Biography Profile: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an American Democratic Socialist who made headlines in 2018 by beating a 10-term New York Democrat incumbent in a congressional primary, before becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Who Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

On June 26, 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made history when she thoroughly defeated 10-term Congressman Joe Crowley, the fourth most powerful Democrat in the House, in New York’s 14th congressional district in the state’s Democratic primary. On November 6, less than a month after her 29th birthday, she emerged victorious in the general election to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. It was her first time running for office, and as a Democratic Socialist of Puerto Rican descent, her stunning triumph was a boon to the progressive hopes of her liberal supporters.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Photo

June 26, 2018: Ocasio-Cortez upset Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens. Here she is, pictured with gubernatorial hopeful Cynthia Nixon.

(Photo: Scott Heins_Getty Images)

Grassroots Victory

Despite Crowley’s 10-to-1 fundraising advantage over Ocasio-Cortez, the latter carried out a smart and organized grassroots campaign, along with a powerful viral video ad that began with her stating: “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.” Ocasio-Cortez was the first opponent in the Democratic party to challenge Crowley’s seat in 14 years.

“This is not an end, this is the beginning,” she said during her primary victory speech. “This is the beginning because the message that we sent the world tonight is that it’s not OK to put donors before your community.”

Ocasio-Cortez went on to dispatch her Republican opponent, Anthony Pappas, in November to become the youngest female ever elected to Congress. She was sworn in by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on January 3, 2019.

Campaign Issues

As an active member of the Democratic Socialists of America who also helped organize for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in 2016, Ocasio-Cortez ran on a progressive platform — abolishing ICE, criminal justice reform, tuition-free college and universal healthcare.

“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,” Ocasio-Cortez said during an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe after her primary win. “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.”

Green New Deal

In February 2019, Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey introduced a resolution outlining the scope of a “Green New Deal.”

The resolution proposed the switch to renewable energy sources for the entire country, with the goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Additionally, the plan called for major investments in clean energy technology research and development, with Ocasio-Cortez also aiming to include a federal jobs guarantee, basic income and universal health care under the umbrella of the Green New Deal.

The resolution was co-sponsored by 60 House members and nine senators, including Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand. Ocasio-Cortez, who has suggested raising the income tax rate to as high as 70 percent to fund her ambitious proposal, said she intended to begin writing up legislation immediately.

Speaking Out on Abortion, Border Issues

Despite drawing a disproportionate share of ire from foes across the aisle, Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t shied away from speaking out on issues important to her. That included her strong feelings after Alabama passed a state law in May 2019 that effectively outlawed abortion. Tweeting about the new “horrifying” law, she wrote: “Ultimately, this is about women’s power. When women are in control of their sexuality, it threatens a core element underpinning right-wing ideology: patriarchy. It’s a brutal form of oppression to seize control of the 1 essential thing a person should command: their own body.”

After voting against a $4.6 billion emergency border aid bill, on the grounds that funding could be used to detain migrant children and conduct deportations, Ocasio-Cortez was among a group of Democratic lawmakers who visited two Texas border facilities in early July 2019. She later recounted the horrific conditions of one facility and claimed she did not feel safe with the Border Patrol agents supervising her tour.

Early Life and Education

Born to a working-class Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, New York, Ocasio-Cortez graduated from Boston University, majoring in economics and international relations, and worked for Senator Ted Kennedy’s office where she focused on immigration issues while in college.

After graduation, she returned home and became a community organizer. However, with the recession taking hold, along with the financial issues her family faced after her father’s death in 2008 from cancer, Ocasio-Cortez took multiple low-wage restaurant jobs to help keep them afloat.

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