Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the Politician We’ve Been Waiting For

Gone are the days of the dull, cookie-cutter Congress.

Thanks to the swearing in of the 116th Congress on January 3, a record number of women will serve in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. According to data from Pew, 102 House members and 25 Senators will be women, with roughly 35 percent of House representatives winning their seats for the first time. Not only is Congress improving its gender ratios, but the newly elected freshmen class is also the most racially diverse in history, including the first Muslim-American, Latina, and Native American women elected in history.

Of the countless newsmakers headed to Washington, few have garnered star power quite like 29-year-old Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, NY-14), the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Having grown up in a working-class family in the Bronx, New York, Ocasio-Cortez saw firsthand the impact of policy on hard working Americans. Following her graduation from Boston University with degrees in economics and international relations, she returned to the Bronx to work as an educational director and community organizer. In 2017, she announced her intention to challenge sitting Democratic congressman, Joe Crowley, in the district’s June 2018 Democratic primary. She then went on to win the November 6 general election that same year.

Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory was widely dubbed the “Biggest Upset of 2018,” though a look at her strategy and platform provide key insights into her success. Campaigning as a self-described Democratic Socialist, Ocasio-Cortez’s progressive agenda does not shy away from the nation’s most pressing issues. Medicare for all, gun control, criminal justice reform, abolishing I.C.E., and a Green New Deal are just a few of the issues at the forefront of her work. In embracing a platform full of policies that even non-progressives applaud, Ocasio-Cortez is stripping away the fear of the word “socialist” by emphasizing the context in which Americans can benefit. In an interview with Meet the Press following her primary victory, she explained, “I'm not trying to impose an ideology on all several hundred members of Congress, but I do think that, once again, it's not about selling an ‘-ism‘ or an ideology or a label or a color. This is about selling our values.”

Since her election, Ocasio-Cortez’s presence—in social media, in her own community, and in the halls of the Capitol—has been nothing short of electrifying. Voters of every age and background have come to see politics as something that can be interesting and exciting thanks to the accessibility Ocasio-Cortez provides as far as what being a member of Congress really looks like. Coupled with the fact that her campaign refused to take corporate donations, her efforts to “humanize government” through Instagram videos and a fiery Twitter presence bring Ocasio-Cortez closer to Americans than any representative has ever bothered to do before.

As the country heads into 2019 with an understanding that the year ahead will likely be as contentious (if not more) as those in the recent past, leaders like Ocasio-Cortez provide at least a glimmer of hope that a government that looks and feels more like the people it represents will serve in the nation’s best interests.