Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeating 19-year incumbent Representative Joseph Crowley in New York’s primary elections last night is the start of a revolution.
As a first-generation Latin-American, I highly resonate and admire Ocasio-Cortez’s story. She is proving that it’s not only those who society privileges that can make a change; you don’t have to be white and wealthy to rise to power. With the United States’ rapidly changing demographic, its important for our democracy to echo the voices of the diverse American youth.
Being a 28-year-old daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a Bronx-born father, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents a new determination for progressive young people of color to reclaim their voice after the 2016 presidential election outcome.
Her victory is a democratic upset to be listened and learned from. Ocasio-Cortez opponent Joseph Crowley was on his way to becoming a future Speaker of the House, as he is now the number four democrat in the House of Representatives. Yet the people of New York have spoken and will no longer endure the compliance of moderate establishment Democrats. While Crowley’s incumbent campaign was easily supported by PAC contributions, her campaign was fueled by grassroots fundraising, with 70% of donations being less than $200. Although she still has to win the bid to Congress, the most impactful race for the chiefly Democratic district was this primary race.
It was her strong support that carried her to victory. Bronx and Queens residents recognized not only a community organizer passionate for supporting their region, but someone who looked and lived like her neighbors. Her viral campaign video describes her relatable story, as she lists her humble and benevolent positions: “I’m an educator, an organizer, a working class New Yorker. I’ve worked with expectant mothers, I’ve waited tables, and led classrooms.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s life reflects the path that many young people today find themselves on, battling between getting an education and the debt that follows. She graduated from Boston University in 2011 with a degree in economics and international relations. Yet after her father’s death from cancer in 2008, the family struggled to afford their home. Ocasio-Cortez then worked as a bartender and waitress to help pay college debt and add to her mom’s income as a housecleaner and bus driver. She also helped support Latinx youth voices in her position as an educational director with the National Hispanic Institute.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t always seeking office. She was motivated by a feeling we all have been feeling: politicians today don’t care about working-class people. In her campaign video, she passionately remarked: “Going into politics wasn’t the plan. But after 20 years of the same representation, we have to ask: who has New York been changing for? Every day gets harder for working families like mine to get by. The rent gets higher, health care covers less, and our income stays the same. It’s clear that these changes have not been for us, and we deserve a champion.”
While championing her progressive campaign of guaranteeing medicare for all, fully funding public schools and universities, demilitarizing police, and abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, she also acknowledged that her candidacy is definitely out of the norm. Her opening line of her campaign video is “women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.”
After the 2016 election, many young Americans like myself, too young to vote at the time, were frustrated watching Trump creep up the polls in November. We felt the doom sink into us as baby boomers and a majority of whites chose to elect a candidate that has now enabled a tolerance for public racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and more. Powerless during the election, we are now the ones watching in horror as Trump’s policies rip children from their parents and ban Muslims from the country.
Yet at the same time, we are now the ones ready to make our change. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s election is only the beginning of our determination to truly create a country with liberty and justice for all. America’s youth has been dependent on the older generations for too long, and it is now time to start our revolution.
Valentina Zavala-Arbelaez is a student at Haverford College, currently interning at the United Nations Headquarters for La Voce di New York.