The US Midterms results a couple weeks back have ushered in a younger, more diverse demographic of congresspeople that will be descending on the House of Representatives come January. The de facto leader of this new generation of Democratic leaders is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old bartender turned political activist who is the youngest women to ever been elected to Congress.
Simultaneously seen as a bright light and a threat, Ocasio-Cortez has garnered an extraordinary amount of attention. A great deal of this attention has been focused on the details of her background, as much of it was used for campaign material. As a democratic socialist, Ocasio-Cortez has emphasised her working-class upbringing, from her childhood in the Bronx to the struggle of her family having to fight foreclosure on their home.
The rise and popularity of Ocasio-Cortez not only symbolises how such a figure and the movement she represents is perceived as a threat to the Democratic establishment, but also demonstrates how her presence threatens the general and established understanding of power and belonging.
This was encapsulated by a tweet by a conservative blogger who wrote “Hill staffer sent me this pic of Ocasio-Cortez they took just now. I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.” The accompanying picture was one of Ocasio-Cortex from behind, taken seemingly without her consent, wearing a tailored black blazer with a coat over her arm. This was off the heels of a revelation by Ocasio-Cortez that she could not afford an apartment in Washington DC until her new job begins in the new year.
While the tweet is obviously creepy and judgemental, what is most interesting is how the sentiment expressed ties in with the snapshots of Congress life that Ocasio-Cortez has provided through her own tweets. At a congressional event, she shared how “People keep giving me directions to the spouse and intern events instead of the ones for members of Congress.”
Both tweets addressed the ideas of belonging and power, with Ocasio-Cortez observing her position as an outsider and the blogger proving her point. As a women of colour running for a seat in Congress, her working-class background was and is under an extreme microscope. Many of those in opposition to her unapologetically socialist views have questioned her legitimacy, denounced her as a fraud and accused her of painting her background in a politically convenient manner.
The political success of Ocasio-Cortez indicates how attempt are being made to update our understanding of power. Through her success and the successes of the other diverse congresspeople-elect, the political establishment is being called upon to alter the perception of who belongs in positions of power and what such people look like and from where they come from. Currently, those who are regarded as outsiders, the young people, people of colour and women, are scrutinised to the nth degree and their attempts to fit in is often used as evidence of their difference.
With the tide changing, and this new generation suggesting a political shake-up, whether you agree with them politically or not, it is of general importance that such outsiders start to be considered outsiders no more.