NEWS
07/11/2018 12:15 GMT | Updated 07/11/2018 13:32 GMT

How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Became The Youngest Woman Ever Elected To Congress

"Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last night made history as the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress.

The 29-year-old comfortably beat her Republican opponent, Anthony Pappas, to win in New York’s 14th District.

In an electrifying victory speech, she said: 

“We made history tonight.

“This is what is possible when everyday people come together in the collective realisation that all our actions, no matter how small or how large, are powerful, worthwhile and capable of lasting change.

“Words cannot express my gratitude to every organiser, every small-dollar donor, every working parent and dreamer who helped make this movement happen.

“And that’s exactly what this is. Not a campaign or an election day, but a movement, a larger movement for social, economic and racial justice in.”

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Humble Beginnings

Ocasio-Cortez was born in 1989 to a mother from Puerto Rico and a father from South Bronx, growing up in an area she described as where “your zip code determines you destiny”.

In a campaign advert, which garnered millions of views upon its release, she added: “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.”

Early Life – And The Asteroid

Ocasio-Cortez is about as far from the wealthy class that dominates US politics as it’s possible to be.

Her father passed away in 2008 and she worked as a bartender and waitress to make ends meet, and her mother droves buses while they fought to stop their house being taken away from them. Her mother later had to leave the Bronx and move to Florida because she could no longer afford life there.

She was a talented high school student and has an asteroid named after her – 23238 Ocasio-Cortez – for winning second place in Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

The Political Spark

During the 2016 US Presidential Election, Ocasio-Cortez worked as a staffer on Bernie Sanders’ ultimately unsuccessful bid for the presidency. 

After Trump’s victory, she decided to embark on a road trip to gain “first-person idea of what was going on” in America.

She described visiting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 as a “tipping point”, adding: “I was at Standing Rock in 2016, and I saw how all of the people there — particularly the Native people and the Lakota Sioux — were putting their whole lives and everything that they had on the line for the protection of their community.

“I saw how a corporation had literally militarised itself against the American people, and I just felt like we were at a point where we couldn’t afford to ignore politics anymore.

“We couldn’t afford to write off our collective power in self-governance anymore out of cynicism. It was the day that I got off camp that a national organisation, Brand New Congress, called me and asked if I’d be willing to run.”

Rick Loomis via Getty Images

The Political Coup

In what was the biggest primary upset of 2018, Ocasio-Cortez beat Joe Crowley, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and the person touted as a future leader of the Democratic party. It was the first time Crowley faced a serious primary challenge in 14 years and marked an incredible victory for Ocasio-Cortez.

“This is not an end, this is the beginning. This is the beginning because the message that we sent the world tonight is that it’s not OK to put donors before your community,” she told her supporters at the time.

The Money

What made her victory even more unlikely was her refusal to accept corporate funding. Out of the more than $300,000 Ocasio-Cortez raised throughout her campaign (compared to Crowley’s $3 million), about two-thirds were made up of small, under-$200 contributions

“By not taking money from lobbyists, by taking money from working-class people, we can legislate for working-class people,” she told CBS News.

She was up against massive corporations who donated to Crowley, including Facebook and Google.

The Socialist

Ocasio-Cortez is a dues-paying member of The Democratic Socialists of America and is trying to undo the stigma surrounding the term “socialist”.

She said in June: “It’s really scary or it’s easy to generate fear around an idea or around an -ism when you don’t provide any substance to it. 

“I believe that every American should have stable, dignified housing; health care; education — that the most very basic needs to sustain modern life should be guaranteed in a moral society. You can call that whatever you want to call that.”

The Win

Last night Ocasio-Cortez marked her win with the speech, transcribed above.

She also identified what policies she intends to target in office, including abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, student loan debt (which she called “a ticking time bomb for our economy”) and “the role of money in politics”.

The Bigger Picture

Ocasio-Cortez is also part of a historic number of women ― and a dramatic increase in women of colour specifically ― who won nominations in the 2018 midterms.

There was also a historic gender gap that showed women more supportive of Democrats than Republicans. According to VoteCast, women voted considerably more in favour of their congressional Democratic candidate. About six in 10 voted for the Democrat, compared with four in 10 for the Republican. Men, by contrast, were more evenly divided in their vote.

In victory speeches across the country, women acknowledged it has been a ground-breaking year.