For a country that’s known as the Land of the Free, America is very keen on making sure nothing is. Horror stories of healthcare bills, of mothers giving birth and being asked for their credit card and an incarceration policy that’s hard to believe is legal have all ensured that it’s hard to view the States as a properly progressive nation in 2020.
A few months ago, on a particularly bad news day (the criteria of which has really been thrown into disarray this year), I was told to watch a Netflix documentary called Knock Down The House to give me a bit of hope. The documentary follows four relatively inexperienced candidates campaigning via grassroots organisations set up mostly in the wake of the Trump victory to win a seat in the American Primary elections in 2018 and become members of Congress.
One of them was Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she’s now known. It’s a truly incredible watch (especially as you realise director Rachel Lears had no guarantee any of them would win at the time) as you follow AOC from her job as a waitress in a New York bar to winning the seat from Joseph Crowley, who had held it since 2003. You soon realise he was so uninvested in bringing about change to the area that he didn’t even live in the same state. AOC went from bartender to Congresswoman in the same year, and she gives us hope that she’s just beginning. Merriam-Webster reported that searches for ‘socialism’ spiked 1500 per cent after her win.
AOC has fresh, democratic and socialist ideals. Her policy that no corporates could donate to her campaign (hence holding no sway over her decisions), coupled with the fact that she’s a young, intelligent Puerto Rican-American, resonated with enough voters that she won the seat by 4,000 votes in a shock upset for the old guard. Watching her campaign (remember: she started from almost nothing, with no political experience) take down, pick apart and shame other candidates and the establishment, it’s easy to see why in Trump’s America AOC has become a symbol of hope.
In just two years her profile has sky-rocketed, as a fresh face amongst what feels like thousands of old white men, often going viral for her take downs of their ideals. Unencumbered by corporate donations (read: bribes for the most part), she is truly free to say what she believes in. Watch this impassioned speech against sexism in congress, or this one when she questioned big pharma, or maybe this one deconstructing environmental concerns as ‘elitist’ (warning: you will cry at this).
Despite recently drawing criticism for appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair in a $14,000 suit whilst being a socialist (some people have no concept of being A) dressed for a shoot by a stylist and b) the fact that Socialism is not actually a school of thought that says everyone must be poor), AOC has risen into public consciousness quickly and through merit. Her fresh, uncorrupted voice cuts through the cacophony of toxic male egos that bray their way into our news reports daily.
So what would her America look like? For a start, Americans would have cheaper and fairer healthcare, as AOC believes in one (dare we say it, national) insurer for everyone. You’d have less chance of going to prison, on account of her wish to reform the incarceration process. You’d also have more support if you were discriminated against for your sexual orientation or gender, as AOC has made impassioned speeches on the role of religion in Trump’s Government being used to justify LGBTQ+ marginalisation.
You’d be much less likely to get shot, given her belief that assault rifles, magazines and bump stocks (gun attachments that enable semiautomatic rifles to fire faster) should be banned, and she argues for thorough background checks for anyone purchasing a gun for private use. The NRA (National Rifle Association) is one of the biggest political lobbyist groups in America, frequently donating to – you guessed it – the Republicans, and the fact that AOC won’t bend her stance for their support, or their cash, is calming. San Francisco city government officially labelled the NRA ‘a domestic terrorist organisation’ in 2019.
I think one of the key reasons that AOC has cut through the dross is that she’s a real person who seems to be literally and metaphorically scrunching her face up to all the strange, dangerous and corrupt things that glide through all areas of politics. She didn’t go to a top university with the sole intent of becoming a career politician. She did it in response to what was going on. It’s a bit like Groucho Marx’s old adage ‘I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member’ – anyone who’s only aim is to be a politician should be refused from doing so. There has to be real motivation behind the people who are going to enforce change.
American law (discriminatorily) states that nobody under 35 can run for president (presumably there’s a clause that says the ideal age to run, according to current candidates, is So Old You’re Almost Dead). AOC is 31. Is it too early to dream? Maybe, just maybe, she’ll have to knock down, and move into, a more famous house in 2024.