Meet Saikat Chakrabarti, the Bengali-American chief of staff of the feisty New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
In early January this year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress. There are many other things that catch your attention about this feisty young woman, better known by her shorter and catchier nickname – AOC.
Born in Bronx, of Puerto Rican parents, Ocasio-Cortez is only 29 years old. She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization that ‘fights for reforms that empower working people.’ And the day she was sworn-in, she wore all-white. “To honor the women who paved the path before me, and for all the women yet to come. From suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the mothers of the movement,” she wrote on Twitter. She is also a social media star. I decided to follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
And then I noticed something interesting within her Instagram posts. A video of a scruffy-looking young man, wearing a moss green t-shirt with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s face embossed on it. My Bengali Leftist sentiments were immediately jolted awake. In today’s world, who finds significance in Bose? Let alone find it through a sartorial statement in the United States. Meet Saikat Chakrabarti, the chief of staff of Ocasio-Cortez. He is also Bengali-American.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Chakrabarti is a Harvard graduate. Like millions of others, he spent years in Silicon Valley. Even co-founding a web design tool named Mockingbird and working on the product team of payment processor Stripe. In between, he walked the corridors of Wall Street for a while. But unlike many, he left all that behind to join the Bernie Sanders campaign. He later told the Rolling Stone magazine that even though he wasn’t “entirely sure he [Sanders] had all the right solutions,” he knew “he was talking about the right problems.”
While working on the Sanders campaign, Chakrabarti met Alexandra Rojas and Corbin Trent. Together they co-founded Justice Democrats, a political action committee whose one-line introduction says, “Our time – it’s time to usher in a new generation of diverse working class leaders into the Democratic Party. A Democratic Party that fights for its voters, not just corporate donors.”
Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, a similar committee also co-founded by Chakrabarti, worked together to recruit candidates by engaging with the masses. According to indiaabroad.com that quotes Beat DC, “party affiliation didn’t matter; candidates had to want health care for all, a living wage, and to want money to rule all in politics.” Out of the thousands of applications they received, Chakrabarti’s team supported 12 candidates for the Democratic Primaries. The success story of this campaign was the one of Ocasio-Cortez – the only one who was elected to the US Congress. Chakrabarti became her campaign manager and eventually her chief of staff.
The thirty-two year old Chakrabarti is perhaps a die-hard socialist and his pet project seems to be the Green New Deal, an eleven-page google document written by Ocasio-Cortez’s staff over one weekend with the goal to address both economic inequality and climate change. The New Yorker refers to it as the thing that, ‘in the past month has come to define the progressive cause in Washington.’ Chakrabarti told the magazine, “We spent the weekend learning how to put laws together. We looked up how to write resolutions.” Everybody involved in drafting the document was doing it for the first time. Hopefully they will also experience first-hand success.
Just a few days ago, Chakrabarti was named in Politico’s Power List. He told Politico, “Another thing to really do over the next two years is to basically show the American people what will be possible if the Democrats win the House, the Senate and the presidency in 2020, and that means putting our best foot forward. It means putting the most ambitious, the boldest, the biggest things we can, and then just build a movement around that.”
At a time when the Bengali Leftist movement is at its lowest at home, is it seeing a revival at the centre of the bastion of Capitalism?
[Photographs of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Saikat Chakrabarti courtesy their respective Twitter and Instagram accounts]