions. Hope is contagious. Other people start acting in a way that has more hope.”

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