For Kristen Stoller, Remy Drabkin, and a number of other business owners and activists in Newberg, Aug. 19 started as a normal Thursday.
Then, they received word that a nationally recognized political figure whom they admire was in town, and their focus shifted to attempting to meet her and share their perspective.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York came through Newberg on vacation and Stoller and Drabkin seized the opportunity to meet and take photos with her.
"My office girl on that day told me that she thought AOC had just parked outside of (Chehalem Valley Dance Academy)," Stoller, who owns the business, said. "I was like, 'No way.' I had just heard from a friend on Instagram that AOC was in the valley and so I hung out at the studio hoping I'd get to meet her. And that's exactly what we did once she came back to the area where she'd parked.
"She was on vacation with her partner and a couple of friends. They were in the area visiting and she listened to what we had to say about what's going on in our community. She emphasized how important local elections are and said we could reach out if there were any resources available. She was on vacation, and we were very respectful of that, wanting her to enjoy our beautiful valley."
Stoller, Drabkin and others spoke to Ocasio-Cortez about Newberg's political issues, including the recent ban on Black Lives Matter and Pride displays by the Newberg school board. They asked for Ocasio-Cortez's help, and after posing for a handful of photos, the congresswoman encouraged them to get in touch with her office and make her aware of the issues as they transpire through social media.
"It's not anyone's responsibility but our own as Newberg residents to deal with this," Stoller said. "But sharing in a passion for representation and equity and inclusion was something valuable to us. Maybe there's a national organization we'd be able to get in touch with or learn from that she might be aware of."
Stoller said she and Drabkin admire "AOC" for her commitment to issues of social and economic justice, and her prominence as a national figure in left-wing politics. The meeting was, Stoller admits, a "fangirl" moment.
"It was so awesome," she said. "I never even thought I'd have an opportunity. It was a full celebrity freak-out for me where I was pacing, nervous and trying to be cool and chill. She was very kind and listened and her whole crew was great.
"The main thing that inspires me about her is she doesn't see boundaries for herself and others regardless of how high barriers or historical norms have been built. She cares about the people and their voices in her district and that is something I resonate with the most. She is the type of leader and person of character that I want to be locally as well. Her values and principles and unwavering drive to do better are inspiring."
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