Tag: AOC

It Takes A Woman: Connecting and Empowering Voters Through Social Media

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decided to run against Joe Crowley in the democratic primary, she saw an opening: despite being a leading democrat in Washington, Crowley was too out of touch, too comfortable, and too removed from his constituency. She ran her campaign straight at Crowley’s weak spots, fostering a direct, emotional connection to the people of her district. She was out knocking on doors, handing out flyers, meeting the people who would be casting a ballot. And at the same time, she was building her skill-set of direct engagement through a different avenue: social media.

Since she defeated Crowley and coasted to a general election victory in 2018, AOC has demonstrated the enormous political power inherent in social media. Rather than tailor her messaging through carefully focus-grouped campaign ads, AOC’s social media posts can be funny, angry, playful, or indignant. In short, they are oddly human. They sound like the impassioned thoughts and opinions of a young progressive with witty comebacks and a comfort with internet vernacular.

She is also native to the idea of reinforcing her own “brand”. This past week, AOC went back to work as a bartender in Jackson Heights, Queens in order to support the #raisethewage campaign to raise the national minimum wage to $15. The videos of her bartending went viral, giving a huge boost to the campaign. In the videos, she speaks as she prepares drinks for patrons: “The federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13 an hour. That is unacceptable. Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job. It’s indentured servitude. All labor has dignity and the way that we give labor dignity is by paying people the respect and the value that they are worth at minimum.” Far from hiding from her past as a service worker, AOC uses it as her bona fides in speaking for the poor and middle class. Working as a bartender demonstrates her intelligence in using her own platform and story to bolster a national issue that could benefit millions of Americans.

AOC’s uncanny candidness has cemented her status as a disruptive force to be reckoned with in the democratic party. Unlike many of her colleagues who must fight to have their message heard, she can easily command attention and demand action from her massive social media following. In her short time in office, she has already championed the Green New Deal, which failed to pass the Senate, yet has more name recognition than any progressive legislation (if not legislation writ large) in recent memory. Conservatives discuss the Green New Deal breathlessly, demonizing its regulation of the free market. Progressives applaud its steps towards combatting climate change and creating jobs. Whether you love her or hate her, AOC has forced a landmark bill into the conversation as a first-term congresswoman. That is a monumental paradigm shift.

It is important to note that AOC has carved out in this niche in the shadow of another social media renegade: President Donald Trump. President Trump’s rise to power is inconceivable without his runaway twitter antagonism. He weaponized the access that twitter gave him to create a constant swirl of attention around himself and his candidacy for president—insulting and demeaning anyone that criticized him, from his primary opponents to news anchors to late night comedians. He effectively commands attention by proving just how low he will go in order to stay in the news cycle. And, to our great national dismay, the media has proved more than willing to follow his lead. Just like AOC, whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump has completely shifted the paradigm of modern politics.

The phenomenon of politics via social media is not going away anytime soon. Insofar as we can prepare for a future in which getting elected to office means commanding a massive social media following, we can look to AOC and President Trump as concrete examples for the power and danger in this new type of power. For each, social media provides a means of side-stepping the powers-that-be to speak directly to an audience. Donald Trump did not need to wait for a debate to call Jeb Bush “low energy”; AOC does not need to filibuster on the floor of Congress to advocate for a national minimum wage. The force of their personalities, channeled through their social media accounts, allows them to set the agenda for the day.

It seems clear that President Trump will not use this power responsibly. AOC, however, is cognizant of its power and the risks of overuse. “I actually think that social media poses a public health risk to everybody,” Ocasio-Cortez said. She added, ” I think it has effects on everybody: increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, escapism.” How she proceeds to use her platform will be interesting to say the least, and will likely set a precedent for how politicians of the future wield the power of their social media to promote themselves and their ideas.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

It Takes a Woman: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Left

When she began her run for congress in the 14th congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was working as a bartender and waitress in Manhattan. She had worked as an organizer on Bernie Sanders’s 2016 run, and, after taking a road trip through places like Flint, Michigan and the Standing Rock reservation, she decided to run against the ten-term incumbent, Mike Crowley, in her district. Having run unopposed in the primary since 2004, Crowley was caught flat-footed—he didn’t even show up to their primary debate—and AOC, as she is now known, successfully painted Crowley as a complacent and out-of-touch. In June of 2018, Ocasio-Cortez beat Crowley by almost 15 percentage points in a landslide victory that the New York Times predicted would “reverberate across the party and the country.”

AOC’s stature as a political figure has only grown since then, as has her platform of Democratic Socialism. If Bernie Sanders introduced the ideology of democratic socialism to the American people, AOC has made it mainstream. In quick succession, she has brought once-unthinkable propositions to the table: she has championed the Green New Deal, a sweeping package designed to curb American’s carbon emissions while creating thousands of new jobs; she has proposed a 70% marginal tax rate for those making more than $10 million dollars per year; and she opposed the construction of Amazon’s much-discussed “HQ2” near her congressional district, leading a chorus of voices that may have contributed to Amazon’s decision to scrap the plans.

These bold moves have certainly won AOC many supporters, but they have also made her the target of breathless criticism. Critics on the right have seized upon AOC’s idealism as naïve and dangerous. Many on the left, too, view her as too disruptive a force within the Democratic party. Former Governor Ed Rendell recently stated that “AOC does not speak for the democratic party,” and that people like her will decrease the likelihood that a Democrat will defeat President Trump in the 2020 election. People like Rendell believe that the Democrats should occupy the safe territory of criticizing President Trump and winning back the moderate voters who voted for Trump believing that he could deliver some change in Washington.

While there may be a logic to that sort of thinking, AOC’s power lies in her ability to tell a story that makes sense to voters, rather than just trying to cobble together enough votes to win elections. For AOC and her supporters, the status quo has become so perilous—fast-approaching climate catastrophe, precipitous wealth disparity, a disappearing middle class—that fundamental shifts must be made in the way we operate. For too long, the democratic party has overdelivered inspiring rhetoric while underdelivering policy that will improve their constituents’ lives. Unlike the vague promises of “change”, AOC speaks to concrete, if historically ambitious, policy proposals.

While this may seem like a small distinction, it constitutes a fundamental reimagining of the democratic party as it exists today. For those like Governor Rendell, the democratic party is essentially a hedge against the hard-right instincts of the GOP; for AOC, the democratic party should push an ambitious platform that advocates for the poor and the working class. In a nation with a runaway conservative party that denies scientific consensus, refuses to address gun violence, and actively seeks to strip health insurance from constituents, arriving compromise is insufficient.

If her career thus far is any indication, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez understands these dynamics and has a preternatural ability to engage with them. She is the first political leader that not just understands but embodies the burgeoning social consciousness that defines her generation and those that will follow it. Her political appeal is as emotional as it is philosophical, deeply felt and deeply held. For those who do not agree with her politics, this emotionality is further evidence of her un-seriousness as a politician. But for those who do agree, her conviction is all too fitting: the oceans are rising, the forests are burning, and three Americans (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett) have the same combined wealth as 50% of the American population. For the vast majority of the American people, these trends are dangerous, hostile, and anathema to a well-functioning republic.

Using her unique blend of social media savvy and congressional advocacy, AOC can singlehandedly propel an issue into the conversation. As she continues her political career, it is conceivable that she will champion even more ambitious progressive issues like universal basic income and free college tuition. Her advocacy is powerful, and she commands an enormous audience of Americans who share both her anxieties and her aspirations for a new mode of American life. In that way, she maybe a sort of ‘oracle’ for American politics and where we might be heading. Regardless, she is a true leader and a new model for the type of citizen that, like it or not, might come to define the next chapter in American history.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

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