Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Never has a name so new to the American political scene had such an immediate, outsized effect on the conversation. The new Congresswoman for New York’s 14th district unseated Joseph Crowley, a 10-term incumbent Democrat and one of the most powerful representatives in the House, in June of 2018, after running a grassroots campaign on a Democratic Socialist platform that many wrote off as wishful (even radical) thinking.
Having only been sworn-in on Thursday, January 3, she’s already been interviewed by Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes and spawned more think pieces than any human could keep track of. From the time she won her primary, she has been the target of froth-mouthed rants from Fox News pundits such as Tucker Carlson (who was very upset when he realized he actually agreed with her on something) and Sean Hannity, and innumerable furious tweets about her and her beliefs. (So. Many. Tweets.) She was even booed by the GOP when she voted to make Nancy Pelosi the next Speaker of the House.
But it isn’t all conservative rage. The young politician — who was famously a bartender just a year ago — has an outsized social media following, gaining adoring fans on both Twitter and Instagram for her Instagram Live policy talks, clever tweets, and all-around realness. She’s a Millenial and a digital native who gets how to communicate on the internet. In her new job, this is rare.
With all the attention she’s drawn from both sides of the aisle, there’s a lot of noise about the youngest woman ever elected to Congress—noise which sometimes drowns out who she actually is and what she believes. And with the daily think pieces and breaking news on everything from where she may or may not have grown up to what she’s wearing, it’s hard to cut through the BS.
If that’s your aim, we’re here with everything you need to know about Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
She’s Still / She’s Still Alex From The Bronx
Before Ocasio-Cortez was walking around her neighborhood with Anderson Cooper in tow, she was a college graduate working as a bartender and a community organizer in New York. But let’s back up.
Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents (her dad was born and raised in the Bronx, her mom in Puerto Rico), she claims the working class borough as home, despite the fact that her parents made the move to Yorktown in Westchester County when she was just starting school. Conservatives often use the fact that she moved to the small suburb—which has a median household income of $133,819, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—to challenge her “Alex from the Bronx” working class origin story. But she has, several times, clarified her upbringing (most recently in her 60 Minutes interview), stating that her parents made the move north in order to give her better educational opportunities while she spent ample time with family in the city. Further, she says, going to school in Yorktown highlighted what doors a higher income can open for one’s educational opportunities and the self-perpetuating cycle of income inequality.
Fast forward a little, and while she was a sophomore at Boston University and the global financial crisis unfolded, her father, the family breadwinner, died of lung cancer, which she says threw her family into crisis. She tells Cooper, “We were really working on the classic American dream, and overnight it was all taken away. My mom was back to cleaning homes and driving school buses to keep a roof over our heads.”
After she graduated from BU, she moved back to the Bronx, where she worked in education advocacy, was a political activist (both campaigning for Bernie Sanders and taking supplies to the protesters at Standing Rock) and, just before winning her primary, was a bartender at a tequila and taco bar in Manhattan.
The Dreaded T-Word
Ocasio-Cortez does not talk about President Trump all that often, which surprises some people. But, as she told Cooper, she sees Trump as only a small aspect of what she’s fighting. She says, “The president certainly didn’t invent racism. But he’s certainly given a voice to it and expanded it and created a platform for those things.”
Her Twitter Game
Ocasio-Cortez is so good at Twitter. So, so good. Better than every politician and 99 percent of people who get paid to tweet. She knows how to be succinct, when to be serious, when to be silly or sarcastic, how to use the power of the Twitter thread. (To say nothing of her Instagram game, which includes live videos of her discussing policy while cooking dinner.)
The most important take-away from her Twitter is: she is very good at refocusing inane conversations. When a conservative pundit tried to use her childhood home in Yorktown to prove that she’s lying about her upbringing? She turned the focus onto income inequality.
When she took heat for proposing a “60 to 70 percent” marginal tax rate? She talked about corporate money in politics.
Messaging, messaging, messaging. Not only is she entertaining, she’s laser-focused.
Dancing Her Way Into Conservative Fury
In a tweet from a now-deleted Twitter account, user @AnonymousQ1776 dug up a video of her dancing joyfully on a rooftop with friends, a la Breakfast Club, as proof, again, that she’s lying about her upbringing. It quickly became a flashpoint on both sides of the aisle.
“She does not look like she’s oppressed,” reads one tweet. Because dancing around as a teenager is proof that you’ve never dealt with hardship… or… something? At any rate, both Ocasio-Cortez and her followers were baffled by the “gotcha” moment, and AOC dancing quickly became a meme, with someone even going so far as to create a Twitter account called AOC Dances To Every Song. Even Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy of the Breakfast Club tweeted their support for Ocasio-Cortez, with Ringwald stating, “That’s it, Alexandria you’re in the club.”
And now, Ocasio-Cortez is using her Twitter skills to get in on the fun and, of course, stay! On! Message! (While making her opposition look like the biggest set of fucking squares on earth.)
A Green New Deal
Before she was sworn into office, Ocasio-Cortez proposed what she is calling a Green New Deal, modeled after FDR’s New Deal, a set of federal programs which is often credited with pulling the U.S. out of the Great Depression and creating a stable economy. (The New Deal is also what gave us social programs such as Social Security.)
Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal is similar: a sweeping multi-faceted proposal that would create jobs with fair wages for every American, while simultaneously converting the U.S. economy to renewable energy sources in just 12 years. That’s right: no more fossil fuels in twelve years. According to Vox, the concept of the Green New Deal first surfaced in 2007, but this may just be the first time there’s been a groundswell of support that could make something this transformative possible.
Cooper’s voiceover called the plan “a highly ambitious, some would say unrealistic proposal” and he then challenged Ocasio-Cortez. What about cars? No fossil fuels at all? he asked.
To which she responded, “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?”
In short: “It’s ambitious, but at least it’s ambitious for good.”
The 70-Percent Tax Thing
The thing about the GND, though, is that it needs to be funded. And Ocasio-Cortez has a plan for that: a marginal tax rate of, she says, 60 or 70 percent.
Now, this figure has some people, to say the least, freaking the fuck out. And you may be asking yourself: how is she going to take 70 cents of every dollar I earn and expect me to feed my family? There are going to be long bread lines! This is going to be just like Venezuela!
First: breathe. What Ocasio-Cortez is proposing is a marginal tax rate, a progressive taxing system which means that “tax rates for an individual will increase as income rises,” according to Investopedia. In other words, you won’t be taxed 60 to 70 percent on every dollar you earn, but, as Ocasio-Cortez explains, “On your 10 millionth dollar, sometimes you see tax rates at 60 or 70 percent.” Right now, the highest tax bracket is 37 percent.
This may seem like a high rate for the mega-rich, but as others have pointed out, it’s actually a pretty moderate proposal. According to New York Magazine‘s Intelligencer, the American tax code had a similar marginal tax rate for the highest earners as late as 1980, before Reaganomics-slash-trickle-down-economics became the law of the land. And in fact, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower (who was a Republican), the marginal tax rate for the highest earners hovered just above 90 percent.
College For You, And For You, And For You! Everybody Gets To Go To College! Have Some Healthcare While You’re At It!
As a Democratic Socialist, Ocasio-Cortez also believes in free college and universal healthcare. Again, questions have been raised about how the country would pay for these programs, and she has, once again, stated that taxing the super-rich would help fund these programs. But she has also made some accounting errors.
Ocasio-Cortez has been criticized in the past for fudging important numbers, such as a gaffe in which she said that $21 trillion in “Pentagon accounting errors” could pay for two-thirds of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-all proposal. This was a grave misunderstanding of the Pentagon’s failed audit and confusing bookkeeping, and she was fact-checked by the Washington Post, earning four Pinocchios. All that said: the Congresswoman said in her interview with Cooper that if there’s money for a bloated military budget and a $2 trillion tax cut, they can find money for healthcare and education—especially given the outsized amount of money Americans spend on both education and healthcare compared to single payer systems around the world.
The fact of the matter is: Ocasio-Cortez is a green politician who has hit a nerve with both progressives and conservatives, and she and her radical platform are thrilling. You may not agree with everything she says, but you damn sure have to admire her ambition and passion.