A year ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez worked as a bartender at a Union Square restaurant. Today, she became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. On Tuesday, the 29-year-old woman defeated Anthony Pappas.
Ocasio-Cortez, who worked on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, never imagined herself in this place. “I never really saw myself running on my own,” she told New York magazine. “I counted out that possibility because I felt that possibility had counted out me. I felt like the only way to effectively run for office is if you had access to a lot of wealth, high social influence, a lot of dynastic power, and I knew that I didn’t have any of those things.”
But Alexandria gained momentum for her progressive politics, including Medicare for all, tuition-free public colleges, and the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In June, she defeated Joe Crowley, aka the “King of Queens” and the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, in the primaries.
Despite Crowley having a significant amount of influence and raising far more money than her, Alexandria won the election. Her victory showed both the power of grassroots campaigns and how people are looking away from the establishment for a better future. She and her team worked hard, reaching out to many people who had never had any contact with political campaigns. A few days after she won, Ocasio-Cortez found herself defending the way in which she won.
“Some folks are saying I won for ‘demographic’ reasons,” she tweeted. “1st of all, that’s false. We won w/voters of all kinds. 2nd, here’s my 1st pair of campaign shoes. I knocked doors until rainwater came through my soles. Respect the hustle. We won bc we out-worked the competition. Period.”
It’s not the only time Ocasio-Cortez has faced unwarranted critiques. People have used every opportunity to diminish her because of her age, sex, politics, or experience. But she proved she can more than handle herself. Through quips and snappy clap backs, she has let people know not to disrespect her, including when Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis called her “this girl” and Newsmax’s John Cardillo said she misrepresented herself.
Though she frequently tweets, Instagram is where she shines. Not only does she use the social media network to keep her followers in the loop (she tells them about photo shoots, interviews, campaign stops, etc), but she also uses it to speak frankly. Recently, she used the Ask Me Anything feature to answer people’s questions about running for office as a Latina, the #MeToo movement, and more. In one response, she candidly explained how her appearance is scrutinized. “Running for office means that I have to navigate policy AND my personal presentation,” read her story, which featured white text on a purple background. “My personal appearance gets commented on ALL THE TIME on the campaign trail.”
Her strategy for the November 6 election was a little different than for the primary. Though she still had to face off against Pappas, she was all but guaranteed a win in the democratic-heavy district. So after the first round of voting elevated her profile, she used that momentum to help other like-minded candidates win their primaries. In July and August, she spent time traveling through the Midwest, stumping for Abdul El-Sayed, and in her home state boosting candidates like Zephyr Teachout and Julia Salazar.
And while she couldn’t ensure a victory for every progressive candidate she campaigned for, on Tuesday, November 6, Alexandria made history. She became the nation’s youngest Congresswoman.