AOC: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Defining Moment: From Bartender to Congresswoman

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez AOC
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC)

In a blaze of political fervour, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez propelled herself into the national spotlight, igniting waves of intrigue before, during, and after her historic election. This section recounts how a young woman, with an immigration background from Puerto Rico. became the loudest political voice for climate action and social justice in the United States. The journey starts with a young woman encumbered with student debt and working as a bartender, who challenged a powerful incumbent Democrat in the race for Congress just eight years after graduation and went on to sit in one of the highest legislative chambers in the country.  

AOC’s resounding reach started growing during her studies at Boston University. Witnessing the struggles of ordinary people like herself and recognising deep-rooted social stratification fueled AOC with a passion for change. She completed an internship with Senator Ted Kennedy, where she witnessed the separations of families by ICE, inspiring her to organise “Latinx Youth” in the Bronx and start a career as an Educational Director at the National Hispanic Institute. Her activism emerged from volunteering campaigns in grassroots activism and campaigns, including the Democrat Senator Bernie Sanders. AOC passionately advocated for Bernie Sanders’ perspective on economic justice and grassroots mobilisation. Her connection with diverse communities facilitated Sanders’ campaign and expanded the reach of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.  

In 2018, AOC announced her candidacy for the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district, representing the Bronx and Queens. The  democratic  incumbent, Joseph Crowley, had been in office for almost two decades, having established significant support. The progressive energy and grassroots movement AOC experienced during her volunteering for Bernie Sanders demanded change within the Democratic Party. Her conquest is attributed to her social media focus and other non-traditional news outlets. Appealing to underrepresented constituencies, including Latinos and younger voters, gained her widespread support.  Her victory was seen as a major upset and a clear sign of a changing political landscape. AOC’s charisma, authenticity, and ability to connect with the concerns of everyday Americans propelled her to victory.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory in the elections challenged and defied media expectations. Her campaign not only inspired hope and optimism among the youth and diverse populations in Queens and the Bronx but also saw strong support from gentrifying neighbourhoods, drawing parallels to the fervent backing seen for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign. A key factor behind Ocasio-Cortez’s triumph was her campaign’s astute recognition of the untapped potential of drop-off voters in the district. Armed with this insight, her team executed a targeted strategy to mobilise and engage these potential supporters, a move that ultimately played a decisive role in securing her electoral success. 

Crucial to her victory were the bold policy proposals she championed, including a single-payer health care system and tuition-free college. Additionally, Ocasio-Cortez’s collaboration with Saikat Chakrabarti’s Justice Democrats proved instrumental. By tapping into Chakrabarti’s organisation, which predominantly comprised individuals who had previously organised for Bernie Sanders, her campaign gained a powerful grassroots force that worked tirelessly to rally support for her candidacy. Complementing these efforts was a sophisticated data operation that targeted potential voters through digital ads and door-knocking. This meticulous approach established direct and personalised connections with voters, building trust and further solidifying her appeal. AOC’s remarkable triumph was an amalgamation of factors, including inspiring ideas, strategic collaboration, and data-driven campaigning. Her victory stands as a testament to the changing dynamics of political campaigns, emphasising the importance of connecting with diverse constituencies and mobilising grassroots efforts to achieve electoral success. 

A young migrant woman winning over the long-time incumbent male representative brought AOC into the national spotlight. She became an influential voice within the Democratic Party, advocating for progressive policies such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. AOC’s ability to articulate complex policy issues comprehensively and her commitment to systemic inequalities garnered her a colossal social media following and made her a leading youth voice nationally. AOC continued to champion her progressive agenda as a congresswoman, challenging the status quo and pushing for transformative change.

AOC’s defining moment as the underdog who triumphed against the odds launched her political career and inspired a new generation of progressive leaders. In a country, where global warming is a debatable occurrence, AOC has consistently confronted the US American society, becoming a prominent Congresswoman and climate change advocate. Her story is a testament to the power of grassroots organising, authentic representation, and the potential for change when people challenge the establishment.

IExRAIA Summer Research Program:

This article is an excerpt from a report on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez produced as part of a research program RAIA on climate leaders. For a full picture of AOC’s climate leadership read the full report. This project was fully financed by IE University’s School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs.

Authors: Maria Romero & Felipa Eichel

Editor: David Salinger

Project Lead: Joshua Dario Hasenstab


The shared Account of RAIA members and Alumni