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The indomitable AOC

Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezTrump tweets Thanksgiving criticism of NFL QBs for kneeling Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (D-N.Y.) made headlines for her House of Representatives floor speech taking Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoHere are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year Ocasio-Cortez after Yoho confrontation: 'I won't be so nice next time' Overnight Defense: US, India to share satellite data | Allegations of racism at Virginia Military Institute | Navy IDs 2 killed in Alabama plane crash MORE (R-Fla.) to task for accosting her on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. According to a reporter for The Hill who was within earshot, Yoho called Ocasio-Cortez “crazy, out of her mind,” even “dangerous” and topped it off by calling her a profane sexist slur.

Yoho first denied that he had used those words. Then he gave a “non-apology,” insisting that his words merely reflected his “passion” on the issue of poverty in America.   

But Yoho’s words, and AOC’s brilliant response, which included taking to the House to call out “violence and violent language against women” inside and outside of politics, also reflect yet another desperately needed social awakening in America.

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It is a social awakening because, as we are living in the Me Too era, sexual assault, sexual harassment and overt sexism are finally being called out, and its perpetrators are being rightly punished.  

But what we have not done yet, at least until this moment, is to begin to root out the sexist language that men sometimes use to denigrate and belittle women with whom they disagree.

That is what AOC did so well on the House floor. She laid bare what is, for most professional women, such a routine occurrence that we have become numb to it.

AOC awakened us to the reality that this type of behavior should never be normalized. She reminded us that nobody should ever find this language acceptable to use in any circumstance. 

As an outspoken young woman of Puerto Rican descent, AOC has made many white Republican men uncomfortable. Yoho’s insult is a reflection of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE’s America. Trump has created an environment where people’s darkest tendencies are not only allowed but encouraged, since he engages in similar bad behavior. He has normalized it, and his base and some of his supporters in Congress, including Yoho, seem to believe that it is okay to use such language towards anyone they see as a threat. 

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As someone who has been called this same sexist epithet on many occasions by men who cannot stand to hear opinions being voiced by a strong Latina, or any other woman for that matter, I so appreciated AOC’s floor speech and applaud her profusely for making it. 

It is a teachable moment for us all. I made both of my children (my young son and daughter) watch it, to show them what real leadership and courage look like in the face of cowardly, small-minded name-calling.

In her speech, AOC reminded America that she is not only a congresswoman but also a daughter, and that her mother had read and heard that Yoho called her daughter that awful word. It reminded all mothers and fathers that their daughters deserve better than such treatment. 

AOC’s speech was not angry. It was sober, somber, direct and fearless. It demonstrated the qualities that her admirers love about her: her brains, her grit, her fearless and indomitable spirit.  

What Republicans don’t seem to understand is that the more they obsessively attack AOC and use her as a Democratic boogeywoman, the more power they give her, the more stature she accumulates and the more her political star rises.

But more importantly, AOC stood up for women, for little girls, for decency and for humanity. In a political environment in which those qualities are in short supply, we should applaud her and encourage others to follow her lead. 

Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist and co-chair of the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee for the party's 2020 convention. She is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.