Born in the Parkchester neighborhood of The Bronx, Alexandria’s parents moved the family 30 minutes north to Yorktown in search of a stronger public school for her and her brother. Alexandria’s mother was born and raised in Puerto Rico and worked throughout her childhood as a domestic worker. Alexandria’s father was a second-generation Bronxite, who ran a small business in The Bronx. Throughout her childhood, Representative Ocasio-Cortez traveled regularly to The Bronx to spend time with her large, close extended family. From an early age, the stark contrast in educational opportunities available to her and her cousins, based on their respective zip codes, made an impression on her.
After high school, Alexandria attended Boston University, and graduated with degrees in Economics and International Relations (and tens of thousands of dollars in student loans). During this period she also had the opportunity to intern in the office of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Her role in Senator Kennedy’s office provided a firsthand view of the heartbreak families endured after being separated by ICE. These experiences led the Congresswoman to organize Latinx youth in The Bronx and across the United States, eventually, she began work as an Educational Director with the National Hispanic Institute, a role in which she helped Americans, DREAMers and undocumented youth in community leadership and college readiness.
Following the financial crisis of 2008, tragedy struck when her father passed away suddenly from cancer. The medical bills and other growing expenses placed their home at risk of foreclosure. Alexandria pulled extra shifts to work as a waitress and bartender to support her family, deepening her commitment to issues impacting working-class people.
First Political Campaign
During the 2016 presidential election, Alexandria worked as a volunteer organizer for Bernie Sanders in the South Bronx, expanding her skills in electoral organizing and activism.
Shortly thereafter, she was inspired by demonstrations being led by indigenous communities at Standing Rock, South Dakota in opposition to a new pipeline. She decided to travel across the country to join them, and left the experience resolved to dedicate her life to public service. A few months later, she launched her first campaign for Congress.
“The campaign was a long shot from the start. ‘Everyone said, ‘She’s really cute, but maybe next time,’’ Ocasio-Cortez recalls. Crowley, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, was a prolific fundraiser who had been in Congress since 1999. Her campaign was mostly volunteers. Staffers wrote their job titles on Post-it notes above their desks in their small Queens office. Ever the activist, her campaign had an informal, flexible structure resembling “leaderless” social movements like the one she saw at Standing Rock.” – Time magazine, March 21,2019
In June 2018, Alexandria’s campaign shocked the political establishment, when she defeated incumbent Joe Crowley. Her campaign was driven entirely by grassroots volunteers and donations. The Congresswoman refused to take any contributions from corporations, a practice she continues to this day.
In January of 2019, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez was sworn-in as the youngest woman and youngest Latina ever to serve in Congress. Her first piece of legislation was the Green New Deal resolution, which envisions a 10-year national mobilization, akin to FDR’s New Deal, that would put millions to work in good-paying, union jobs repairing the nation’s infrastructure, reducing air and water pollution, and fighting the intertwined economic, social, racial and climate crises crippling the country.
Over her first term, she introduced a total of 23 pieces of legislation. Among them is her Loan Shark Prevention Act, which would cap credit card interest rates at 15%. The Congresswoman also introduced a group of bills collectively titled ‘Just Society,’ which would raise the federal poverty line, include immigrants in social safety net programs, require federal contractors to pay a living wage, strengthen renters' rights, and decrease recidivism.
In her first term, the Congresswoman saw three amendments pass into law, despite Republican control of the Senate and Presidency. One shifted $5 million from the failed war on drugs to treatment for opioid addiction and another secured $10 million to clean up toxic bombardment sites in Puerto Rico. Most notably, the Congresswoman also worked with Senator Schumer to include a Funeral Assistance Program into the COVID-19 relief package. To date, the program has reimbursed over a billion in funeral expenses to Americans who lost loved ones to COVID-19.
“There are some politicians who are very good on policy, and there are some politicians who are good communicators, and there are some politicians that have a way about them that relates very well to ordinary people. Alexandria has all three of those characteristics.” – Senator Bernie Sanders
The Congresswoman also quickly gained a reputation as an effective questioner in committee hearings. Through committee hearings, she pressured a major pharmaceutical company into lowering the price of a drug that reduces HIV transmission; forced a defense contractor to return $16.1 million in federal funding; and got Michael Cohen to state on the record that President Donald Trump was engaging in tax fraud and to divulge other information that helped the New York Attorney General open an investigation into the Trump Organization.
The Congresswoman also maintained a commitment to doing a town hall nearly every month of her first term, hosting a total of 25 town halls, all of which provided language translation services and accessibility for the hearing impaired. The District Office also opened cases for 1,400 constituents, assisting with everything from immigration visas and jSocial Security payments to small business loans and veterans benefits. Various institutions in NY-14 also received $470M in federal grants during our first term.
In January 2021, Rep. AOC was sworn-in for her second term in Congress. Just a few days later, on January 6, the Capitol was breached for the first time since the War of 1812. Along with several colleagues, Rep. AOC hid in one of the office buildings until the Capitol was secured and the House was called to vote to verify the results of the 2020 presidential election. In the wake of the attacks, the Congresswoman called to expel Members of Congress who had voted to invalidate the elections and who had urged on those domestic terrorists that attacked the Capitol. She also voted for a second time to impeach President Trump.
In March, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan – President Biden’s plan to help the nation recover from COVID-19. The Congresswoman and other progressives fought hard to include key provisions, including an expanded Child Tax Credit, which most families began receiving in monthly installments this summer.
“When I ask [Rep. Ayanna] Pressley what popular narratives [about Rep. Ocasio-Cortez] miss, she cites humility. ‘She certainly did not set out to be an icon or even a history maker. I think it was her destiny, but there is no calculation.’ As Ocasio-Cortez puts it, ‘I don’t want to be a savior, I want to be a mirror.’” - Vanity Fair, October 28, 2020.
In April, the Congresswoman reintroduced her Green New Deal resolution – growing the list of co-sponsors to over 115. In the two years since the resolution was first introduced, the Green New Deal has inspired over a dozen pieces of legislation and 10 regional Green New Deals.
In August, after the federal eviction moratorium expired, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez joined Rep. Cori Bush for a sit-in on the Capitol Steps that lasted several days. Ultimately, the Biden administration reversed its position and extended the ban. Though their executive order was struck down by conservatives on the Supreme Court several weeks later, this time was invaluable for families and landlords trying to access Emergency Rental Relief and stay in their homes.
In September, unprecedented floods devastated the Congresswoman’s district and other parts of New York and New Jersey. Sadly, several constituents were killed – including a two year old - drowned in basement apartments. In the aftermath, the Congresswoman worked with the President and other to get one of the fastest FEMA disaster declarations in history, so constituents could apply for up to $34k in financial relief.