All eyes were on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as she won her Tuesday primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District, unseating a powerful Democratic incumbent and advancing her to November’s general election. Seeing her expression of joy upon learning of the victory was overwhelming—but she wasn’t the only one celebrating. A borough away, I pored over the news, giddy with my own excitement about what an initial win like this would mean for people like me. Dominant narratives tell us that women of color like Ocasio-Cortez can’t get to places like this or aren’t important. But as a reproductive justice organizer, I believe the opposite: these moments of visibility are at the heart of the movement.
In a stunning turn of events, the 28-year old Latina beat U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, with 57.5 of the vote, according to the New York Times. Stunning in part because the candidates’ platforms, experiences, and identities could not have been more different. As though identifying as a Democratic Socialist wasn’t seen as controversial enough, Ocasio-Cortez openly rejected corporate PAC funds and unapologetically advocated for Medicare For All and the abolition of ICE as part of her policy agenda. And while Crowley carried ten terms under his belt, Ocasio-Cortez had never run for office before. Less than a year ago, she was diligently pouring drinks as a bartender with the same focused demeanor she carries now.
Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory is a remarkable one, and not just because she disrupted the long-standing campaign of a wealthy white man. But as a working-class woman of color myself–one that is openly queer, a first-generation college graduate, and an organizer–the election results are more than just a news story: they’re a much-needed catalyst for the reproductive justice movement, a movement that includes people like me. With a constant torrent of news about the ways in which toxic masculinity, misogyny, and white supremacy inflict violence and spread fear in our community, Ocasio-Cortez reminds us that the only way to combat it is by joining a movement and looking at it straight in the face.
Founded in 1994 by a group of black women, the reproductive justice movement seeks to address the multiple ways in which poor and working-class women of color were and are being pushed out of feminist narratives–narratives that include the intersections of race, class, gender, religion, sexuality, ability, and more. Most importantly, one of its main tenets is the belief that all social justice movements are interconnected; the result of which is a long history of activists and organizers building relationships across organizations and communities to see liberation in our lifetime.
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In 2015, I started my journey with reproductive justice and never looked back. Raised by undocumented immigrants in a low-income neighborhood in South Phoenix, I understood the value of a concept like reproductive justice and its desire to invest in communities like mine. So, you can imagine how deeply I felt Alexandria’s elation at hearing the news of her lead in yesterday’s primary. Happiness like hers plays an integral part in shaping movements because, as one of my favorite queer comedians Rhea Butcher has plainly stated, “Visibility is the baseline for every civil rights movement.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win is essential to the reproductive justice movement because the movement itself was founded in response to a lack of visibility for women of color and other marginalized groups: women like her; femmes like me; immigrants like my mother;people like my Jewish, non-binary partner and my Black, trans sister; uninsured people like my 17-year old autistic brother; and so many others.
By witnessing people at the bottom defeat people at the top, we are provided with further opportunity to do the same. Not for bragging rights, and certainly not to perpetuate the same status quo—but to start changing the fabric of society in tangible, sustainable ways. Whether you’re a liberal or a radical, it’s hard not to be impressed by someone like Ocasio-Cortez reaching a goal that many thought she would fall short of. In the midst of such heartbreaking and enraging news, this is a win for everyone. Regardless of what the outcome will be in the general election, she has proven that if she can do it, you can do it.
For years, I’ve mulled over running for office. Growing tired of casting votes but never seeing someone I could relate to (both physically and politically) on the ballot, I realized I could be the answer to that. After the 2016 election, I sincerely lost a good chunk of hope in ever reaching that goal. But with wins like Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory in New York and Danica Roem’s in the Virginia state legislature, however, it seems more possible than ever.
Over the course of time, we’ve come to understand that representation matters, yet we still heavily underestimate its ability to shape movements, policies, and people. The power of proper representation gives me (and others) a platform for endless possibilities, be they political, artistic, or academic. At its most basic: the structural barriers keeping us from creating more stories like Alexandria’s are only as daunting as we let them be. And in a current political climate that is scorching everything it touches, knowing that NY-14 may be represented by someone who is deeply rooted in the community is nothing short of refreshing, if not revolutionary.
Riled up from the results on Tuesday, it took me quite a while to settle in my bed for the night. Thankfully, I dozed off after ruminating on two truths: First, women of color can do anything they set their hearts on. Second, it’s time to start investing in us. The reproductive justice movement’s end goal is to make human rights an uncontested reality. What better way to accomplish that than by lifting up the lives of the people who are most affected?