Emma Gonzalez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: the Latina women calling B.S.
In what proved to be a tumultuous second year of the Trump presidency, two Latina leaders emerged, challenging the establishment and demanding change.
Surviving a mass shooting at school at the age of 18, and going on to lead a nationwide movement to prevent such horrifying incidents from happening again doesn’t happen every year. This was Emma Gonzalez.
Being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of 29, all the while challenging the status quo of Washington politics, isn’t the norm either. This was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
These two trailblazing, inspirational young Latina women have harnessed untapped grassroots energy in the age of Trump, upending what we thought we knew about our politics, our guns, and perhaps most crucially, our Latina women.
Every revolution begins with a word.
Throughout history, minorities have embraced the labels imposed on them by the media and society’s predominant groups when it comes to demonstrating that their strength as a collective is much greater than it is alone.
Over the years, Latinos have had to endure being associated with labels such as "gardener", "housekeeper" and "delivery boy".
Similarly, women have led a fight to hang up their aprons, march in the streets, burn bras and show that they are as efficient and capable behind an executive director’s desk as any man is.
In the midst of the #MeToo revolution and ongoing efforts to counter the Trump administration’s disproportionate hostility toward Hispanic citizens in the country, two important leaders have not just won a seat at the table of public discussion; they have upended that same table and demanded a change to the rules of the game of where and how power is concentrated, and decisions are made in the United States.
We’re talking about Emma González and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortéz, two young women of Latina descent who break the myth of the stereotype, and in turn, are blazing the trails for the emergence of the Latina leader archetype.
Today, more than ever, it is clear that the future is Latina.
On Valentine’s Day 2018, the high school senior Emma Gonzalez was distributing love letters with the Gay-Straight Alliance, a pro LGBT+ group at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, to “spread the love” during lunchtime.
That afternoon, a deranged former classmate entered the school with an AR-15 assault rifle and opened fire, killing 14 students and three adult staff members.
Gonzalez, fortunately, managed to escape, physically unharmed.
Unfortunately, in a country where guns kill an average of 96 people each day, and during a 2018 that, according to the BBC, was the worst year for school shootings in U.S. history, the incident that Gonzalez experienced that February afternoon has become more commonplace and all too familiar.
So, she got right to work. Just two days after the shooting that forever changed her community, Gonzalez gave an impassioned 11-minute speech at a gun control rally in front of the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see,” she cried out to the crowd.
“They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call B.S. That us kids don't know what we're talking about, that we're too young to understand how the government works. We call B.S,” she continued.
And, she hasn’t stopped since.
Her voice has helped fuel the #NeverAgain national movement that says “enough is enough” to the politicians who have chosen to pocket millions from the National Rifle Association (NRA)—the country’s powerful gun lobby—instead of acting to address the epidemic, and to the powerful gun lobby itself for its fear-based promotion of firearms to the American public amid the soaring human costs of its product.
A little over a month after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, the national movement spearheaded by Gonzalez and her classmates organized the March for Our Lives protests, which drew more than 300,000 in Washington, D.C., over 2 million across the country, and even more internationally.
At the D.C. rally, Gonzalez, in what quickly became an iconic moment, held a six-minute silence for the victims of the Parkland massacre - the length of time it took for the shooting to claim the 17 lives it did.
Only recently turned 19 years old, Gonzalez is a bisexual, Latina woman of Cuban descent, born in the Miami suburb of Parkland, Florida. Her shaved head portends her bold presence, and her ability to inspire and call to action the hundreds of thousands who have attended the rallies she’s spoken at.
She was just a normal teenager until she wasn’t.
“It’s like she built herself a pair of wings out of balsa wood and duct tape, and jumped off a building,” her mother, Beth González, explained in an interview with 60 Minutes. “And we are just running along beneath her with a net which she doesn’t want or think that she needs.”
The battle Gonzalez finds herself at the center of warrants every bit of these wings, too. Her activism promoting common-sense gun reforms pits her directly at odds with the NRA, which often exploits fear to rally support for its efforts to keep America armed.
Since the shooting, she has also been a favorite target of right-wing online trolls, a testament to her effectiveness as one of the prominent faces of the #NeverAgain movement. She has been the subject of doctored photos showing her ripping apart the Constitution, compared to Nazi youth and accused of being a paid Democratic operative — all smears without merit. She even weathered an attack from white nationalist Republican Congressman Steve King, who criticized her for wearing a Cuban flag patch on her jacket.
Gonzalez hasn’t backed down through it all. She visited 80 communities across 24 states over the summer with the March for our Lives: Road to Change tour, and in November, South Africa’s Desmond Tutu presented Gonzalez and three of her classmates with the International Children’s Peace Prize, in recognition of their gun-control advocacy and youth engagement work with March for Our Lives since the shooting.
Beyond awards and recognition, Gonzalez and her peers have had a tangible legislative impact, as well. In August, an analysis conducted by Pew Charitable Trusts determined that she and her fellow March for Our Lives activists influenced “a year of unparalleled success for the gun control movement,” which resulted in “banning so-called ‘bump stocks’” and “nearly 50 new gun control laws passed in 25 states, including 14 with Republican governors.”
As we head into 2019, it’s become clear that Gonzalez isn’t letting up, as she continues to focus attention on the issue of gun violence, through interviews, her social media, public speeches, and penned op-eds.
Something tells us we should get used to her.
When strong activism reaches the public eye, politics often plays a big role.
With a campaign video that began with her saying, “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez burst onto the political scene in the spring of 2018 when she challenged and defeated, long-time Congressman Joe Crowley in Democratic primary election for New York’s 14th district.
Fast forward six months and the 29-year-old has become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress - and a household name nationwide.
Born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents, Ocasio-Cortez had her first contact with politics through the Legislative Youth Sessions of the National Hispanic Institute. She later worked on immigration issues for Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy in college, and in 2016, she joined Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign as an organizer.
After the general election, she took a road trip out to Standing Rock, North Dakota to stand with protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Along the way, she visited communities in Ohio and Flint, Michigan, to gain insight into the issues the middle of the country is facing.
A self-described Democratic Socialist, Ocasio-Cortez began her 2018 working as a bartender in Manhattan. She campaigned on a platform of Medicare-for-all, a universal jobs guarantee and immigration justice, among other issues.
Along her journey, Ocasio-Cortez has maintained an infectious authenticity seldom seen in our national politics, one which has already borne concrete results, even before the Latina woman from the Bronx has officially been sworn in as a Congresswoman.
A week after being elected, on her very first day of orientation in Washington, D.C., Ocasio-Cortez joined protesters in former - and future - House speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s office, demanding the influential Democrat make climate change a priority on the Democratic platform. To this end, she has championed a wildly popular Green New Deal - a comprehensive plan to address climate change, for which she makes not just an environmental argument, but a compelling economic case, too.
She’s spoken out against the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies and rhetoric, she’s endorsed single-payer healthcare, she’s kept a spotlight focused on Puerto Rico as the island continues to recover from hurricanes Irma and Maria, and she’s publicly objected to Amazon’s planned second headquarters in her backyard of Queens.
While setting out to tackle today’s most critical, complex issues facing the country and her district, Ocasio-Cortez has managed to maintain her relatability to voters, thanks in large part to her mastery of social media.
Whereas the results of the 2016 election can perhaps be traced back to Donald Trump’s novel and brazen use of Twitter, 21st-century technology is truly second nature to Ocasio-Cortez.
Her first days roaming the halls of Congress were filled with posts and stories exuding curiosity, surprise, skepticism and blunt criticism of entrenched Washington processes. She’s provided a refreshing window into the inner workings of the nation’s politics for her followers, all the while weathering attacks from those who criticize her lack of experience.
She has also taken to social media to educate citizens, as she livestreams question-and-answer sessions with constituents on Instagram while preparing and eating dinner in her D.C. apartment.
The goal, it seems, for Ocasio-Cortez, is not just to serve as a representative and to effect change via legislation passed in Congress; it is to transform the way citizens view their elected officials and their relationship to them and the political process as a whole — a transformation which could have an unprecedented impact on how politics will be practiced in the U.S. for years to come.
The ‘we call B.S.’ charge that Gonzalez repeated in the first speech she gave is a refrain that captures her demand for answers on gun control and violence from the NRA, politicians and everyday Americans.
It just as aptly applies to how Ocasio-Cortez built her own platform, campaigned, and entered the halls of Congress as a young politician.
These two Latina millennials have shown the U.S. in 2018 that pushing for honest, direct dialogue and transparent governance — demanding answers beyond the “B.S.” that politicians and institutions too often hide behind — is not just a democratic ideal.
It’s the most valuable tool we have to construct our way forward as a nation.