Maureen Dowd: Democratic socialist pushes past sexism on the trail

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: 'I wake up every day and I’m a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx. Every single day'

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “I wake up every day and I’m a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx.” Photograph: David Dee Delgado/New York Times

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “I wake up every day and I’m a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx.” Photograph: David Dee Delgado/New York Times

 

At dawn on the day after the election that rocked her world and her party, working on three hours of sleep, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walked out of her Bronx apartment building. “A sanitation truck pulled up,” said the 28-year-old with the contagious smile and an energy that impressed even the dragon-energy president. “The driver reached out his arm to give me a high-five. What that moment tells me is what we did was right. We are touching the hearts of working people. Democrats should be getting high-fives from sanitation truck drivers – that is what should be happening in America.”

It was a week when the Death Star of Donald Trump’s evil galactic Space Force blanketed the Earth with darkness. The president who slipped into office through a tear in the space-time continuum cemented right-wing control over all three branches of government. He further Foxified the White House by offering a top job to Bill Shine, the former Fox News enforcer who oversaw the creepy cover-up of the Roger Ailes-Bill O’Reilly venery.

Trump got another pick for a supreme court that was already depressingly busy passing down judgments detrimental to women, labour, migrants and Muslims – raising the shivery spectre of even more extreme decisions to come stripping existential rights from women, gays, minorities and just about everyone else because Democrats have no way to stop it.

I feel like there’s an effort to say that my win is somewhat divisive, like I’m being framed as an antagoniser. That’s not at my core who I am

The Democrats wandered the capital, looking stunned. It finally seemed to be sinking in that if you insist on putting up presidential candidates who leave voters cold, really bad things can happen. And through this black miasma, one small corner of the galaxy twinkled, offering hope, restoring an audacity, fight and sense of storytelling that had been atrophying in the Democratic Party. “The Republicans galvanise their base by inciting a lot of fear; they operate on a lot of mythmaking,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “So we have to have something compelling. We shouldn’t be afraid to be bold.” As she told Stephen Colbert, in a line straight out of a J Lo Cinderella movie, the president from Queens won’t know “how to deal with a girl from the Bronx”.

Progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrates with supporters. Photograph: Scott Heins/Getty Images
Progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrates winning the Democratic primary with supporters. Photograph: Scott Heins/Getty Images

‘Shocking things’

“I understand men like him,” the young woman who knocked off 10-term congressman Joe Crowley told me in a phone interview on Friday. The district encompasses the Trump Golf Links. Recalling her days as a waitress and bartender slinging guac at a taco joint in Union Square just a few months ago, she continued: “Those were the people that I had to deal with so much in hospitality. He’s not just a figure. He’s a type of person. People like that say shocking things to gauge your reaction and to read if you flinch. I don’t flinch. I’m not going to flinch.”

She did not dwell on Trump in her campaign, preferring to offer a positive vision. “We get dragged on to his turf,” she said. “I feel like we should be catching up to the dice game by now, the Twitter distractions, the cries for attention.”

It has been a heady few days for Ocasio-Cortez. After failed attempts during her campaign to get a Wikipedia page because she was deemed not notable enough, she now has one. After being told by her family when she was growing up that the New York Times was too expensive to buy and being told by her teachers that the paper was too advanced for her, now she keeps landing on the front page, a metamorphosis she calls “thrilling”.

Her mother, a Puerto Rican native, flew in from her home in Florida for the last three days of the campaign. “I think she thought I was running for a city council seat. She’s like, ‘Okay, that’s cute, go for it,’” Ocasio-Cortez said. But when reporters knocked on their door, the proud mother proffered that her daughter wants to be president. “Oh my God, I was so upset,” the candidate said, laughing. “I’m not even old enough to do that.”

Mentors of mine were under a big pressure to minimise their femininity to make it. I’m not going to do that

The democratic socialist is wary of being painted as a radical. “I feel like there’s an effort to say that my win is somewhat divisive, like I’m being framed as an antagoniser,” she said. “That’s not at my core who I am.” She said she knew the status quo needed to be challenged after she asked 15 of her fellow restaurant workers if they had healthcare, and all of them said no. Ocasio-Cortez said it is “patently false” to assume she will join the group plotting to overthrow Nancy Pelosi. But she wouldn’t say she will back Pelosi, either. “The Republican Party just had one of their youngest speakers of the House in modern history,” she said. “They groom their young.” The funny thing, as the New York Times’s Carl Hulse points out, is that the 56-year-old Crowley was the fresh blood of the Democratic Party.

‘Dishonest Trumpism’

I asked Ocasio-Cortez about Steve Schmidt, the John McCain 2008 strategist, and others railing against her “dishonest progressivism” as simply a variation on “dishonest Trumpism”, citing her promises to provide job guarantees from the government, free college education and Medicare for all.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the Bronx’s pride parade on June 17th: unexpected victory suggests a Democratic establishment removed from its grass roots. Photograph: David Delgado/Reuters
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the Bronx’s pride parade. Photograph: David Delgado/Reuters

“It’s not like they expect improved and expanded Medicare tomorrow,” she said. “But we need to name our star so we can chart a course.” The Boston University graduate, who has a boyfriend and likes to do yoga and write essays in her spare time, said she tries to move past sexism on the trail. “Mentors of mine were under a big pressure to minimise their femininity to make it,” she said. “I’m not going to do that. That takes away my power. I’m not going to compromise who I am.

“I wake up every day and I’m a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx. Every single day.”

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