Phote credit/source: Labourlist.org
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is this stellar political phenomenon? The word is that she’s the grass-roots democratic socialist who dethroned an establishment Democrat—Joseph Crowley. Crowley, the 20-year veteran and high-ranking member in the House, is no longer the King of the NY 14th Congressional district in the Bronx and Queens. Long live La Reina Alexandria!
I haven’t been following the blooming political prodigy for long. I first discovered her when a Facebook friend messaged me from Utah, asking where she can send a donation to support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes. Most of my friends know I enjoy hunting down political facts and doing background checks on politicians, especially those on the left. I researched the unfamiliar name and quickly discovered articles on an intelligent, driven 28-year-old woman, born and raised in the boogie down Bronx, with Puerto Rican roots, hustling on the streets. In a good way, of course.
I forwarded my friend the link to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign page. But I was so impressed by what I read on Ocasio-Cortes, from her personal life to her politics. It was clear to me that this woman believed, in the words of former President Barack Obama, that “we are the change we seek” and decided to have “the audacity to hope.” She said, “the biggest hurdle that our communities have is cynicism — saying it’s a done deal, who cares, there’s no point to voting,” and, “if we can get somebody to care, it’s a huge victory for the movement and the causes we’re trying to advance.”
Overview of her political background
So, here’s what I learned about the self-proclaimed democratic socialist. (Yes, the scary word Bernie uses, making conservatives lose their minds.) She graduated from Boston University, where she focused on economics and international relations. She founded a children's books publishing company. And, just a few months ago she was a bartender.
The key detail to remember is that she was a grass-roots organizer who campaigned door-to-door seeking to change her community and country one conversation at a time. But her political experience is broader, ranging from working with the late Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, and the Democratic Socialists of America, of which she’s presently a member. Her list of experience is longer. Check out the rest for yourself.
Significance/meaning of her victory
Clearly Ocasio-Cortez is a gladiator fighting for a cause. What does she stand for? Her platform is straightforward: Medicare for All; Abolition of ICE; and Money out of Politics. Just what the doctor ordered.
Some people are mistakenly viewing Ocasio-Cortez as a product of Bernie Sanders’s legacy only. She also reflects the legacies of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Shirley Chisolm and many others.
Unfortunately, many people believe her platform is radical, revolutionary or further to the left than the typical Democrat’s platform. I’m not talking about conservatives, moderates, independents or even mainstream or establishment Democrats. Believe it or not, I’m talking about those on the left who support those initiatives.
Indeed, her win is extraordinary. It’s a big deal. And she might soon be the youngest member of Congress in 2019. She will be a liberal lioness roaring loudly and proudly for the working-class on Capitol Hill.
But please let me add some perspective. According to the New York State Board of Elections, Ocasio-Cortez received 15,897 votes to Crowley’s 11,761, in a predominantly Hispanic immigrant (49.8% of the population), working-class district that gave a female—Hillary Clinton—78% of the vote. Her victory is decisive but not a landslide. According to demography and political leaning, it makes sense that she won. Even as the right candidate for her district she needed to work very, very hard. (So imagine if she had ran as a democratic socialist in a Republican majority district.)
Progressives, liberals and socialists who consider themselves to be on the left of let’s say Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and even Obama have a short-sighted and often naïve view of the political arena. I agree that Ocasio-Cortez’s platform is not only noble but moral. But I cannot pretend that Democrats across the board do not support the working-class, civil rights, and immigrants. Nearly every major development in those categories were produced by the Democratic Party. However, in the political arena Democrats contend with vicious politicians who break rules and commit double standards to win.
Among the left, there’s a growing lack of awareness of and appreciation for realpolitik. If knowing is truly half the battle, ignorance of cutthroat American politics will lead to prolonged frustration and repeated failure for those desiring to make a positive change for the working-class, to redress civil rights inequities, strengthen labor unions, improve education, and ultimately establish human rights as the apple of America’s eye.
The issue I’m worried about plagued the Hillary and Bernie presidential campaigns. Bernie’s supporters, rightfully enthusiastic and supportive, believed he sparked a revolution with a unique platform. I challenged that claim in a blogpost called Three Reasons Why Obama’s 2008 Election is the Political Revolution That Still Matters! I basically explained that Obama’s election resuscitated the liberal brand and laid the groundwork for progressive campaigns and policies like Bernie's. In fact, all the policies and ideas that Bernie and Ocasio-Cortez champion have grounding in Obama’s policies.
Don’t assume I’m saying Obama is the sole mastermind of liberalism and progressivism. He’s not! I’m saying he’s a diligent student of those traditions. Obama simply incorporated the ideals and efforts of the progressive and liberal gladiators that came before him and carried their torches into the darkness of national pessimism and extreme opposition from the Republican Party. I admit he criticized and disagreed with his comrades on the left, but he didn’t condemn them to the lake of fire for sinning against progressivism.
What we should take away from Ocasio-Cortez’s victory?
Just so you know, I’m not critiquing Ocasio-Cortez or raining on her parade. I want her to defeat Anthony Pappas, her upcoming Republican foe. And I’m going to help her.
I want to alert her supporters and those who feel that the only thing between them and a better society are establishment Democrats that they are now playing the long game in electoral politics. The struggle is going to be lit. Like Nelly, the Hip-Hop artist, they’ll be saying, “it’s getting hot in here” very soon. Corporate Democrats will be the least of their problems.
Political righteousness on the sidelines debilitates the progressive cause. I'm not saying Democrats are beyond reproach—all of them made mistakes along the way and some abandoned the progressive agenda or lost faith in it. But most of them, fighting as best they can in politically hostile environments, must compromise.
People who expect a Democratic president or a single member of Congress to make miraculous changes without consistently showing up at local and midterm elections to give him or her ample support for an extended period are the Democratic Party’s biggest problem. Not money in politics. We saw this in Ocasio-Cortez’s triumph over a competitor who spent $1.5 million dollars compared to her shoe budget of less than $300,000. Evidently, voting mattered the most.
This is important to keep in mind. If not, everybody on the left, not just the Democratic Party, will suffer. As we now know, the Bernie Busters and those who say they “vote my conscience” helped put Trump in office to deregulate the market, dismantle healthcare, turn ICE into Trump’s Red Guard, stack conservatives in the Supreme Court. How much further away now are we from realizing dreams of universal healthcare, free college education or dismantling ICE?
In short, I hope that Ocasio-Cortez’s win convinces us all that #VotingMatters all the time. Very soon, it will provide another lesson to those expecting fast returns from their vote for her after she defeats her republican competitor. Inside the chambers of 535 congress men and women, Ocasio-Cortez will have to compromise. Ocasio-Cortez will have to abandon certain goals (at least temporarily). Ocasio-Cortez will support intentionally or unintentionally support a bill or policy that contradicts her core beliefs. This will happen.
Hopefully, many of us are learning this lesson now. Too bad its costing us more than college tuitions. It’s self-sabotaging for those who champion a moral and noble cause to create a better society to vote only when their favorite political Yugioh card shows up.
What should we do now?
Ocasio-Cortez gets it and is ready to do her job. She’s clear about what it takes to get people out to vote. She explains, “the only time we create any kind of substantive change is when we reach out to a disaffected electorate and inspire and motivate them to vote,” and continued, “that is how Obama won and got reelected, and that’s how Bernie Sanders did so well.”
As for the rest of us, let’s learn from Joe Crowley’s graceful surrender and support for his ally who beat him. Let’s learn that divided we fall. And let's give Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez all the support we can to escort her to victory. #VoteBlue.