Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Biography

Democratic Socialist and Youngest Woman Elected to Congress

Women's March 2019 - New York City
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Democratic House Of Representatives address the crowd and kicks off the 3rd Annual Woman's March in the borough of Manhattan in NY on January 19, 2019, USA. The rally took place 2 years after the inauguration of President Donald Trump thousands gather to protest equal rights at the 2019 Women's March. John Lamparski / Getty Images

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an American politician and former community organizer. Her embrace of democratic socialism and economic, social, and racial justice issues earned her a large following among fellow progressive millennials, which propelled her to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her ascent is noteworthy because she defeated the fourth-highest ranking Democrat in Congress and became the youngest woman elected to the House.

Fast Facts: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

  • Occupation: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York
  • Nickname: AOC
  • Born: Oct. 13, 1989, in Bronx County, New York City, New York
  • Parents: Sergio Ocasio (deceased) and Blanca Ocasio-Cortez
  • Education: B.A. in Economics and International Relations, Boston University
  • Known For: Youngest woman elected to Congress. She was 29 when she took office in January 2019
  • Interesting Fact: Ocasio-Cortez worked as a waitress and bartender before running for Congress
  • Famous Quote: “Where did I get off? I mean, I’m going to tell people that I, as a waitress, should be their next congresswoman?”

Early Life

Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York on Oct. 13, 1989, to Sergio Ocasio, an architect raised in South Bronx, and Blanca Ocasio-Cortez, a native of Puerto Rico who cleaned houses and drove a school bus to help the family pay the bills. The couple met when he was visiting family in Puerto Rico; they married and moved to a working-class neighborhood in New York City. Both parents had been born into poverty and wanted their daughter and son, Gabriel Ocasio-Cortez, to have more prosperous childhoods. The family eventually relocated from New York City to a wealthy suburb, Yorktown Heights, where they lived in a modest home and sent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a mostly white high school, where she excelled.

Ocasio-Cortez graduated from Yorktown High School in 2007 and entered Boston University, initially studying biochemistry. She got her first taste of politics by volunteering to make phone calls for Democrat Barack Obama's successful 2008 presidential campaign. Her life changed dramatically, though, when her father was diagnosed with lung cancer while she was at college. Ocasio-Cortez said her father's death her sophomore year forced her to put all of her energy into school. "The last thing my father had told me in the hospital was ‘Make me proud,’" she said in an interview with The New Yorker. "I took it very literally. My G.P.A. skyrocketed.”

After her father's death, Ocasio-Cortez shifted gears and began studying economics and international relations. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Boston University in 2011. By that time she had also stepped back into politics, working part-time through college in the Boston office of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, the so-called liberal lion and surviving member of the Kennedy political dynasty.

The 2016 Campaign and a Career in Politics

After college, Ocasio-Cortez worked as a waitress and bartender. She became involved in politics at the national level in the 2016 Democratic primaries, when she canvassed for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Democratic Socialist who unsuccessfully sought the presidential nomination against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

After Sanders lost, like-minded Democratic Socialists began recruiting candidates to run for the House and Senate as part of an effort called Brand New Congress. In the fall of 2016, as Republican Donald Trump was heading toward a stunning electoral upset over Clinton, Ocasio-Cortez's brother sent an application to the group on her behalf, and her campaign for Congress was born. Like Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez supports such proposals as free public college and guaranteed family leave.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez bio
A marcher holds a sign that say, 'If You're Scared of Me, You Are The Problem' with an image of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Democratic of the 14th congressional district of the House Of Representatives in front of Trump International Hotel during the Woman's March in the borough of Manhattan in NY on January 19, 2019. Ira L. Black - Corbis / Getty Images

In the June 2018 Democratic primary, Ocasio-Cortez soundly defeated U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, who had amassed a great deal of influence not just in his district but among his party's congressional leadership over two decades. Ocasio-Cortez went on to defeat a Republican, college professor Anthony Pappas, in the fall election to take the seat representing New York state's solidly Democratic 14th Congressional District, which is centered in New York City and covers parts of the Bronx and Queens boroughs. Nearly half the residents of the district are Hispanic, and fewer than 20 percent are white.

At age 29, she became the youngest woman to win a House seat. The youngest person elected to Congress was William Charles Cole Claiborne of Tennessee, who was 22 when he began serving in 1797.

Democratic Socialist Ideology

Ocasio-Cortez has championed economic, social, and racial justice in the House. In particular, she has taken on the issues of wealth disparity and the treatment of undocumented immigrants in the United States. She proposed taxing the wealthiest Americans at income-tax rates of as much as 70 percent; called for the abolition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Homeland Security agency that arrests and deports people living in the United States illegally; and pushed for the elimination of for-profit prisons.

Democratic Lawmakers Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez And Sen. Ed Markey Unveil Their Green New Deal Resolution
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks as Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) (R) and other Congressional Democrats listen during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Sen. Markey and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez held a news conference to unveil their Green New Deal resolution. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Her most ambitious policy proposals were contained in the so-called "Green New Deal," which she said is designed to combat climate change by shifting the energy portfolio in the United States away from fossil fuels to all renewable sources such as wind and solar within 12 years. The Green New Deal also proposed non-energy moves such as a "job guarantee program to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one,” as well as universal health care and a basic income. Much of the new spending to fund those programs would come from higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Many political observers have suggested that Ocasio-Cortez—whose campaign was funded by small donors and not corporate interests, and whose agenda sets her apart from the establishment members of the Democratic Party—has replaced Sanders as the de facto leader of the left.

Sources