Janel Dyan

Women Crushing It Wednesday

#WCIW: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

An Intense Drive for Change. A Campaign of “Firsts”. A Landslide Victory.

Few people have made more waves in the news recently than the young, democratic socialist from New York who upset the Congressional race in New York’s 14th district when she defeated incumbent Joseph Crowley.  

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is a product of the young progressive movement that has swept the nation as a result of the Donald Trump era. Cortez and those who voted for her in the Primary, believe that the time has long since passed for real, progressive change in New York and across the United States.

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Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was born in the Bronx on October 13, 1989 to working-class parents of Puerto Rican descent. Her father was a small business owner and her mother cleaned houses and businesses to help ends meet. The entire family pitched in to help out the family business and Cortez learned the importance of hard work at a very young age.  

She also learned the hard lesson of income inequality and the disastrous effects it could have on a community like the Bronx. Fearing that their daughter would not be able to receive a quality education in the Bronx public school system of the early 90s, Alexandria’s family moved to Yorktown, about 40 minutes north of her birthplace.

She began to understand the importance a zip code played in childhood development and the ultimate destiny of those children. Witnessing the vast differences in education, community support, and even healthcare that that 40-minute drive represented, lit a fire within Cortez: she had to challenge the system and make a difference for the people in her old neighborhood.

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In 2008, Cortez’s family was sent into a tailspin with the housing market and economy collapse, and her father passed away from cancer at only 48-years-old. With their primary bread-winner suddenly gone, the family struggled financially. Alexandria took on two restaurant jobs to help out and gained an even deeper understanding of the trials and tribulations of American working-class family life.  

After attending Boston University and earning her dual degrees in Economics and International Relations, Cortez went to work in the office of Senator Ted Kennedy.  She handled foreign affairs and immigration casework for constituent families.

She moved back to the Bronx and began to organize the community and fight for improved education, taking on a role as Educational Director in a local school district and worked with high school youth to improve their skill-sets and community leadership and involvement. She knew, however, that in order to have maximum impact on her community, she would need to step up, run for office, and shift the balance of power from those who focused too much on donors and not enough on the constituents they were supposed to be serving.  

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Cortez went to work on her Congressional campaign. Running on a far left platform, and at a severe disadvantage in funding, her odds of winning seemed to be slim to none. Alexandria, however, was not to be discouraged — or discounted. From an interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe:

"Our campaign was focused on just a laser-focused message of economic, social and racial dignity for working-class Americans, especially those in Queens and the Bronx. We were very clear about our message, very clear about our priorities and very clear about the fact that even if you've never voted before we are talking to you."  

The campaign released a video ad to her district that ended up going viral nationwide. It began with Cortez saying the words. “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” striking an urgent chord with frustrated, fed-up voters. In the Primary, Cortez defeated Crowley, a ten-term incumbent, by a landslide.

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As the young democratic nominee prepares to run against Republican Anthony Pappas, there can be no question that she is crushing it: her campaign has already made history as she becomes  the first NY-14 Democratic challenger in a generation, the first NY-14 candidate to run without any lobbyist money in modern history, and the first woman of color to ever run in NY-14 (a district that’s 70% people of color).  

For these many firsts, for her intense drive, and for her landslide victory, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is this week’s #WCIW.

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