AOC: Isolated at the epicenter of the pandemic as much of Congress is far removed from the daily toll

AOC: Isolated at the epicenter of the pandemic as much of Congress is far removed from the daily toll

The New York Times reports on Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and New York’s 14th Congressional District:

The wreckage in her community has made a darkly eloquent case, she said, for her agenda of universal health care and less income inequity. “This crisis is not really creating new problems,” she said. “It’s pouring gasoline on our existing ones.”

But more personally, it has exposed the little-seen vulnerabilities and isolation of the most prominent new voice in Congress.

A case in point: Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had just returned from Washington after a vote last month on the latest relief bill in Congress. She was the only Democrat to vote against the $484 billion package that passed overwhelmingly. She had many problems with the measure: Generally, she found it far too generous to corporations and not to local governments, small businesses and people struggling to buy food or pay rent.

Several colleagues had told her they also disliked the legislation, but it was not until right before the vote that she realized she would be by herself. Passage was never in doubt, but to be the lone member of a caucus to vote a certain way carries its own stigma.

“Our brains are just designed to experience a lot of excruciating pain at the idea of being alone,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “When you cast those lonely votes, you feel like your colleagues respect you less, and that you are choosing to marginalize yourself.” It can be difficult to appreciate the “powerful psychology of the House floor,” she said, along with the overall social pressures of Congress.

“I walked home in the rain,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said, describing her mood after the bill passed. “I was very in my feelings, big time, and I felt very discouraged.” She said she would have appreciated, at least, a heads-up from the colleagues who had said they were probably no votes but then flipped at the last minute.

“I was just, like, heartbroken,” she said.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s colleagues are, for the most part, farther removed from the virus’s daily toll, which has only heightened the alienation she felt when she arrived on Capitol Hill last year. “I have, like, existential crises over it,” she said.

At the root of this has been the hardship the pathogen has imposed on where she lives, something that can be difficult to appreciate from the sanctuary of the Capitol. New York’s 14th Congressional District comprises a patchwork of diverse, vibrant and vulnerable urban communities covering the eastern part of the Bronx and north-central Queens. Roughly half of the predominantly working-class population is of Hispanic descent. They make up many of the city’s grocery workers, transit operators, custodians and child care providers, 75 percent of whom are minorities.

Nearly everyone in the district has had some personal connection to someone lost to the virus. They include Lorena Borjas, a 59-year-old transgender immigrant activist in Queens and Mohammad Gias Uddin, a 64-year-old Bangladeshi community leader who ran A&A Double Discount in the Bronx. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez knew both of them, as well as others she called “strong anchors” in the community.

“Just this morning, we were just talking to our landlord here who had just lost his brother,” she said. “Both of his children are hospital workers.” She speaks all the time to people who cannot afford food, rent and burials. The catastrophe is woven tightly into her day-to-day fabric.

It is not the same for many members of Congress, a world far from the shuttered taquerias, overrun emergency rooms and refrigerator trucks doubling as makeshift morgues that sit within a few miles of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s home in the Bronx. The disconnected reality contributes to her sense of feeling misunderstood by her colleagues, something she felt well before the virus ravaged her district.

“I felt like my colleagues were making opinions about me based on Fox News,” she said. “It almost felt like instead of them actually talking to the person who was next to them, and physically present in front of them, they were consuming me through television. And I think that added a lot to the particular loneliness that I experienced.” [Continue reading…]

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