On June 26, few people outside New York’s 14th Congressional District knew who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was. But by the next day, when news spread that she’d toppled her opponent, 10-term Representative Joseph Crowley, in the Democratic congressional primary, she was a national celebrity. She appeared on CNN, Meet the Press, PBS’s Firing Line, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show, and MSNBC as the fresh face of a revived American left. Her lip color of choice—Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Beso—sold out in several stores.
When she appeared a few weeks later at a rally near Wall Street’s Charging Bull statue in Lower Manhattan to endorse Zephyr Teachout, who was seeking the Democratic nomination to become New York’s next attorney general, a large crowd cheered—many of them clearly there to catch a glimpse of Ocasio-Cortez, not the candidate she was supporting.
Photographers—paparazzi?—shouted out, “Alex! Alexandria! Over here!” An “I Love NYC” tour bus pulled up alongside the statue. “Hey, I know her! That’s her!” yelled a guy in a baseball cap, standing and pointing from the bus’s top deck. Dozens of tourists began frantically snapping photos of the young woman whose face, if not name, they recognized—or assumed they did. Ocasio-Cortez waved, flashed a toothy grin, and shouted, “Vote for Zephyr Teachout in September!” Then she was hustled away by a staffer, to a chorus of disappointed groans. “Sorry, guys,” she said, sounding genuinely regretful. “I gotta go!”
Since the hectic days following her primary win, Ocasio-Cortez has only gained momentum. In November, she will face her Republican opponent, Anthony Pappas, in the general election. She’s expected to win, which would make her the youngest woman in Congress come January. Still, in spite of her star power, her staff and volunteers stress that Ocasio-Cortez is part of a movement in which no individual deserves sole credit. They emphasize building community and sharing power as the keys to an effective progressive movement.
Crucially, these supporters insist that the movement’s work does not end with an election. Alexandra Rojas, 23, a founding member of Brand New Congress and the executive director of Justice Democrats—two groups that supported Ocasio-Cortez—told me that the candidates her organization endorses know that it’s “not just about one election, but building a movement and helping one another.” Jeff Latzer, a campaign volunteer, praised Ocasio-Cortez’s skill in reaching out to the grassroots: “Alexandria is the perfect combination of an extremely grounded person who did not set out to get involved in politics, but just has this amazing ability to communicate issues for people on a level they can relate to.” Or as Naureen Akhter, Ocasio-Cortez’s 31-year-old director of organizing, put it: “It might sound corny, but she really does feel like one of us.”