A New Hope: New York’s Ocasio-Cortez
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A Win for Democracy
This week Ms. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic Congressional Primary in New York’s 14th District. It was a pretty big win for the believers in democracy who continue to hold out hope that the system can genuinely represent the people.
Ocasio-Cortez was a relatively obscure candidate running for the first time against a highly placed and well-funded Democratic Party incumbent, who had held on to his position for the past 10 terms. June 26th offered up a dramatic change.
Unlike her opponent, the 28 year old Ocasio-Cortez was motivated by her desire to realize the substantial changes that many in her community have been yearning for. Indeed, she refers to herself as a Democratic Socialist, something that is considered fairly reasonable in the rest of the world, but that is still often mentioned with distain and apprehension in the US.
A Progressive Agenda
Her “radical” platform includes Universal Healthcare (Medicare for All), as well as subsidized higher education or trade-schools. To be clear, these notions are not particularly radical for a Canadian living In Japan (both these countries enjoy such features and are better off for them).
While her win may have come as a surprise to many (perhaps even to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez herself!), it turns out that her socially focused platform is something that many people in her district can connect with. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory has certainly validated this.
How Sweet It Is
And win she did! Ms. Ocasio-Cortez actually beat out her opponent by 15% (NY Post), a pretty significant margin considering she’s a newbie who was polling behind. She has since accredited the success to her genuine message (check out her platform) and her dynamic grass-roots support. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez also proudly shares the fact that she did not receive any super PAC money (her opponent outspent her 10-1, NY Times), but chose instead to reach out to as many people as she could through her message of political revolution (see Saving Democracy).
A Bronx Tale
Born and raised in the Bronx, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican descendent. Much like her constituency, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is also a working class woman who had to pay her way through university while juggling multiple jobs, her many social obligations (all kinds of volunteering and community work), and of course her commute.
She has an undergrad in Economics and International Relations, worked as educator, and even helped on the Bernie Sanders Presidential Campaign. Indeed, 2016 was a pivotal year for her. Following Senator Sanders loss, and the resulting win of a misogynistic, xenophobic, elitist, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez felt compelled to do more. Alarmed by such events, she converted her substantial energies, motivated to run for the vision of the future she thought her fellow citizens deserved.
Being a young working-class Latina, she is certainly a political outsider in terms of the US Congress, yet all the more reason to participate as a means of changing the dynamics of the system and better reflecting the population. Undoubtedly, it was no piece of cake, despite the final outcome. It wasn’t merely her credentials that carried the win. She and her team worked really hard for this.
Every Champion Was Once a Contender that Refused to Give Up
In fact, her motivations and background may have seemingly discounted Ms. Ocasio-Cortez in the eyes of her opponent. The incumbent US Congressman not only failed to show up to the official debate (he was apparently too busy), but as an added slight to his constituents he also sent a young hispanic woman in his place to speak in his place (NPR). Unfazed by the snub, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez actually gained even greater respect.
As is often the case with leading change, there is so much resistance and cynicism. So many explanation on why it can’t be. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez however is an example of what can be accomplished in spite of this. As she explains, “cynicism is a weapon against normal people to count themselves out.” I for one feel my hope sustained by her spectacular victory!