On the second floor of a building also home to a Mexican grocery store, the dust has settled. I can imagine this place as it must have looked a few months ago, just before the Democratic primary. I can picture the volunteers rushing in and out, clipboards in hand and talking points in mind. Months later, our study abroad group crowds into Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s quiet campaign office.
The office is small. Virginia Rios, the co-campaign manager, tells us to call her Vigi and advises us to stay out of the thin aisle that runs from front to back of the office so as to not block the air from the fan. The walls are decorated with Crayola markered signs with phrases like “Love is a movement” and “Vote June 26!”. Rios introduces us to the office manager--a young woman my age, home for the summer after her first year of college, and to the office assistant, an 11th grade girl sporting braces and rubber bands.
I suppose I should not be surprised by all of this. Ocasio-Cortez herself is only 28 years old, and if elected, will be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Rios tells us that "[Ocasio-Cortez] has always been discounted. That's never stopped her and it is not stopping her now." 22 out of the 26 students on my program are women; we've talked about what it's like to be young women, intelligent and charismatic and unwilling to listen to those who doubt us. Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez knows this feeling too.
I ask Rios how the campaign would respond to concerns that their far-left campaign is further energizing conservative voters. "I believe that she's being honest," Rios says. "She's trying to represent her people and I respect that." Rios tells us that NY-14 is 50% Spanish-speaking. It is home to Jackson Heights, said to be the most diverse neighborhood in the country. It is the kind of place where people brushed off Ocasio-Cortez volunteers during the primary, saying they always "vote for the Democrat". This is a district where ideas like abolishing ICE and expanding Medicare are not far-left, they are mainstream.
As we are leaving the office, one of my classmates notes how brave Ocasio-Cortez is. She’s right. Running for office requires bravery. Running as an openly democratic socialist candidate as a 28-year-old woman from Puerto Rico requires a champion. “Women like me aren't supposed to run for office”, she said in her now viral campaign video.
On the subway ride home from the campaign office, I am reminded of why so many people are drawn to New York City. The congresswoman for Queens and the Bronx will most likely be a young brown woman. Childlike dreams fill my head as I lean against the subway doors and feel myself become a little bit braver—if she can do it, I can do it too.