Anyone following American politics can notice the increasing power and influence of up-and-coming political star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), a member of the Democratic Party and the youngest congresswoman ever to be elected.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx and belongs to an everyday working-class family. Her mother was Puerto Rican and cleaned homes for a living – a family business in which all members would help occasionally. Growing up, AOC earned degrees in Economics and International Relations at Boston University and first worked as an Educational Director.
After graduation, Ocasio-Cortez moved back to the Bronx to work at an educational nonprofit, with a side gig as a bartender at a Manhattan taco joint. Most of her peers were piecing together two or three jobs to stay ahead of the bills. “Spoiler alert: the gig economy is about not giving people full-time jobs,” she says. “So it should be no secret why millennials want to decouple your insurance status from your employment status.”
As the financial reality of her country caught up with her family, she had to work two jobs at the same time, which were also not relevant to her field of studies – she worked as a waitress, as she often mentions. Her personal journey is not a piece of information one has to dig deep to find: everything can be found on her website and most facts have been repeated ample times in her tweets and interviews.
Social populism, is a political ideology that combines left-wing politics with populist rhetoric and themes. Its rhetoric often consists of anti-elitism, opposition to the Establishment and speaking for the "common people".
Populism is merely a concern, whether genuine or feigned, for the common people. Today’s most prominent populists include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Bernie Sanders—people who base their policies on valid evidence and have given their lives to fighting everything that the far right represents.
AOC's website does not only feature her personal story, but also presents the key issues she advocates for and brings up in debates: Medicare for All, housing as a human right, gun control, immigration justice, mobilizing against climate change, women's and LGBTQIA+ rights, and more. Hence, one of the ways in which her persona is acquired and understood by the public is through the issues she identifies with.
This is exactly why young Americans have become increasingly attracted to democratic socialism, which aims to build a stronger social safety net through democratic elections. But there is a difference between ideologies and reality!
Ocasio-Cortez’s image has been well-crafted; both through her own social media and through the way traditional and digital media portray her.
Part of Ocasio Cortez's power is in how she communicates directly with the people through her social media. AOC quickly came off as a social media "expert", with many of her posts going viral and steering numerous reactions. She became known for responding to negative and positive commentary about her and boldly expressing her opinion about current events without sugar-coating – with a witty sense of humor, too, when needed.
As a result, by mid-July 2018, she reportedly had attracted 4.8 million media interactions, according to NewsWhip, while all of the Democrats running for president had reached a combined 6.5 million. Today, she has more than 12.8 million Twitter followers and continues gaining more and more.
Being quite young and a rather new face in politics, AOC doesn't mince her words for better or for worse, and appears as "her original self", bringing a refreshing touch to political speeches. These observations can potentially make her fit under more definitions of populism found in scholarship.
AOC doesn't hesitate to target 'the elites'. She doesn’t let one forget about the differences between a rich male billionaire and a broke, debt ridden millennial and always confronts every questions by addressing her motto pushing socialism is the answer for everything wrong with this capitalistic world.
These days we just can’t get enough of the Commie congresswoman from The Bronx. Her real political power is still blessedly minimal, yet the space she occupies in our conversations is infinite.
Democracy provides every citizen the freedom of decision in every aspect, including in choosing the ruling party. But populism, a tactic of politicians, is instilled in the minds of the less or unprivileged citizens, who are taken in by the false promises. Thus populism, the process of indoctrination the unversed in favor of a particular party, is definitely a threat to democracy and AOC a face of it.
New generations of lefties, who are rooted in the lived experience of discrimination and fluent in the language of racial justice, stand behind her. In so many ways, the future of Bernie’s movement looks a lot like AOC and only time will tell if it’s good or bad.