Notorious AOC

Olivia Stitely, Staff writer

“I don’t want her to be the exception, I don’t want her to be a martyr,” junior Echo Allen says. “I want her to be the new standard.”

The election of 29-year-old Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez [AOC] into the 2019 House of Representatives was monumental for the youth of America. For young people — especially young women, people of color and those of any marginalized intersectional identities — the world of politics can seem so unwelcoming. The large gap in age and limited representation in racial, gender and sexual identities seen in our government is disheartening and has turned so many away from political engagement.

“I just think that she brings a lot of inspiration and encouragement to young people of color and young women of color,” senior Emma Baretto says. “Like she really demonstrates that if she can do it, we can do it. Especially with her age — her age and the fire — that she brings in every conversation she’s in, I feel like a lot of us hold that and feel like there’s no place for that in politics and so the fact that she can bring it there, and be truly effective and really challenge people, I think that’s really powerful.”

AOC was born in the Bronx, New York, and grew up in a working-class, Puerto Rican household. After graduating from Boston University, AOC moved back to the Bronx. Her father had died of lung cancer during her sophomore year at BU; thus, while still expanding on her political work, she also worked as a bartender and waitress to support her mother financially. This was the bar at which she kept the paper bag that held her self-raised campaign funds.

AOC’s proximity in age and socioeconomic background reflects a wider population of young people in America is a change from the tradition that may profoundly impact the way kids and teens engage with politics.

Expanding beyond her identity alone, AOC has shown a unique approach to politics in many ways.

During her first month in office, AOC accomplished a number of things, including landing on the cover of the January 5th issue of New York Daily News for proposing higher taxation on the rich to fund the Green New Deal, speaking at a New York City Women’s March event and being named the current politician who embodies the radical vision of Martin Luther King Jr. by award-winning journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates.

As the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress, AOC’s fast-paced efficiency and unfiltered honesty are similar to the characteristics bestowed upon the youngest generations–characteristics often used for denigrating young people. However these commonly-used traits have been meritable in AOC’s case, defying the negative stereotypes often associated with kids, teens and young adults.

“That’s because Ocasio-Cortez threatens the status quo, bringing a youthful impatience to a set of policies popularized by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, like Medicare for All and tuition-free public college,” journalist for TIME magazine, Charlotte Alter writes.

There is an image of what the “traditional” politician looks like.

“Politicians always forget where they came from to an extent,” Barreto says. “They change their personalities, they change the way that they answer things, they tip-toe around things; they think through every little thing they say. I just think that that level of calculation in something as simple as a question, is untrustworthy.”

AOC’s level of unfiltered authenticity is unconventional compared to the historical–and still existing– model of the “traditional” politician. Her passionate rhetoric and self-transparency in the media are not seen in most government officials. Some find this revolutionary; some find it unproductive and detrimental to her reputation in the public eye.

“I think there’s a more formal stance that they [‘traditional’ politicians] take on things and a more formal way of interacting with politics that I don’t see with Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez,” sophomore Jonathan Zenkich says. “There are a lot of people who don’t take her seriously.”  

However, some find her radicalness necessary and her trust in aspiration crucial to societal growth.

“The way she talks about climate change is the same way: that we need to do something large, we need to do something drastic because we’re facing a large threat,” Allen says. “And I think that dismissing the Green New Deal as aspirational, she doesn’t deny it, like it is a dream and is in a way aspirational and reaching for super large goals, but she grounds it in this practicality that we need to do large things, we need to make big moves to actually respond to the threat that is climate change.”

While other past and present politicians–including Cory Booker, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and more– have been working towards shifting the realities of American politics, AOC has become the face of the movement. And like any politician unapologetically pushing for reform, AOC has faced personal and political degradation, but continues to persist with strength and authenticity.