Tuesday, January 22, 2019

THE “AOC PHENOMENON” AND THE AMERICAN WOMEN IN POLITICS


By Lily Hikam*)

Try typing in the words “Alex” or “Ale” or any combination thereof on the Google search tab nowadays, and the first thing that pops up would be “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez”. For those who are unfamiliar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or as she is well known colloquially with the initial AOC, is a freshman (first year) Democratic Congresswoman from New York, representing districts that encompass Queens and parts of the Bronx. Her win and the victory of other women candidates in the 2018 midterm election was a historic win for women and minorities in American politics that have long been dominated by White men. Her victory and others’ can be seen as a sharp rebuke to the Trump Administration and its myriad of policies, many of which are seen to be anti-women and anti-minority.

So what’s the big deal about some politician from Queens, New York? Well, I’ll tell you. At 29 years old, AOC is the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress. She grabbed the national media’s attention by winning the most astounding primary victory upset in the 2018 Midterm election by beating 10-term incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley, chair of the Democratic Caucus. Crowley has been such a Democratic establishment figure that some say that he had been slated to replace Nancy Pelosi, current Speaker of the House, should she retire. In American politics that is to say Crowley is the number two ranking Democrat in Congress; and he was beaten in primary by a twenty-nine year old bartender from Queens. His primary loss was a surprise to everyone including AOC who didn’t think she would win against the incumbent Congressman who was endorsed by both sitting US senators from New York, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and whose coffer had $3.4 million in campaign funds compared to her $194,000 obtained from small donations by individual donors.

Her victory marked a new way of running a political campaign and changed the way Americans, mostly millennials, view politics. Gone were the days where candidates can unscrupulously accept donations from big money, such as banks in Wall Street, large political action committees (Pacs) or other big companies through lobbying efforts. Additionally, her win over an incumbent who had been running congressional races unchallenged for 14 years marked a major shift in American politics: no one is ever too senior to be replaced and that the status quo has been held in place for long enough. It was time to change. And AOC is the phenomenon.

AOC is a self-ascribed Socialist, and as such she is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Her values of socialism are more aligned with those that are seen in Scandinavian countries, such as Sweden and Norway, rather than the socialism seen in Venezuela or Cuba. During her campaign she ran on progressive values such as universal health care, abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), free public college and trade school, infrastructure projects for renewable energy, and a 70% marginal tax rate for incomes above $10 million. These platforms are radically different from what the Republican Party and the Democratic Party establishment have espoused for most of their tenure, but are highly popular among the people.

The origin of AOC story was one that everyone could relate to. She is a young working class woman who sees the dysfunction in the current American political system, structural dysfunction that created an imbalance in prosperity and favored the rich and how that dysfunction adversely affected her neighborhood. She then took action, and by mobilizing public support, by speaking out and addressing the concerns of the people around her, she won a seat at the proverbial table that is the US Congress and would now have a chance to affect change and to work on behalf of her constituents, addressing their problems and the said political dysfunctions affecting them.

AOC’s rise to superstardom at the national stage probably shouldn’t be surprising as she espoused many values that the American public supported and wanted, yet it was still deemed controversial because the ideas AOC proposed and talked about have long disappeared from the thoughts and minds of most Americans. Many have forgotten that a long time ago the marginal tax rate used to be higher than 70% and from this tax income America built their infrastructure during the Eisenhower administration. Universal health care is another “controversial” platform of hers, despite the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans thought that healthcare and Medicare expansion was an important issue for them during the last midterm election. Not to mention that getting healthcare is everybody’s right, not a privilege.

Right now, AOC is a rising star in the Democratic party, albeit her socialist brand that is not unlike Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 and a Senator from Maine. Her progressive platforms and values resonate with the American people, adding to that she represents a tectonic shift in the status quo. Her electoral win, along with the victory of other progressive candidates across the board during the 2018 midterms, signified that the American people had had enough of the old way of legislating and that they were more than ready for a change. The sweeping wins by her and other progressive candidates set a trend for other establishment politicians to follow. For example, after her and other progressive candidates win without using big money donations, more and more politicians are following suit with pledging not to accept campaign contributions from corporate donors. More and more establishment politicians are also adopting Medicare-for-All (universal healthcare) as one of the platforms they’re running on.

A freshman congresswoman paving the way for progress was probably not something anyone expected, but it’s definitely something welcomed. Should AOC continued to stay true to this path she’s on right now, I have no doubt that she would have her place in history along with other Democrats best known for their initials: FDR, JFK and LBJ. Already the signs of change and resistance against the ultra-conservative status quo can be seen in the record amount of women Senators and Congresswomen declaring a run for the presidency. It’s about time for women to run the world!

*) PhD candidate
Cardiogenomics Clinical and Research Program
Department of Biological Chemistry
School of Medicine
The University of California, Irvine, California, USA.
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