In June 2018, self-described Democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked the nation by defeating 10-term incumbent New York Rep. Joseph Crowley in the primary, despite his endorsements from the entire Democratic establishment. “What I see is that the Democratic Party takes working class communities for granted, they take people of color for granted,” the then-28-year old former bartender said in an interview at the time (via The New York Times). “And they just assume that we’re going to turn out no matter how bland or half-stepping these proposals are.”
She eventually went on to defeat her Republican challenger that November to become the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress. Along with Representatives Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez formed “The Squad” and earned the nickname AOC. After just two years in office, she’s become one of the most popular figures in American politics. And while she shows no signs of slowing down, Ocasio-Cortez has also become a target for criticism over her perceived “radical” views.
Indeed, AOC has had no problem speaking her mind since being elected — and sometimes, that means taking heat from both sides of the political aisle. Let’s take a look at some of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s most controversial moments.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's nomination of Bernie Sanders at the 2020 DNC caused an uproar
Despite being the person most Democratic voters wanted to hear speak at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was only invited to second the nomination of Senator Bernie Sanders that August. Per Vox, since Sanders “had won more than 300 delegates,” his nomination was standard protocol, even though future President-elect Joe Biden was the party’s nominee.
However, people unfamiliar with the rules were upset, and outlets like the New York Post accused Ocasio-Cortez of snubbing Biden. More center-left media outlets added to the confusion, with MSNBC tweeting out an article that read, “AOC backs Sanders for president, ignores Biden in brief remarks.” The network eventually added a clarification: “This tweet should have included more detail on the nominating process. We have deleted the tweet to prevent its further spread, but it can be seen here for the record.” And in a follow-up tweet, the affiliated NBC News noted, “Ocasio-Cortez was asked by the DNC to second Sanders’ nomination. The nomination is a procedural requirement of the convention.”
But these apologies and retractions weren’t enough to keep Ocasio-Cortez from calling these outlets out. “You waited several hours to correct your obvious and blatantly misleading tweet. It sparked an enormous amount of hatred and vitriol, & now the misinfo you created is circulating on other networks,” she tweeted in response. “All to generate hate-clicks from a pre-recorded, routine procedural motion.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez compared ICE detention centers to concentration camps
During an Instagram Live in 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sparked controversy when she made a comparison about the ICE detention centers at the southern border. “That is exactly what they are — they are concentration camps,” she said (via CNN). “And if that doesn’t bother you … I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that we should not, that ‘never again’ means something.”
The reference to the Holocaust caused politicians from both sides of the aisle to push back on her claims. “I respect her greatly and I feel very close to her in terms of philosophy, but of course she was wrong,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said (via CBS New York). “You cannot compare what the Nazis did in concentration camps. Unfortunately … it’s a horrible moment in history. There’s no way to compare.” Meanwhile, Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy claimed Ocasio-Cortez “does not understand history” and owed America an apology.
However, Ocasio-Cortez didn’t back down. “I’m curious, @HouseGOP: what would you like people to call these Trump-run human cages?” she tweeted, in reference to the “inhumane conditions” of the camps. “According to you, concentration camp experts + historians are wrong. So what do you call it? What term makes you feel better about brutality? ‘Internment?’ ‘Detention?’ ‘Freedom Center?'”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sued for blocking critics on Twitter
In July 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sued for blocking a critic on Twitter. Citing a federal appeals court ruling that determined President Donald Trump violated the Constitution by blocking his critics, Dov Hikind, the founder of Americans Against Anti-Semitism, filed a lawsuit against the then-freshman congresswoman for allegedly violating his first amendment rights after pushing back on her concentration camp comments (via The New York Times).
“It’s very clear based on the court’s ruling that A.O.C. is violating my constitutional rights to free speech by excluding me,” former Brooklyn assemblyman Hikind said. “She doesn’t want me to be a part of the discussion and conversation.” He added, “She has a right to have that position. That’s not the issue. The question is why is she afraid of other people’s positions?”
Eventually, the suit was settled, and Ocasio-Cortez issued a public apology. “I have reconsidered my decision to block Dov Hikind from my Twitter account,” she said in a statement (via The New York Times). “Mr. Hikind has a First Amendment right to express his views and should not be blocked for them.” Hikind was pleased with the decision, but issued a warning to other elected officials. “She now recognizes that her decision to block me was wrong,” he said. “Every public official needs to unblock the public from following them on Twitter. You want to be in elected office? Don’t be afraid of what people have to say to you.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez faced controversy when she took on Amazon
Dubbed “the Hunger Games” for cities, Amazon’s search for a location for their HQ2 ended in 2018 when Jeff Bezos’ company decided to split it between Arlington, Va. and Queens, NY — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district. All it took, per Wired, was a promise of “1.5 billion in government incentives over the next decade.” Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo publicly pleaded for the tech giant to come to the state, with Cuomo even promising to rename a creek in Long Island the “Amazon River.”
Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, didn’t approve. “Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here,” she tweeted. In a follow-up tweet, AOC asked if Amazon would be hiring from the community and what worker protections they would have.
She faced criticism for speaking out, but due to the constant political pressure of Ocasio-Cortez and Queens’ residents, Amazon decided to pull out of the borough (via Esquire). A year later, Amazon announced that it would be leasing 335,000 square feet of office space in Manhattan without any government subsidies. Ocasio-Cortez made sure to let people know how she felt about that. “Me waiting on the haters to apologize after we were proven right on Amazon and saved the public billions,” she tweeted, accompanied by a picture of her sitting with her feet up.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was targeted by a minor league baseball team
During a Memorial Day doubleheader at their ballpark, the Fresno Grizzlies aired a video narrated by Ronald Reagan that intercut photos of Kim Jong-Un, Fidel Castro, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calling them “enemies of freedom” and “potential adversaries.” Per The Fresno Bee, Heineken pulled sponsorship from the team, claiming they “do not support the views expressed in the video” and “have ended this relationship effective immediately and have let the team know of our decision.”
The team released a Twitter statement blaming “misleading and offensive editing” and apologized to their fans. “We’re embarrassed we allowed this video to play without seeing it in its entirety first,” they continued. “We unconditionally apologize to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez in addition to our fans, community and those we hurt. It was a mistake and we will ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.”
AOC responded to the video’s contents by replying to a tweet by a reporter from The Fresno Bee. “What people don’t (maybe do) realize is when orgs air these hateful messages, my life changes bc of the flood of death threats they inspire,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “I’ve had mornings where I wake up & the 1st thing I do w/ my coffee is review photos of the men (it’s always men) who want to kill me.”
Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's hair is political
In October 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s spending habits were attacked after she dropped $260 on a haircut — because if you self-describe as a “democratic socialist,” you must wash your hair in a river and brush it with a stick, apparently.
The conservative publication The Washington Times, for example, blasted the congresswoman, “who regularly rails against the rich and complains about the cost of living inside the Beltway,” for “[spending] nearly $300 on her hairdo at a pricey salon she frequents in downtown.” Richard Manning, the president of Americans for Limited Government, called AOC “the Eva Peron of American politics” and claimed it was “a bad look to spend hundreds of dollars to get your hair done to make a video decrying income inequality.” However, a year later, a report in The New York Times found that President Donald Trump wrote-off about $70,000 in hairstyling costs during his days on The Apprentice.
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez — who later faced similar criticism over outfits worn during a Vanity Fair photoshoot — never forgot the attack and responded in kind. “Last year Republicans blasted a firehose of hatred + vitriol my way because I treated myself to a $250 cut & lowlights on my birthday,” she tweeted in September 2020. “Where’s the criticism of their idol spending $70k on hairstyling? Oh, it’s nowhere because they’re spineless, misogynistic hypocrites? Got it.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was pressured by Palestinians to withdrawal from an event
In September 2020, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was set to attend an event sponsored by Americans for Peace Now to commemorate former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (via Al Jazeera). Almost immediately after the news broke, Palestinians and their advocacy groups spoke out. “So @AOC is doing a memorial event for Yitzhak Rabin,” journalist Alex Kane tweeted. “In the US Rabin is viewed as a liberal peacemaker but Palestinians remember him for his brutal rule suppressing Palestinian protest during the First Intifada, as someone who reportedly ordered the breaking of Palestinian bones.”
Ocasio-Cortez responded to Kane’s tweet, saying, “Hey there – this event and my involvement was presented to my team differently from how it’s now being promoted. Thanks for pointing it out. Taking a look into this now.” Shortly thereafter, a spokesman for the congresswoman said she would not be attending the event. Per the Jewish Telegraph Agency, a Joe Biden campaign associate called the news “problematic,” saying, “She could have rejected the invitation for any number of reasons. But if she agrees and then pulls out, she’s creating problems for her own party.”
However, the director of strategy for the Adalah Justice Project, Sumaya Awad, praised AOC’s decision. “It’s rare to see a member of Congress take any social-justice cause seriously, let alone Palestinian liberation, that doesn’t further the goals of lobbying groups or wealthy constituents,” she told Jacobin. “Now we need more of this.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took on her own party after the 2020 election
After almost a quarter of a million people died of the coronavirus and an economy left in shambles, the Democratic party fully expected a “blue wave” in the 2020 election. While Joe Biden secured the presidency, democrats got destroyed in state houses across the country, lost seats in the House, and failed to win back the Senate. Unfortunately, the infighting began immediately. Some centrist democrats placed the blame on the left wing of the party for “socialism” and policies like “defund the police,” despite the fact that “The Squad” cruised to victory and increased their members.
Ocasio-Cortez responded to those critiques in an interview with The New York Times. “I’ve been begging the party to let me help them for two years,” she said. “I’ve been trying to help. Before the election, I offered to help every single swing district Democrat with their operation. And every single one of them, but five, refused my help.” The candidates who refused her help, AOC added, lost.
She also explained that she was considering retirement from politics due to the hostility from her own party. “It’s the incoming. It’s the stress. It’s the violence. It’s the lack of support from your own party,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s your own party thinking you’re the enemy. When your own colleagues talk anonymously in the press and then turn around and say you’re bad because you actually append your name to your opinion.”
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