Born in the Bronx, New York, on October 13, 1989, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was raised by a mother from Puerto Rico and a father who had graduated from the Pratt Institute and was a founder of Kirschenbaum & Ocasio-Roman Architects (KORA). Because of Mr. Ocasio’s role in establishing the firm, KORA operated as a “certified minority business …
Born in the Bronx, New York, on October 13, 1989, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was raised by a mother from Puerto Rico and a father who had graduated from the Pratt Institute and was a founder of Kirschenbaum & Ocasio-Roman Architects (KORA). Because of Mr. Ocasio’s role in establishing the firm, KORA operated as a “certified minority business enterprise,” a designation that came with an assortment of significant privileges – most notably, special preference in the awarding of lucrative government contracts.
Beginning in 1991, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was raised in Yorktown Heights, an affluent, mostly-white town in Westchester County, New York. After her father died from cancer in September 2008, Ocasio-Cortez went on to earn degrees in both economics and international relations at Boston University. During her time as a student there, she also worked for the late Senator Ted Kennedy on matters involving immigration and foreign affairs.
After graduating from college in 2011, Ocasio-Cortez returned to her hometown and took jobs as a bartender and waitress to supplement her mother’s income as a house cleaner and bus driver. Moreover, Ocasio-Cortez started a publishing company, Brook Avenue Press, which produced children’s books portraying the Bronx in a positive light.
Ocasio-Cortez also began to establish herself as an effective community organizer, most notably as a result of her 2016 participation in protests against proposals to situate a portion of the Dakota Access [Oil] Pipeline within the confines of North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Recognizing Ocasio-Cortez’s potential for eventually blossoming into an influential political figure, the newly formed leftist organization Brand New Congress contacted her and encouraged her to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. That same year, Ocasio-Cortez served as an organizer for Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid.
In early 2018, Ocasio-Cortez launched a campaign for a U.S. House seat representing New York’s 14th Congressional District. Against great odds, she ran in the Democratic primary against 56-year-old incumbent Joe Crowley, a 19-year congressional veteran who: (a) had not faced a primary challenger in 14 years; (b) was the fourth-highest-ranking Democratic leader in the House; and (c) was considered a favorite to be named as House Speaker if Democrats recaptured control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Despite being heavily outspent by Rep. Crowley, Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic congressional primary for the 14th District in June 2018. “The community is ready for a movement of economic and social justice,” said the victor. “That is what we tried to deliver.”
Ocasio-Cortez is a proud member of the Democratic Socialists of America. In an interview published by Vogue magazine on June 25, 2018, she described socialism as the political system most compatible with “democratic participation in our … economic, social and racial dignity.” “To me,” Ocasio-Cortez elaborated, “what socialism means is to guarantee a basic level of dignity. It’s asserting the value of saying that the America we want and the America we are proud of is one in which all children can access a dignified education. It’s one in which no person is too poor to have the medicines they need to live. It’s to say that no individual’s civil rights are to be violated. And it’s to say that we need to really examine the historical inequities that have created much of the inequalities – both in terms of economics and social and racial justice – because they are intertwined.”
Identity politics played a major role in Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional campaign, as noted in a June 27, 2018 New York Times report stating that she “was unafraid to foreground race, gender, age and class.” Her platform was founded upon calls for: a government-run universal healthcare system which she dubbed “Medicare-for-all”; a federal jobs guarantee; tuition-free public colleges; stricter limits to the Second Amendment; criminal-justice reform rooted in the notion that the existing justice system was awash in inequity against nonwhite minorities; “housing as a human right”; and the dissolution of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. “As overseen by the Trump administration,” said Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign website, “ICE operates with virtually no accountability, ripping apart families and holding our friends and neighbors indefinitely in inhumane detention centers scattered across the United States. Alex[andria] believes that if we are to uphold civic justice, we must abolish ICE and see to it that our undocumented neighbors are treated with the dignity and respect owed to all people, regardless of citizenship status.”
When the Israeli military on May 14, 2018 killed approximately 60 people who were among the scores of thousands of rioters violently protesting the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Ocasio-Cortez condemned the Jewish state by tweeting that same day: “This is a massacre…. No state or entity is absolved of mass shootings of protesters. There is no justification. Palestinian people deserve basic human dignity, as anyone else. Democrats can’t be silent about this anymore.”
In a July 2018 interview on PBS’s Firing Line with Margaret Hoover, Ocasio-Cortez was asked if perhaps capitalism was “no longer the best vehicle for working-class Americans.” After replying that “[u]nemployment is [currently] low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their kids,” Ocasio-Cortez said: “I do think that right now we have this no-holds-barred, Wild West hyper-capitalism. What that means is profit at any cost. Capitalism has not always existed in the world, and it will not always exist in the world. When this country started, we were not a capitalist [nation], we did not operate on a capitalist economy.” In the same interview:
- Ocasio-Cortez said: “I do think that, absolutely, capitalism was the most efficient and best economy, perhaps, for the time that it was at, perhaps. But as we evolve, as automation begins to really take out extremely large industries, we need to say that we’re not going to throw those people away.”
- When Hoover asked if Democratic Socialism “calls for an end to capitalism,” Ocasio-Cortez said: “Ultimately, we are marching towards progress on this issue. I do think that we are going to see an evolution in our economic system of an unprecedented degree.”
- When Hoover said, “It sounds like you’re skeptical that capitalism is going to continue to be the right answer,” Ocasio-Cortez replied: “Yeah, I think it’s at least a question. I think it’s absolutely a question.”
In an August 2018 interview on the liberal podcast Pod Save America, Ocasio-Cortez said: “I think that politically, this upper-middle class is probably more moderate, but that upper-middle class doesn’t exist anymore in America, and thanks to the continued deregulation of Wall Street, thanks to the continued gutting of working- and middle-class people, we need stronger champions.” Contrary to her assertion, however, both the Urban Institute and the American Enterprise Institute had recently documented the fact that the upper-middle class was in fact expanding.
In a fall 2018 interview, Jorge Ramos asked Ocasio-Cortez how the U.S. would be able to pay for Senator Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare for All” proposal, a single-payer healthcare initiative which Ocasio-Cortez was enthusiastically promoting. She replied: “People often say, how are you gonna pay for it? And I find the question so puzzling because, how do you pay for something that’s more affordable? How do you pay for cheaper rent? How do you pay for—you just pay for it.”
In an October 2018 speech on her economic plan, Ocasio-Cortez likened the fight against climate change to the battle against Nazi Germany in World War II: “So we talk about existential threats, the last time we had a really major existential threat to this country was around World War II, and so we’ve been here before and we have a blueprint of doing this before…. What we had was an existential threat in the context of a war. We had a direct existential threat with another nation, this time it was Nazi Germany, and the Axis, who explicitly made the United States as an enemy, as an enemy. And what we did was that we chose to mobilize our entire economy and industrialized our entire economy and we put hundreds if not millions of people to work in defending our shores and defending this country. We have to do the same thing in order to get us to 100 percent renewable energy, and that’s just the truth of it.”
In another campaign appearance that same month, Ocasio-Cortez expounded upon her recent calls for a “Green New Deal” designed to make the U.S. 100 percent reliant on renewable energy (wind, water, solar) by 2035. “There’s no debate as to whether we should continue producing fossil fuels,” she said. “There’s no debate. We should not. Every single scientific consensus points to that.”
Among the more noteworthy supporters and endorsers of Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 congressional campaign were Bernie Sanders, Zephyr Teachout, Cynthia Nixon, Barack Obama, MoveOn.org, Our Revolution, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Black Lives Matter.
On November 6, 2018, Ocasio-Cortez won the general election in her heavily Democratic district, capturing 77.9% of the vote and becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. When she showed up for a Congressional Democrat luncheon a week later, she was, according to a tweet she subsequently posted, “stopped bc it was assumed I was an intern/staffer.” “Next time try believing women + people of color when they talk about their experiences being a woman or person of color,” she added.
In the fall of 2018, Ocasio-Cortez voiced solidarity with the massive “caravan” of thousands of Central American migrant asylum-seekers who had candidly voiced their intent to violate U.S. immigration laws and cross America’s southern border illegally. When hundreds of those migrants stormed past Mexican riot police, rushed the U.S. border at the port of entry in San Ysidro, and threw rocks at American authorities on November 25, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “Asking to be considered a refugee & applying for status isn’t a crime. It wasn’t for Jewish families fleeing Germany. It wasn’t for targeted families fleeing Rwanda. It wasn’t for communities fleeing war-torn Syria. And it isn’t for those fleeing violence in Central America.”
In a January 2019 interview with Anderson Cooper on CBS This Morning, Ocasio-Cortez tried to make the case for a “Green New Deal” aiming to convert the entire U.S. economy to renewable sources of energy (no fossil fuels) within twelve years. When Cooper asked if she was “talking about everybody having to drive an electric car,” the congresswoman replied: “It’s going to require a lot of rapid change that we don’t even conceive as possible right now. What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?” Ocasio-Cortez also stated that her energy plan would require wealthy people “to start paying their fair share in taxes.” When Cooper asked if she had a specific tax rate in mind, the lawmaker answered: “You know, it— you look at our tax rates back in the ’60s and when you have a progressive tax rate system. Your tax rate, you know, let’s say, from zero to $75,000 may be ten percent or 15 percent, et cetera. But once you get to, like, the tippy tops — on your 10 millionth dollar— sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60 or 70 percent. That doesn’t mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate, but it means that as you climb up this ladder you should be contributing more.”
- At that point in the interview, Cooper suggested that Ocasio-Cortez was proposing “a radical agenda — compared to the way politics is done right now.” She replied: “Well, I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country. Abraham Lincoln made the radical decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the radical decision to embark on establishing programs like Social Security.” Cooper then asked, “Do you call yourself a radical?” To that, the congresswoman said: “Yeah. You know, if that’s what radical means, call me a radical.”
- When Cooper asked how Ocasio-Cortez proposed to pay for her agenda items, she responded: “No one asks how we’re gonna pay for this [military] Space Force. No one asked how we paid for a $2 trillion tax cut. We only ask how we pay for it on issues of housing, healthcare and education. How do we pay for it? With the same exact mechanisms that we pay for military increases for this Space Force. For all of these— ambitious policies.”
- Ocasio-Cortez also told Cooper that while President Trump “certainly didn’t invent racism,” “he’s certainly given a voice to it and expanded it and created a platform for [it].” When Cooper asked the congresswoman if she believed that Trump was a racist, she replied: “Yeah. Yeah. No question…. When you look at the words that he uses, which are historic dog whistles of white supremacy. When you look at how he reacted to the Charlottesville incident, where neo-Nazis murdered a woman, versus how he manufactures crises like immigrants seeking legal refuge on our borders, it’s— it’s night and day.”
Ocasio-Cortez has voiced great respect and admiration for U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
Further Reading: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Under Fire For Lying About Her Wealthy Background” (Inquisitr.com, 7-1-2018); “Who is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?” (Fox News, 6-27-2018); “A Primary Against the Machine” (TheIntercept.com, 5-22-2018); “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: A 28-Year-Old Democratic Giant Slayer” (NY Times, 6-27-2018); “Meet Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Chicago Tribune, 6-27-2018); “7 Staggering Quotes Made by Progressive Democrats’ New Star” (The Daily Signal, 11-6-2018); “Hundreds of Migrants Try Rushing Toward California Port of Entry …” (Fox News, 11-25-2018); “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Compares Migrant Caravan to Jews Fleeing Holocaust” (Daily Caller, 11-25-2018); Transcript of Anderson Cooper’s Interview with Ocasio-Cortez (CBSNews.com, 1-6-2019); “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Says She’s Going to ‘Run Train on the Progressive Agenda’” (Mediaite.com, 1-16-2019); “Ocasio-Cortez Supports Cardi B Calling Trump Supporters ‘F*cking Racist Rednecks’” (Breitbart.com, 1-18-2019).
- “It’s Not Socialism, It’s Racism” (by Daniel Greenfield, 7-2-2018).