What it’s like to talk with AOC

Selina Johansson

I went to interview Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at her headquarters in the Bronx last week, and to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would she and her people have an attitude? Would her office be a disorganized mess? And then I wondered, why did I have those preconceptions?

The answer to the latter question says something about me no doubt, and maybe something about our current political environment as well.

As it turns out AOC’s people were polite and professional, and her office — in a blue-collar commercial neighborhood near the Zerega Avenue 6 train stop — was spare and seemingly well-coordinated.

AOC’s PR person told us she might be running a few minutes late — which comes with the territory for politicians, blue and red — but as it turned out, she wasn’t. And so very much on time, AOC walked over to greet me.

My first impression was that AOC is smaller than I thought (aren’t we all though), but more to the point, she too was cordial and linear. Her EQ is very much in order, and as they say in the business of politics, she has “it.”

I’m sure I speak for a great many of you when I say that I don’t agree with all of AOC’s politics by any means, (though to be clear, some I do, especially the part about holding power accountable). But even for the rest where we disagree — to paraphrase the Beatles — I do appreciate her being ’round.

AOC broadens the political conversation. She gives voice to, and speaks for, a group of Americans who sorely need to be heard, that being primarily working class people, particularly of color. Not only does she challenge the Republicans in that regard, but also her own party. Again, you may not agree with AOC, but understand that what she fights for is what the people in her district want from her.

Ocasio-Cortez is of course a rock star to millions — she has 12.8 million Twitter followers — and anathema to millions of others. She really seems to get under the skin of some people in a way that Bernie Sanders, her political comrade-in-arms, (there is a photograph of the two of them together in her office), doesn’t. Bernie is seen by the opposition as this crotchety (even lovable) old socialist, while AOC they maintain is destroying our country — even though the two of them are saying the exact same thing. I think that has everything to do with the fact that AOC is a young woman.

Progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), known as AOC, appears on an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer.”

Anyway, you can watch the entire interview here and read stories from that conversation to get her take on capitalism, stock trading by lawmakers, inflation and Facebook. Below I wanted to touch on a few things we didn’t write up.

I asked her off-camera how she reconciles taking strong positions and compromising to align with the mainstream Democrats. She essentially said that it was important for her to stick to her guns, even if it rankles moderates, in part because it motivates young people and diverse populations to come out and vote for the Dems in general elections. Not sure Nancy Pelosi, with whom AOC has had her differences, buys that, but fair enough.

Besides the substantive stuff, I was curious about the nickname, AOC.

AS: I want to ask you maybe a funny question about the moniker AOC.

AOC: OK. (laughs)

AS: Is that what your friends and family call you?

AOC: No. (laughs)

AS: How did that evolve? When did you become AOC?

AOC: AOC really emerged after I won my primary. I think it actually kind of came from the media overnight. There were a lot of pundits on television that were kind of like, stumbling because my name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez … And there were just all these folks on TV that I think were kind of like struggling to say my name. In the past, there were some folks that would sometimes say it like, jokingly, but it was never a nickname that stuck. My friends don’t call me that.

AS: Do they call you Alexandria?

AOC: They’ll call me Alexandria, or they’ll call me Alex. My friends will call me Alex. But, yeah, [AOC], it’s shorthand. I now embrace it, welcome it, accept it.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), talks with Kamala Lyles, 20, during a demonstration outside the U.S. Capitol to protest the expiration of the federal moratorium on residential evictions, in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), talks with Kamala Lyles, 20, during a demonstration outside the U.S. Capitol to protest the expiration of the federal moratorium on residential evictions, in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

I also asked about her legacy, which might seem strange to put to a 32-year-old, but she had a thoughtful take.

AOC: I actually think that it is important for young people to ask themselves questions of legacy very early. The reason that that’s important is because we should root our legacy in a position or a job, or a role — but we should really root it in a mission of what we want to do qualitatively, and how we want to be remembered. I don’t think it’s ever too early to consider that because it helps us make decisions, it helps us root ourselves in our values and our morals. I just hope that what I do and what my community understands and receives and feels from me as their representative, is someone that always puts the people of this country first, that doesn’t allow herself to be dissuaded or distracted by power, influence, et cetera. And that we are relentless and honest, and authentic in our pursuit for a better world. And in that pursuit, we just tell it as it is and try to do everything we can, in every moment that we can. And I think that’s pretty much it.

What’s next for AOC? Some say U.S. senator. Some say president down the road. I’m not really sure she could win either one of those races — she might just end up being an incredibly powerful Congressperson and movement leader. To advance further AOC might need to compromise, which to her credit she doesn’t seem interested in doing right now.

At some point AOC may in fact evolve in her thinking. Or maybe America will change to match her. A convergence, or not? It will be oh-so interesting to watch.

This article was featured in a Saturday edition of the Morning Brief on February 5, 2022. Get the Morning Brief sent directly to your inbox every Monday to Friday by 6:30 a.m. ET. Subscribe

Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer

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