The youngest woman ever elected to Congress

Fresh face: Ocasio-Cortez was working as a waitress before she ran for Congress. © Getty

But is anything really going to change? At 29, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is America’s youngest ever congresswoman. In her victory speech, she promised that “a better world is possible.”

“These struggles that we are taking on are long,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told her supporters on Tuesday night. “It will take our whole lives. But this is the fight for our lives; this is the fight of our lives.”

The 29-year-old, from the Bronx in New York City, had just been elected to a seat in the House of Representatives for the first time. She is now the youngest congresswoman in US history, helping to reclaim the House back into Democratic power and away from President Donald Trump’s Republican Party. (The Republicans increased their majority in the Senate.)

Ocasio-Cortez was not the only one making waves; it was a night of firsts across the country.

More women have been elected to Congress than ever before. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids will be its first Native American women; Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar will be its first Muslim women. Meanwhile, Jared Polis became the country’s first openly gay male governor.

There was thought to be an unusually high number of young voters helping to drive these changes. They were also distinctly female; since Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, women have been leading marches against him and training to run for office. According to Pew, 70% of millennial women now support the Democrats, compared to 56% four years ago.

As a young, working-class Latina woman, Ocasio-Cortez is symbolic of this new strand of the Democratic Party.

As a democratic socialist, she is also part of its more left-wing faction. Her policies include universal health care for all; abolishing ICE, the agency which deports illegal immigrants; and scrapping university tuition fees.

Although these policies were once seen as radical in America, in August a Gallup poll found that 18 to 29-year-olds now prefer socialism to capitalism.

“Right now… we have a crooked path and it is time to make that crooked path straight,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Tuesday. “We can do better and we can be better, because a better world is possible.” Can she really change things?

“Yes she can!”

Of course, say her fans. She represents something new in US politics: a young, fresh, optimistic wave which is determined to shake things up. Her funding did not come from wealthy billionaires, but small donations by those in her community — a sign that people respond to her message. It will take a long time, but hers is a name to remember.

She will find it incredibly difficult, say others. Her ideas might be popular in liberal New York City, but she will find it much harder to convince the rest of the country — especially while Trump is still president. She is also part of the establishment now; the longer she stays in politics, the more compromises she will end up making.

You Decide

  1. Do young people make better politicians?
  2. Is socialism — the theory that everyone should have equal share in a community’s wealth — a good idea?

Activities

  1. Imagine you have just been elected to Congress in America. What would be your top three priorities for the country?
  2. Class debate: This house believes that women make better leaders than men.

Some People Say...

“Women in politics are more honest and forthright. We are not in it for the ego gratification.”

Hanan Ashrawi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Ocasio-Cortez won her seat in the House of Representatives with 78% of the vote. In June, she beat the Democratic incumbent, Joe Crowley, who had been a congressman for 20 years. After the midterm elections on Tuesday, the Democrats will now control the House of Representatives but not the Senate. That means that Congress is split, and the parties will have to work together to get things done.
What do we not know?
Whether candidates like Ocasio-Cortez, who believe in democratic socialism, will continue to gain popularity in the US. We also do not know whether the Democratic Party will choose a left-wing candidate to challenge Trump in the next presidential election, or whether they will choose someone from the political centre, as they did with Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Word Watch

House of Representatives
The lower legislative chamber in America, with 435 seats.
Senate
The upper legislative chamber in America, with 100 seats.
Congress
The collective name for the two chambers above.
Governor
The elected executive head of one of America’s 50 states.
Pew
Published in March this year. For contrast, 49% of millennial men lean towards the Democrats.
Latina
A woman from Latin America. Ocasio-Cortez’s mother is from Puerto Rico. Her father was from New York, with Puerto Rican heritage.
Democratic socialist
Socialism is the political theory that wealth should be shared equally between everyone — the opposite of capitalism, where wealth is earned and kept by individuals. According to the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, they believe that “both the economy and society should be run democratically — to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.”
Gallup
This found that 51% of young people view socialism favourably, while 45% see capitalism favourably. All other age groups prefer capitalism.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.