When something isn’t working out we tend to ask “si sirve o no sirve” which translates literally to “does it serve or doesn’t it serve?” But when was the last time we asked ourselves that about our Congressperson? With Primary Elections coming up and the heated debates about issues like: immigration, healthcare, education, climate change, women’s rights, affordable housing and criminal justice reform—it’s time to start asking who is serving who? It’s a question Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made the center of her campaign ethos—and it’s working. She is the first Latina and the first woman or color to run for the seat and it’s her passion, her comprehensive platform, and her boots on the ground grassroots organizing that is energizing voters and pushing for progressive democratic leadership that is free from corporate bribes.
As a third generation Bronx Puertorriqueña, Ocasio-Cortez’s bid for New York City’s 14th Congressional District is personal. New York’s 14th covers the Eastern Bronx and North Central Queens, all of which are historically diverse and on the lower side of the socioeconomic spectrum.
“Our district is working class, our district is brown and black and immigrant, we’re multilingual, working class to low income. And we even have some of those Trump pockets as well,” Ocasio-Cortez tells HipLatina. But as it turns out her opponent and nearly two decades long Congressional incumbent, Joe Crowley is also taking the campaign personally by way of lukewarm advocacy and allyship we’re used to seeing when the establishment is challenged. This has resulted in a loud anti-Trump platform but not much else, a method Ocasio-Cortez says isn’t speaking to the real issues that voters care about, especially now as the grip of Trump’s flagrantly bad public policy is being seen and felt by constituents.
“What voters really want to hear about is, healthcare and education and wages and criminal justice reform and immigration reform. They want to at least hear new ideas coming out from their members of Congress and not this petty anti Trump message that isn’t mobilizing.”
In many ways, Crowley’s presence in the Bronx is emblematic of how both Democrats and Republicans want votes from communities of color but only acknowledge their struggles during elections. As in the case of Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, who was elected by a huge margin of black women voters—despite a problematic campaign—only to vote on a bill deregulating banks, clearly not a move in favor of those who put him in office. But those types of examples are hardly new and yet they are increasingly hard to handle as people of color are further marginalized and scapegoated with very little tangible opposition or protection from the left.
“I just feel so much of what’s happening nationally is reflected in our district, particularly as it pertains to the weaknesses of the Democratic party. The struggles that they have in actually being effective is also getting concentrated in this district, so it’s all kind of this perfect storm” Ocasio-Cortez says. “What motivates me is that our campaign, the story we’re telling, it isn’t a narrative, it isn’t a story we’re trying to convince voters of. We’re telling the truth and we’ve been so taken over by special interests that no one has been telling the truth for a very long time.”
For Ocasio-Cortez, “speaking truth to power” isn’t difficult since her platform of service simply represents what needs to be done in order to foster the dignity and prosperity of the people in her district. It includes the type of common sense policies that aim at making the lives of the most vulnerable populations better, like medicare for all, putting an end to ICE, housing as a human right, $15 minimum wage, and support for seniors among others.
“I am three generations deep in this community.” she says. “My previous experience includes working with Latino youth, I was an educational director with the National Hispanic institute. I highlighted projects to deal with early childhood literacy and storytelling in the South Bronx. My background is working with families here, and not only working with families but being a part of a family that struggled.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s background also includes work on the Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. And although it didn’t have the outcome everyone wanted, it energized and motivated her to go deeper into her activism and continue fighting for what is right. She marched with Black Lives Matter, drove across the country to Flint Michigan and stood with water protectors at Standing Rock Reservation. It wasn’t until she returned home that she got “the call” to run.
“Coming right off of camp at Standing Rock, seeing how the Lakota people were putting their bodies on the line as corporations had literally militarized themselves against American people. I was in a very galvanized place and when they asked me, I started to look at what was going on in my own backyard,” she says.
Now as the June 26th New York Primary draws nearer, she’ll be knocking on doors and shaking hands on her quest for what she calls “a political revolution.” When HipLatina asked her what advice she has for other young Latinas who want to be the change in their communities, her advice was not to go to law school or to get a lucrative internship on Capitol Hill, but to get involved on a more personal, local level.
“The best thing that you can do if you want to serve is to get out of DC and get into the streets and you got to be with those groups that are actively making change… I need to be organizing around the issues that residents around here really care about,” she says. “If you really want to serve in a true authentic way, you’ve got to be on that front line.”