In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to Congress. With 28 years-old AOC defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Joseph Crowley, 56, with more than 57 percent of the vote, with almost all precincts reporting. Ocasio-Cortez was running for the first time with a strong presence in social media. The champion of the working class was not the usual political candidate. After an unexpected win in the Democratic primary, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez won her race in the November election for New York’s 14th Congressional District with 78 percent of the vote.
Ocasio-Cortez has become a well-known name even outside U.S territory. In the past 2020 midterm elections, the incumbent won the democratic primary defeating Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with over 70 percent of the vote. Thereby securing her Democratic nomination for the November election. The article at hand will analyze what AOC’s reelection means to the younger generation who throughout history has been rather absent from the decision making process. It should be noted, this is by no means an endorsement to any political party. It is just an analysis based on a young incumbent’s victory.
Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx’s where she experienced income inequalities while growing up. She attended Boston University and graduated with degrees in International Relations and Economics. After the 2008 financial crisis, her father passed away and her family was forced to sell their house. As a result, Ocasio-Cortez had to do extra shifts as a bartender and waitress to support her family. In 2016, she volunteered as an organizer for Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign.
To this day, Ocasio-Cortez has proved to be assertive, unapologetic, and reachable to her constituents on social media carrying out organic conversations on Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram. This is a pattern other politicians have emulated to remain in touch with their constituents and to keep up with trends. Besides an overly active social media presence, the congresswoman has introduced an ambitious green new deal to address the exacerbating climate change. The younger generation has been vocal and passionate about achieving climate justice. Nevertheless, legislators have failed to place this issue at the top of their political agendas.
Her win resonated with young voters who were often neglected and taken for granted. Voting turnout has been key to candidates through the years. The more supporters cast their ballots on Election Day the better. It is simple but if supporters do not vote their public endorsement becomes passive because it will not guarantee candidates their seats. In the US, the youth has been notorious for their lack of turnout in elections. However, in the 2018 midterm elections, CIRCLE reported voters between the ages of 18 and 29 turned out in the highest number of the past quarter-century.
Despite an increase in youth voter turnout in 2018, this pattern is not always the same. In fact, the United States is one of the countries with the lowest rate of youth voter turnout. Research shows that less than 1 in 5 young people cast their votes on Super Tuesday. On the other hand, older citizens vote at a much higher rate. History shows youth voting levels have been low for quite some time. The question remains why.
Why are only a few young Americans voting? Some theories point out that American democracy could be transformed if young voters turned out at the same rates as older ones do. This would allow for more young officials, such as AOC, to represent them. Furthermore, their votes would guarantee a different political agenda; one wherein the climate crisis is regarded as a top priority. Another common issue the American youth faces is overly expensive college tuition leaving many with debts for life. Young voters have the power to vote out incumbents who continue to further the agendas of corporations rather than theirs.
In the past, the majority of young Americans have refrained from voting and running for office. Consequently, it has become normal to see power rest in the hands of older legislators. Some who have decided to stay out of politics for an array of reasons such as the complex voter registration rules, lack of candidates who understand the youth, and distrust of the establishment. In a democracy, everyone is free to vote or not to do so. The reasons behind the latter are different in a case-to-case basis.
Millennials and Generation Z comprise a significant number of the U.S population. However, the majority of the Representatives and Senators are older. According to the Congressional Research, the average age at the beginning of the 116th Congress was 57.6 years for Representatives and 62.9 years for Senators. The number previously stated raises the question is the youth represented in Congress?
There are age requirements candidates must meet to run for office. The United States Constitution requires Representatives to be at least 25 years old when they take office. In contrast, the age requirement for Senators is to be 30 years old when they take office. Despite these age requirements, the majority of political candidates and incumbents tend to be twice the required age. This becomes an issue when longtime incumbents do not take into account the needs of the younger generation. Are 50 something-year-olds able to understand the concerns of the youth?
For the first time in U.S history, Congress is no longer comprised of white rich men. The 116th Congress has been the most racially and ethnically diverse. In addition, the membership of the current Congress has been one of the most gender-inclusive. Women comprise 25 percent of Senate and 23 percent of the House.
Though there is progress, women’s representation in politics continues to fall short. Women make up 50 percent of the population. Hence, they are still fighting for parity in politics. Other minority groups such as African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian Americans continue to be underrepresented. Religion poses another representation issue. The majority of members in Congress have been Christians; however, for the first time in history, two Muslim women serve in the House of Representatives.
Recent results from the 2020 midterm elections marked a milestone in the country being the first time two openly gay black men won the democratic primaries. Although the candidates still have to wait for the results from the November election, their victories in the Democratic primary redefine positions of power. Positions that were often excluded from minorities.
In the U.S, there are two ruling political parties Democrats and Republicans. These folks are the ones who put in place institutional barriers making it difficult for third party candidates or political freshmen to thrive. For instance, not all presidential candidates can be in the presidential debates unless they meet the requirements set by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which is controlled by Democrats and Republicans. The CPD requires parties to get 15 percent of support in multiple national polls to qualify. It is tough to reach that number for newcomers who at times are not even included in the polls.
Money represents another challenge for those who are not part of the establishment. Political campaigns are extremely expensive. Ocasio-Cortez mentioned in her 2018 ad that women like her are not supposed to run for office. This is a sad reality that must change. The majority of incumbents take money from political action committees PACs and super PACs.
It is not uncommon when lobbying groups and corporations make donations to specific candidates through super PACs. The former reinforces a strong sense of “You scratch my back, I scratch yours”’ In politics as well as in any other context there is an undeniable truth that is “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. In other words, when candidates who are running for office take millions from super PACs they are expected to advance the interests of those companies. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a heavy critic of those that take money from Wall Street and other corporations. For that reason, she decided to use her savings to begin funding her first campaign in 2018.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent win in the 2020 democratic primary could potentially send a powerful message to her fellow Millennials and Generation Z. A message regarding their place in politics and how vital it is. This could translate to encouraging the youth to vote and run for office when they meet the age requirement. In this way transforming American politics by becoming more active and redefining campaigning and other political practices that seem outdated and not to mention raise concerns.
Guissell is a young lady born and raised in Nicaragua, the heart of Central America. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and is deeply passionate about advocacy, human rights, and climate change. Despite being in lockdown, she has focused on speaking up about vital global issues through social media to trigger change. Lastly, her passions extend to coffee, good literature, and chocolates.