I can’t adequately explain how much this means to me. I haven’t been this inspired by political energy since Barack Obama soared into office. I’m not saying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is running for President, but that her victory is a victory of personal and political significance.
Establishment media shaken awake after her victory keep noting how many views her campaign video has gotten. I can’t help but wonder how many of those views are from people like me who watched it everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, in bed at night and on the 6 train in the morning. When women from the Bronx speak—whether it’s Cardi B or Sonia Sotomayor—people listen. Few have been as much of a pleasure as Alexandria, who speaks forcefully, heart-wrenchingly, about the everyday injustices working families face.
It was foolish to run against Joe Crowley. One of the highest ranking Democrats in Congress, he was potentially in line to be Speaker. The lobbyists knew it, and the money flowed. More importantly, the Bronx and Queens Democratic parties are controlled by machine politics and Crowley was the King of Queens. Other New Yorkers might not like it, but our machines swing local elections. After being shocked by the Bill de Blasio wave in 2013, Crowley presided over the shift of our City Council from progressive leadership to lukewarm moderation last year. Even championing his challenger publicly felt like unnecessarily endangering one’s public service career.
Alexandria’s campaign was a stark contrast. She didn’t just whisper that she was willing to go there if the stars aligned. She shouted over sidewalk and subway clatter her unwavering commitment to progressive causes. Medicare for all, housing as a human right, abolishing ICE—she was already there on all of them, on day one.
Our people are good at doing a lot with a little, and the Ocasio campaign flexed that muscle well. As Alexandria says in the campaign video she wrote herself, “This race is about people versus money. We’ve got people, they’ve got money.” She spent a few hundred thousand dollars of small donations to Crowley’s corporate millions. CNN’s Don Lemon tried to write this upset off as the destiny of demographics on election night, but that isn’t it. Representation matters, but our community voted for Alexandria because she asked us to. Her campaign knocked on doors, made calls, sent texts, mailed handwritten postcards, and started conversations on street corners. At the other end of the line, there was a real person every time. That’s people power.
There’s the dynamism of Alexandria herself. Yes, she’s young and she’s savvy. When I saw her Insta stories, I knew she was the real thing. Turns out that when you are speaking from the heart rather than lobbyist-fed talking points, you are charismatic and convincing. This energy came through in her clean, poppy graphic design and concise messaging. The part of me who was a communications professional could not help but salivate over her campaign.
People want to write off the civic engagement of our community. I get it. Our political representatives are mostly crooked old men who could not possibly represent us. My State Senator, Jeff Klein, led a group of renegade, fake Democrats and has a higher conservative rating than some Republicans. My Council Member, Ruben Diaz Senior, is a bigot who stood on the floor of the legislature and condemned us when the state was on the cusp of legalizing gay marriage. Our Governor is a developer-funded opportunist. A few others have tried to break into our politics recently and failed. Multilingual, not highly educated, and working long hours, our communities are hard to penetrate. Ocasio 2018 proves that, done well, it can be done.
Immigrant children are being ripped away from their families at our borders. Muslims are being banned from entry through our airports. Communities like the one I call home are under siege right now. The election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gives me much-needed hope.