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How a Socialist Latinx Millennial Beat a Wall Street Favorite

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic primary winner in the U.S. House race in New York's 14th Congressional District. (Ocasio2018.com)

It might seem unbelievable that after Bernie Sanders’ immense success in the 2016 Democratic primaries, running a grass-roots campaign that condemned Wall Street’s influence and called for social justice, Democrats can still be caught off guard by progressives unseating party heavyweights.

And yet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win in New York’s 14th Congressional District primary was nothing short of incredible. The victory stunned even her, as the video below illustrates.

A 28-year-old socialist Latina running against Joe Crowley, the fourth most powerful Democrat in the House of Representatives, probably didn’t raise many alarms within a political establishment that seems hellbent on ignoring a growing desire for the Democratic Party to move left.

Ocasio-Cortez, however, had an important trick up her sleeve: She understands and connects with the constituents she seeks to represent. After all, this imperfect democracy still runs on votes, and Wall Street support—which Crowley’s campaign had plenty of—no longer holds the sway many in the Democratic National Committee may believe it does.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s election, Ocasio-Cortez, the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a father from the South Bronx, said, “What I want the party and people all over the country to know is that my campaign represents authentic, accountable racial and social justice.” In a congressional district that includes the Bronx and Queens and whose population is 70 percent people of color, the millennial activist tapped into an issue of representation as she opposed a political star who had run unchallenged for years.

Crowley—a friend of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who was expected to replace her as Democratic leader—“prioritize[s] lobbyists over working families,” according to his opponent. Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, makes up for the gap in political experience through organizing skills learned during Sanders’ 2016 campaign, as well as other grass-roots efforts.

Crowley, a 10-term House member, raised $3 million, compared with his opponent’s $200,000. A quick comparison of campaign finances hints at what Ocasio-Cortez means when she talks about Crowley’s priorities, and may also get to the heart of why 57.5 percent of voters in New York’s 14th Congressional District—where the average income is $47,000—chose her. The Ocasio-Cortez campaign video below is another good place to start for those wondering which issues voters care about in 2018.

In the moving clip, the educator and organizer lists the need for “Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, a federal jobs guarantee and criminal justice reform,” and highlights her presence in the community, as well as Crowley’s clear absence.

“I’m an organizer in this community, and I knew living here and being here and seeing and organizing with families here, that it was possible,” Ocasio-Cortez said after her victory. “I knew that it was long odds, and I knew that it was uphill, but I always knew it was possible.”

Now the media are flooded with articles asking the question on many minds: “Who is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?” The profiles paint a picture not just of a courageous underdog fighting for social justice at a time when it’s needed more than ever, but also contain hints of progressive things to come, whether or not the Democratic or Republican parties are ready to face them.

Cynthia Nixon, the actor running to dethrone Andrew Cuomo as New York’s governor and also part of the pink wave of female candidates seeking political positions, seems to agree. “[Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] represents the future of the Democratic Party,” Nixon said. “Alexandria and I are joining together to take on the old boys club, rejecting corporate money and run people-powered campaigns that envision a progressive New York that serves the many, not just the few who can afford to buy influence.”

Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Assistant Editor and Poetry Editor
Natasha Hakimi Zapata holds a Creative Writing M.F.A. from Boston University and both a B.A. in Spanish and a B.A. in English with a creative writing concentration from the University of California, Los…
Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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