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Born in the Parkchester neighborhood of The Bronx, Alexandria’s parents moved the family 30 minutes north to Yorktown in search of a stronger public school for her and her brother. Alexandria’s mother was born and raised in Puerto Rico and worked throughout her childhood as a domestic worker. Alexandria’s father was a second-generation Bronxite, who ran a small business in The Bronx. Throughout her childhood, Representative Ocasio-Cortez traveled regularly to The Bronx to spend time with her extended family. From an early age, the stark contrast in educational opportunities available to her and her cousins, based on their respective zip codes, made an impression on her.
After high school, Alexandria attended Boston University, and graduated with degrees in Economics and International Relations (and tens of thousands of dollars in student loans). During this period she also had the opportunity to intern in the office of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Her role in Senator Kennedy’s office provided a firsthand view of the heartbreak families endured after being separated by ICE. These experiences led the Congresswoman to organize Latinx youth in The Bronx and across the United States, eventually, she began work as an Educational Director with the National Hispanic Institute, a role in which she helped Americans, DREAMers and undocumented youth in community leadership and college readiness.
Following the financial crisis of 2008, tragedy struck when her father passed away suddenly from cancer. The medical bills and other growing expenses placed their home at risk of foreclosure. Alexandria pulled extra shifts to work as a waitress and bartender to support her family, deepening her commitment to issues impacting working-class people.
We must treat Climate Change like a serious, existential threat to our planet. That is why Rep. AOC introduced the Green New Deal resolution as her first piece of legislation in 2019. The GND envisions a 10-year national mobilization, akin to FDR’s New Deal, that would put millions to work in good-paying, union jobs repairing the nation’s infrastructure, reducing air and water pollution, and fighting the intertwined economic, social, racial and climate crises crippling the country. For more on the Green New Deal and other work the Congresswoman has done on climate change, please read on below.
The first wave of COVID-19 struck our district harder than nearly anywhere else in the United States. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has fought relentlessly to get working people the relief and protections they need. She was the sole Democrat to vote against the first relief bill because it gave to many corporate giveaways while doing far too little for small businesses and undocumented families. She then fought for and won improvements to the PPP program to make it easier for small business owners of color to access funds. At the end of 2019, after hearing from community members who were struggling to bear the financial cost of burials, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez successfully pushed for the inclusion of a Funeral Assistance program into the second relief package signed into law. The program has disbursed over a billion dollars to families who lost loved loves to the pandemic as of now.
Criminal Justice Reform
The criminal justice system in the U.S. is broken, fraught with institutional racism, over-policing, and lack of accountability. Rep. AOC is fighting to end mass incarceration by introducing and supporting legislation that would give formerly incarcerated individuals the right to vote, have equitable career opportunities, and access to resources like housing vouchers and food benefits. Rep. AOC also supports ending the racist war on drugs by legalizing marijuana and expunging all past convictions. She also introduced legislation to end over-policing and over-surveilling of Black and brown communities, and to re-imagine public safety. For more on the Congresswoman’s work on this issue, please read on below.
Rep. AOC serves on the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, which was started in January 2021 to develop solutions to income inequality. Rep. AOC was specifically tasked with addressing generational disparities and increasing worker power in the economy. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congresswoman introduced monumental legislation to require $15/hour, paid leave, and equity compensation for workers at any corporation receiving federal assistance. She has advocated for raising the poverty line as the current federal definition is completely behind today’s cost of living. She’s also introduced measures to provide a public option to Wall Street Banks through the Public Banking Act. For more on the Congresswoman’s work on this issue, please see below.
Rep. AOC believes that everyone has the right to an affordable, quality education - starting at pre-K and extending through post-secondary education. As a lifelong public school student, she understands the importance of funding our local K-12 schools and public colleges. That is why she has proudly advocated for full federal funding towards educational programs, such as Head-Start and TRIO, which ensure all students have access to affordable pre-k and receive the support they need to apply to and attend college, respectively. She is also a proud sponsor of the Student Debt Cancellation Act, which would forgive outstanding federal and private student loans of all previous and current students in our education system. For more on the Congresswoman’s work on this issue, please see below.
Rep. AOC believes our country’s foreign policy must center human rights above all else. She has introduced policies that would shift how our country engages with our global neighbors, centering diplomacy and humanitarian engagement over military intervention and war. In the latest Defense budget bill, the Congresswoman introduced an amendment that would prohibit Direct Commercial Sales and Foreign Military Sales to any country that has engaged in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, genocide, or war crimes. She also called on the Departments of Defense and State to produce a report on the status of human rights in Colombia within 180 days, given reports that as many as 63 people were killed in 2021 during demonstrations against anti-working class reforms. For more on the Congresswoman’s work on this issue, please read on below.
Rep. AOC is a strong supporter of gun reform legislation. She cosponsored and voted for H.R. 8: the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, a bipartisan bill that would establish new background check requirements for firearm transfers between private parties, closing a major loophole. She was also an original cosponsor of bill H.R.1808: the Assault Weapons Ban. This bill makes it a crime to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon or large-capacity ammunition feeding device, such as the guns used in the Uvalde shooting. In addition, the bill funds essential state-level buy-back programs that remove weapons currently in our communities.
Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege. For that reason, Rep. AOC proudly supports Medicare for All, which creates a single-payer system that guarantees healthcare for all, regardless of income or employment status, while curbing the sky-rocketing costs of our broken healthcare system. For too long, healthcare in our country has centered profits over people. No one should be put into crippling debt if they fall ill, and health coverage should not be tied to one’s job. A national healthcare system can also bring down the inaccessibly high costs of prescription drugs. For more on the Congresswoman’s work on healthcare, please read on below.
In Congress, Rep. AOC consistently advocates for New York City’s Housing Authority, calling for full funding to meet its maintenance backlog. She has also advocated for solutions to the affordable housing crisis like the repeal of the Faircloth amendment, which prohibits a net increase in the amount of public housing units. Additionally, she introduced the Green New Deal for Public Housing, which invests up to $172 billion over ten years in renovating existing public housing, dramatically improving living conditions for nearly 2 million people living in over 950,000 public housing homes. She has also introduced the Fair Chance at Housing Act, which reforms the screening and eviction processes of federal housing to allow individuals with criminal records. She also introduced the Place to Prosper Act - which would reduce rent increases, make evictions more difficult, and ban source of income discrimination. For homeowners, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez voted for the Homeowner Assistance Fund to prevent mortgage delinquencies and defaults, foreclosures, loss of utilities or home energy services, and displacement of homeowners experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic. Funds from the HAF may be used for assistance with mortgage payments, homeowner’s insurance, utility payments, and other specified purposes. For more on the Congresswoman’s work on this issue, please read on below.
For too long, undocumented immigrants have been villianized, despite the integral role they play in our communities. The IRS estimates that undocumented people pay over $9 billion in withheld payroll taxes annually. It is beyond time for a path to citizenship for all undocumented people in our country. Rep. AOC is fighting for a just U.S. immigration policy, where refugees are treated with humanity. For more on the Congresswoman’s work on this issue, please read on below.
First Political Campaign
During the 2016 presidential election, Alexandria worked as a volunteer organizer for Bernie Sanders in the South Bronx, expanding her skills in electoral organizing and activism.
Shortly thereafter, she was inspired by demonstrations being led by indigenous communities at Standing Rock, South Dakota in opposition to a new pipeline. She decided to travel across the country to join them, and left the experience resolved to dedicate her life to public service. A few months later, she launched her first campaign for Congress.
- “The campaign was a long shot from the start. ‘Everyone said, ‘She’s really cute, but maybe next time,’’ Ocasio-Cortez recalls. Crowley, the fourth-ranking House Democrat, was a prolific fundraiser who had been in Congress since 1999. Her campaign was mostly volunteers. Staffers wrote their job titles on Post-it notes above their desks in their small Queens office. Ever the activist, her campaign had an informal, flexible structure resembling “leaderless” social movements like the one she saw at Standing Rock.” – Time magazine, March 21,2019
In June 2018, Alexandria’s campaign shocked the political establishment, when she defeated incumbent Joe Crowley. Her campaign was driven entirely by grassroots volunteers and donations. The Congresswoman refused to take any contributions from corporations, a practice she continues to this day.
In January of 2019, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez was sworn-in as the youngest woman and youngest Latina ever to serve in Congress. Her first piece of legislation was the Green New Deal resolution, which envisions a 10-year national mobilization, akin to FDR’s New Deal, that would put millions to work in good-paying, union jobs repairing the nation’s infrastructure, reducing air and water pollution, and fighting the intertwined economic, social, racial and climate crises crippling the country.
Over her first term, she introduced a total of 23 pieces of legislation. Among them is her Loan Shark Prevention Act, which would cap credit card interest rates at 15%. The Congresswoman also introduced a group of bills collectively titled ‘Just Society,’ which would raise the federal poverty line, include immigrants in social safety net programs, require federal contractors to pay a living wage, strengthen renters’ rights, and decrease recidivism.
In her first term, the Congresswoman saw three amendments pass into law, despite Republican control of the Senate and Presidency. One shifted $5 million from the failed war on drugs to treatment for opioid addiction and another secured $10 million to clean up toxic bombardment sites in Puerto Rico. Most notably, the Congresswoman also worked with Senator Schumer to include a Funeral Assistance Program into the COVID-19 relief package. To date, the program has reimbursed over a billion in funeral expenses to Americans who lost loved ones to COVID-19.
- “There are some politicians who are very good on policy, and there are some politicians who are good communicators, and there are some politicians that have a way about them that relates very well to ordinary people. Alexandria has all three of those characteristics.” – Senator Bernie Sanders
The Congresswoman also quickly gained a reputation as an effective questioner in committee hearings. Through committee hearings, she pressured a major pharmaceutical company into lowering the price of a drug that reduces HIV transmission; forced a defense contractor to return $16.1 million in federal funding; and got Michael Cohen to state on the record that President Donald Trump was engaging in tax fraud and to divulge other information that helped the New York Attorney General open an investigation into the Trump Organization.
The Congresswoman also maintained a commitment to doing a town hall nearly every month of her first term, hosting a total of 25 town halls, all of which provided language translation services and accessibility for the hearing impaired. The District Office also opened cases for 1,400 constituents, assisting with everything from immigration visas and Social Security payments to small business loans and veterans benefits. Various institutions in NY-14 also received $470M in federal grants during our first term.
In January 2021, Rep. AOC was sworn-in for her second term in Congress. Just a few days later, on January 6, the Capitol was breached for the first time since the War of 1812. Along with several colleagues, Rep. AOC hid in one of the office buildings until the Capitol was secured and the House was called to vote to verify the results of the 2020 presidential election. In the wake of the attacks, the Congresswoman called to expel Members of Congress who had voted to invalidate the elections and who had urged on those domestic terrorists that attacked the Capitol. She also voted for a second time to impeach President Trump.
In March, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan – President Biden’s plan to help the nation recover from COVID-19. The Congresswoman and other progressives fought hard to include key provisions, including an expanded Child Tax Credit, which most families began receiving in monthly installments that summer.
“When I ask Rep. Ayanna Pressley what popular narratives [about Rep. Ocasio-Cortez] miss, she cites humility. ‘She certainly did not set out to be an icon or even a history maker. I think it was her destiny, but there is no calculation.’ As Ocasio-Cortez puts it, ‘I don’t want to be a savior, I want to be a mirror.’” - Vanity Fair, October 28, 2020.
In April 2021, the Congresswoman reintroduced her Green New Deal resolution – growing the list of co-sponsors to over 115. In the three years since the resolution was first introduced, the Green New Deal has inspired over a dozen pieces of legislation and 10 regional Green New Deals.
In August 2021, after the federal eviction moratorium expired, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez joined Rep. Cori Bush for a sit-in on the Capitol Steps that lasted several days. Ultimately, the Biden administration reversed its position and extended the ban. Though their executive order was struck down by conservatives on the Supreme Court several weeks later, this time was invaluable for families and landlords trying to access Emergency Rental Relief and stay in their homes.
Later that month, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez worked with the State Department to help Afghan evacuees. Along with Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez led 70 Members of Congress in calling on the Biden administration to increase the cap on refugees to 200,000 people.
In September, unprecedented floods devastated the Congresswoman’s district and other parts of New York and New Jersey. Sadly, several constituents were killed – having drowned in basement apartments. In the aftermath, the Congresswoman worked with the President and others to get one of the fastest FEMA disaster declarations in history. So far, almost 25,000 New York families have received $165 million in assistance.
By the end of 2021, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez had submitted 30 amendments, including one which doubled the funding to replace and update lead water infrastructure in schools and childcare programs — and another which prohibited funds from being used to provide weapons or military aid or military training to Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force (RIF), the unit responsible for the murder of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In March of 2022, President Biden signed into law an omnibus bill to keep the federal government funded and open. This legislation included nearly $7 million in funding for 10 community projects that will serve New York’s 14th Congressional District. The community projects include youth violence interventions, educational supports, workforce training in green jobs and home healthcare, and support for Plaza Del Sol Health Center and Elmhurst Hospital.