A Look Back at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Momentous First Year in Congress

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
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The year 2019 has been a busy one for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). It began when she was sworn in as a new member of the 116th Congress, which boasted the most diverse cohort in U.S. history, on January 3. AOC, as she’s been widely called this year, wore a striking red lip, a set of killer gold hoops and a confidence that came unexpectedly from the youngest member of Congress.

Leading up to her new gig, the New York politician, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, gave her supporters a look into what it was like to get started in politics through her Instagram Stories and Instagram Live. Often cooking while answering users’ questions, Ocasio-Cortez has helped demystify congressional processes and brought a refreshing transparency to constituents. Her supporters appreciate how she made politics feel approachable and engaging for the average person. 

But a new job, especially such a public one, has come with unique challenges for the nascent representative. This July, Louisiana officer Charlie Rispoli made a disturbing comment about AOC on Facebook. While sharing a fictitious article about Ocasio-Cortez, he stated that “this vile idiot needs a round.” Althougj Rispoli was fired for his remark, it wasn’t the only death threat the Puerto Rican congresswoman has received since taking office.  

Still, despite the mounting attacks against Ocasio-Cortez, she has pushed forward to have an impressive first year in office — showing us what Bronx women are made of. Here, some of Ocasio-Cortez’s biggest accomplishments and celebrated moments in 2019.

Raising Money for Trans Youth

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) takes questions during a Green New Deal For Public Housing Town Hall on December 14, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images

This January, AOC helped raise money for trans youth. When YouTuber Harry Brewis hosted a Donkey Kong 64 livestream to garner funds for Mermaids, an organization that supports transgender children, Ocasio-Cortez called in to support and discuss trans rights amid the government shutdown at the time. With her help, the digital event raised more than $300,000 for the organization. 

Supporting Government Workers

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) listens during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Also during the government shutdown, Ocasio-Cortez gave a speech on the floor of the Senate in support of the government workers who were not being paid during their forced time off. She described how the shutdown was affecting one of her constituents, an air traffic controller at John F. Kennedy International Airport. A video of her speech was widely shared, becoming C-SPAN’s most-watched Twitter video ever. It highlighted how AOC is capable of telling stories that connect with others as well as spotlighted her social media influence.

Introducing The Green New Deal

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks as Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and other Congressional Democrats listen during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

In February, Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) unveiled plans for the Green New Deal, proposed legislation that aims to address both climate and economic inequality in the U.S. The initial proposal outlined policies that would help the country achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, invest in infrastructure that would help create jobs and promote social justice and equality. Since the unveiling, AOC has emphasized that the Green New Deal should be implemented in a way that doesn’t exclude marginalized communities and that addresses climate change in the long run. 

Offering a Glimpse at What Environmental Justice Looks Like

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attends a rally for Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in Queensbridge Park on October 19, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images

In April, AOC teamed up with The Intercept to create “A Message From the Future With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” In the video project, which was co-written by AOC and Canadian documentary filmmaker Avi Lewis, the congresswoman is seen taking a train from New York to Washington, DC, in an imagined future where the Green New Deal is a reality. In it, she outlines the path to tackling climate change, mentioning scientists that sounded the alarm in the ‘80s and the fossil fuel companies that strategically created a campaign to enrich themselves and spread doubt about climate science. She also talks about how climate scientists in 2018 gave the planet 12 years to cut carbon emissions in half in order to stop climate disaster. It shows an inspiring future where the U.S. economy doesn’t leave anyone behind. 

Starring in the Netflix Documentary "Knock Down The House"

Knock Down the House / Netflix

In late April, Netflix dropped a trailer for Knock Down The House, a documentary that featured Ocasio-Cortez along with progressive 2018 candidates Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin and Amy Vilela as they ran for various government offices around the country. The documentary made the festival rounds earlier this year, screening both at Sundance and SXSW. In February, the film made national headlines when news broke that Netflix spent more money to purchase the project than any other documentary in the platform’s history. It cost the company $10 million for worldwide rights and features intimate snapshots with AOC’s partner and her supporters. It also shows the lead-up to the viral online video of Ocasio-Cortez learning that she won the election. The documentary did an amazing job highlighting the intimate details that led to AOC’s more public moments that were caught on video and shared online. It also showed just how hard it is for working-class people to break into politics, despite how necessary they are, especially in communities like the one the Latina politician now represents. 

Working as a Bartender Once Again

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) serves a drink at the bar at the Queensboro Restaurant on May 31, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Ocasio-Cortez went back to her bartending roots this May to show solidarity for tipped workers in the service industry. She stood behind the bar again to help spread awareness for the Raise the Wage Act, which would put an end to below-minimum wages for tipped workers in bars and restaurants. The event was put together by an organization called Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. The group urged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to institute the wage act in the past and believed AOC could help get their cause more attention. They were right.

Starring in Multiple Books

“The ABCs of AOC” by Jamia Wilson and illustrated by Krystal Quiles

In August, Workman Publishing announced that it would be releasing a biography on Ocasio-Cortez by independent journalist Prachi Gupta. At around that time, another book about her was announced: The ABCs of AOC. This children’s book, written by Jamia Wilson and illustrated by Krystal Quiles, highlights different words, like “feminist” and “grassroots,” and features the congresswoman on its cover dressed in her iconic white swearing-in outfit, a bold red lip and, of course, her hoops. 

Landing a Feature on "The Simpsons"

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks as Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) listen during a press conference at the US Capitol on July 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Apart from being the focus of several books, AOC was also featured in a short clip from The Simpsons. In West Wing Story, a parody of West Side Story, President Donald Trump, receiving the classic Simpsons animated treatment, is seen holding a photo of The Squad — Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — and singing to the tune of the classic song, “America.” In the scene, AOC and the rest of the politicians show off their dance moves and talk about how to undo Trump’s policies.

Gaining Her Very Own AOC Action Figure

FCTRY / Kickstarter

This October, a Seattle-based artist and a Brooklyn-based design studio launched a Kickstarter announcing that they were creating an AOC action figure. The Ocasio-Cortez doll will be part of their Real Life Action Figures collection that features other notable people, like Pope Francis and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The figurine also shows AOC in her stunning all-white suit, a red lip and a set of gold hoops. The fundraising campaign got a lot of attention and the creators even had to increase the goal several times. At the time of writing, they have raised $72,000. 

Becoming Halloween Costume Inspo

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) talks to fellow members of Congress during the first session of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capito. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

This Halloween, conservative commentator Tomi Lahren tried to diss Ocasio-Cortez by dressing up as the “terrifying” politician for Halloween; however, to AOC’s fans, she ended up making a great case for why the congresswoman is so awesome. The representative’s online supporters came out in full force and pointed out that trying to insult AOC by calling her a “former bartender” outlined how classist some political commentators are. It began an interesting conversation about how people from working-class communities are stigmatized and misunderstood. Even more, Ocasio-Cortez was genuine Halloween costume inspiration for countless other girls and women who share her progressive vision for the country.

Centering Marginalized Communities

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) hold a news conference to introduce legislation to transform public housing as part of their Green New Deal proposal outside the U.S. Capitol November 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo by Somodevilla/Getty Images

This November, AOC released the first Green New Deal bill alongside presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The proposed legislation aims to make public housing environmentally friendly by transforming the 1.2 million public housing units in the U.S. by upgrading their health and safety features, including eliminating carbon emissions. During the projected 10-year process to complete the proposed legislation, public housing would receive grants for installing solar panels, all-electric modern appliances and low-flow toilets to reduce water waste. The proposal would create more than 200,000 jobs per year. It shows how dedicated Ocasio-Cortez is to her mission of creating a Green New Deal that centers those who are most impacted by climate change, particularly lower-income communities. 

Reigning Queen of the Social Media Clapback

House Financial Services Committee member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) puts on her glasses as the committee takes a break in the testimony of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Bu Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This year, AOC solidified that she’s the queen of the clapback. It started with hints in 2018 when she tweeted the lyrics to Aventura’s classic “Obsesion” after Fox News held a panel to discuss her fashion sense. Despite having to deal with disparaging comments and threats against her, the newly minted politician continued to use her social media following to clapback against anyone who came at her. A crowd favorite, with more than 700,000 likes and more than 150,000 retweets, is one of her dancing up to her office in Washington, DC. It was a response to haters who framed a leaked college video of her dancing with friends as a “scandal.” AOC showed the world that she didn’t care and tweeted, “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous. Wait till they find out congresswomen dance, too …” She has spent the rest of the year making her now-celebrated social media clapbacks, and she’ll likely bring them along in the new year as well.