Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York took part in an education policy town hall this weekend, urging voters in Brooklyn not to fall into a "scarcity mindset" when it comes to college.
With education inequality brought into the spotlight last week amid allegations that dozens of wealthy parents had bribed prestigious universities to secure highly coveted places for their children, the freshman congresswoman became passionate as she told those attending the event that more schools must be brought up to a high standard to ensure sufficient opportunities for young people, and called on students and parents to demand progress rather than fight with each other over admission to a handful of prestigious schools.
Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, told the town hall of her father's difficult experience as a young man trying to secure a good education in 1970s New York City.
"My dad was born in the South Bronx while the Bronx was burning," she explained. "He was raised by five people in a one-bedroom apartment. And he did what he had to do, and my dad got into Brooklyn Tech," one of the city's elite public high schools that require an admissions test.
"He told me about what his life was like, where as a teenager he got up and left his apartment at five o'clock in the morning every day to get on to the 6 train or to get onto the 4 train, and ride a very dangerous subway during the 1970s at 15 years old to go to Brooklyn Tech," Ocasio-Cortez continued. "Because it was seen as his only opportunity to have a dignified life. And he loved his experience at Brooklyn Tech, because he went to a good school."
But she stressed that not everyone is as lucky as her father was. "My question is, why are there only five—or a handful—of schools in New York City that are seen to give us this life?" She then declared that every public school in the city should be of the same quality and offer the same opportunity as Brooklyn Tech did for her father.
At one point, an audience member could be heard heckling the congresswoman. Though one woman tried to shout down the heckler, saying, "Excuse me, the congresswoman is speaking," Ocasio-Cortez said she "would be happy to engage with these folks."
The man then stopped shouting, allowing Ocasio-Cortez to continue. "My concern is that this right here, where we're fighting each other, is exactly what happens under a scarcity mindset," she said. "Because this should not be the fight," she added, pointing between herself and the audience, garnering cheers from the audience. Then, pointing from herself and the crowd upwards—presumably referencing the political establishment dominated by the wealthy, "this should be the fight."