AOC – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

A view with constituents in Queens, New York

By Phillip Wong  

Photos: Phillip Wong

Verve Opinion
March 2019

I went to an event at the Langston Hughes Public Library in Queens at the invitation (general) of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.


Since she engineered a political upset of an entrenched and popular Democratic congressman in the Democratic primary, she has been a lightening rod of attraction and repulsion by those on the political left, and political right.As a Democratic primary winner in a landslide Democratic district of New York (NY-14), she wasn’t going to be seriously challenged by any Republican, so she proceeded to support Democrats running against Republicans in Congressional Districts nationwide.

With a high profile win, her youth (29), and her willingness to inject herself into discussions nationally, that impact both her local district, and the nation, she has become a target of attempted ridicule by Republican-led media and politicians as she has aggressively proposed a “Green New Deal,” a major reform of taxation, and immigration reform.In theory, these are not local issues, but obviously affect every locale. In theory, she should sit in a corner and be quiet, while her elders, and established party pols, lead the fight.

Instead, local and national Right-leaning media, the New York Post newspaper, and FoxNews (national entertainment media) have dug into her past and excoriated her for dancing while she was in school at Boston University, not being seen in her district, and having too many ideas and proposals that (they say) are impractical or too upsetting to our society. (I differentiate that “they say” because no one can know how something will work, if it hasn’t been done – so the idea of excoriating someone for something that has neither succeeded or failed is, at heart, fallacious).


I went to see what the fuss was, and got much more than I anticipated.

     The event was something organized by several local organizations: predominantly the News Story Circle and Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). Both organizations have specific interests in immigration issues, but the News Story Circle was recording and collecting the stories of immigration and advocates for the organization of mostly black immigrants to lobby for their concerns.The event was just getting started when I arrived late, and attendees were finding seats while Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, as they would refer to her, was still greeting and speaking to a few people. Apparently, she had been doing this for a short time. A range of people sat in chairs in a circle while other people were seated or standing around the central circle.


     Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, took a seat in the circle, as one of perhaps 25 central people. The organizations moderators outlined their goals, and what they were expecting – that a microphone would go around the circle so that anyone seated (or later, others outside the circle) could define their experiences as immigrants, black Americans or other people of color.

      The organizations’ leaders, began by reading an excerpt from Langston Hughes’ “Let America be America Again” which didn’t surprise me since we were on Langston Hughes Blvd. (a section of Northern Blvd. in Queens) and we were in the Langston Hughes library. Surprisingly, I had been carrying a book with that poem flagged when I arrived. The poem was written in 1935 but was surprising prescient in today’s world.


       Starting on one side of the circle, Dominicans, Cubans, black Americans up from families in Southern states, Haitians, Colombians, Bengladeshis, Italians and Puerto Ricans told varying stories of growing up, going to school, animosities and friendships.

     When the microphone rotated to Ocasio-Cortez, she dutifully took her three minutes of time to relate growing up Puerto Rican in New York, and how her mixed background (almost all Latinos in America have some mixed heritage from runaway slaves, Spanish conquerors, indigenous people from islands and Latin America) guided, influenced and nurtured her to where she was at present.

When she took the microphone, she was surprisingly shy about speaking about herself. When she defined the neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx where she was raised, she, like many others, referred to local schools, buildings, places that varying people knew. She didn’t expound into other areas, and when she finished, she handed the microphone to the next person in the circle.


     Several people, in speaking, referred to her with pride and gratitude for bringing attention to their little slice of America. A few mentioned her public statements and stances, but all worked hard to follow the rules.There were stories by speakers of being assaulted and doubted by police in upstate universities, growing up gay and Dominican in Washington Heights and growing up politically active in parts of the Bronx or in Queens. She listened to all stories with care.

     What did I see with this national lightening rod?

     Surprisingly, I saw a small, energetic woman who actually paid attention to the people in front of her. She listened without succumbing to distraction, looked at speakers, focused on what they were saying. She laughed with them when they were deprecating, was embarrassed when they praised her, and when the event was over, spent almost another hour, greeting, one-by-one, people who knew her, knew people she knew, just wanted a selfies with her, and just wanted thank or hug her.


      I was amazed at how many people she actually hugged. I was amazed that she spent so much time actually looking at each person and listening to their snippets of concerns.I was behind her and around her for almost the entire time watching, shooting, listening and saw grade school, high school and college kids come to tell her stories and each one, she hugged, listened to and thanked.

     As a local event, there was a band playing comprised of four women in their 50s and some people dancing and at the back of the room, a local children’s organization that had won a local trophy.

     After a long period of working through the people who wanted to talk to her, she made her way to the kids who were dancing and playing around. In a sea of blue t-shirts (their organization’s shirts), she high fived them and then someone organized them for a photograph.


     Afterwards, a girl who looked about 15, greeted her and they had a small discussion for several minutes. Her focus was entirely on that girl.

     Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be a symbol of a new Democratic Party, or of Democratic Socialism. She may be feared for her outspokenness by all parts of the Republican Party, the Conservative media or even more moderate Democrats.

Her proposals may be derided by established voices on the Right, but over the course of three hours, I had the opportunity to see, and understand, why she got elected, what makes her effective and how beloved she is by the people who elected her.

The level of her caring and connection with people who she SHOULD be caring for, and fighting for and representing, runs extremely deep.

     Yes, she’s a freshman representative from a small part of both New York and the country, but she is facing people who don’t answer their phones, won’t meet with local, state or national constituencies, who hide both from criticism and support.

     Politicians who’s sole goals are to make money, and make money faster. And make more money.

     They don’t have time for constituents either on the right, nor the left.


     For far too many politicians, it is simply, and solely, the Art of the Deal.