#ShesGotVERVE - Why We Love Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

Have you ever noticed that when you talk about something you’ve recently learned or just know a bit about you speak in a different way than when you are discussing a topic you are confident about? I hear this in myself all the time. The two focuses for my activism are immigration and women’s rights. I have only been working on immigration issues for two years. I am not an immigrant myself and most of my friends and family aren’t immigrants. When I talk about immigration and refugee issues I am passionate about them but not as knowledgeable as I would like. I’m learning more every day but it is always someone else’s story that I’m learning. When I talk about women’s rights I am talking about my own story. I understand issues of misogyny and sexism as well as I understand anything. It has been a part of my life since before I could put words to it. When I speak about these issues, I think this shows.

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That is what it is like listening to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speak about the issues of people in Queens and the Bronx. She doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t have to think of the right answer to questions because these are her issues too. She’s like no other politician I’ve seen. Other politicians seem to be regurgitating what they’ve been told people want to hear or trying to remember the facts they’ve learned about an issue. Ocasio-Cortez is just speaking from her experience, which is infinitely easier that trying to speak to someone else’s. I believe this is why voters chose her in the NY14 Democratic primary against a 10-term incumbent.

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Her win over Democratic establishment congressman Joe Crowley shocked the nation and has put her name in the mouths of people who, as Steven Colbert put it, “didn’t know your name before Monday.” She attributes her win to the grassroots efforts of volunteers and their success in getting out the vote with groups that don’t usually turn out. Ocasio-Cortez’s relationship with her community (which Crowley seemed to lack) should be the goal for any representative, but often isn’t. Her pride in being “a girl from the Bronx” and her presence in the Bronx and Queens not just during the campaign but all year round probably made her any easy choice for her constituents.

Because Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the community she will represent, their issues are her issues. She describes herself as a Democratic Socialist. When asked what that means she says, “I believe that in a modern, moral, and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live.” It caught my breath. The day after her win, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) had over 1,100 people join their membership—35 times as many as they usually get in a day. Since November 2016 the DSA’s membership has jumped from 5,000 to 40,000. It seems that Ocasio-Cortez is not the only one who believes people deserve to, “live a dignified life in the United States.”

The issues Ocasio-Cortez speaks to range from universal healthcare to a peace economy. The women’s rights positions she holds shouldn’t sound radical—but are. She is against gun laws that allow domestic abusers to own firearms. She is in favor of legislation that protects sex workers rather than marginalizing them, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation. She wants equal pay, child care, parental leave, and other workplace protections. Her platform explicitly includes all women, which many prominent female politicians fail to do. Unsurprisingly, Ocasio-Cortez supports legislation that protect reproductive rights and related access to healthcare.

Her win may seem like a magical moment but to call it magical diminishes the strategic hard work that her team put into this campaign. She was running in a district that isn’t likely to have a serious Republican challenger. This allows people to vote more radically than they might if they were afraid her socialism would cause her to lose the seat to the GOP. She was running against someone who wasn’t used to campaigning because he hadn’t been seriously challenged in nearly twenty years. Her platform appealed to groups of people that have been less likely to vote—minorities and youth. So why did they vote this time? It isn’t just that her team had a great “get out the vote” strategy (although I’m sure they did). It’s that they gave the people someone to vote for: a young woman of color from their own neighborhood speaking to their issues. I desperately hope that other districts across the country see Ocasio-Cortez’s win and use it as a template to bring better representation to our political system.

 

Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist

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