This is the first and last article I will be writing about U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). The scrutiny of every action and word of AOC is counterproductive, often misplaced and sometimes suspiciously vitriolic. Other representatives have run far-left campaigns and come up short. AOC’s spotlight and the brand seem to have triggered people in a way that Bernie Sanders, a white man who similarly commodified resistance and fails to be as left as we want him to be, has not. The obsession of some on the left with accusing AOC of hypocrisy or vapid performativity overlaps too closely with critiques from the right. I’ll leave that there.
But there’s something that those on the left who are not operating under the influence of unconscious prejudice must understand. It’s that the laborious task they’ve undertaken of refusing to let us forget that she is now part of the establishment and no different from other politicians has paradoxically singled her out as unique. No one goes to great pains to tell us how U.S. State Senator Amy Klobuchar is an establishment stooge who is just like the rest of them. The effect of the constant criticism from the holier-than-thou Twitter-left has unintentionally created an inseparable tie between AOC and the left. Leftists shooting themselves in the foot; what’s new?
There are material political drawbacks to this hyper-focus on AOC. As a political icon, AOC holds great power, particularly in the way she utilizes social media for propagating the Progressive Caucus’ agenda. However, AOC is a comparatively marginal figure within the Democratic Party when compared with the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, or even Adam Schiff. AOC is not the architect behind neoliberal policies; she is just not effectively resisting them as we would like. Blaming her for, say, military budgets obscures the primary actors who should be held accountable.
Ironically, I am of the belief that to sever the tie between AOC and the left, a sufficient argument needs to be made as to the nature of her role in the political establishment. The only way to do this is to call into question her leftist bona fides. If leftists give up on expecting something different from AOC, maybe we can let go of the distraction of scrutinizing her every move.
We have to start with the dress. The night of the Met Gala when her now infamous “Tax the Rich” dress was worn, AOC said, “When we talk about supporting working families and when we talk about having a fair tax code, oftentimes this conversation is happening among working- and middle-class people [on] the senate floor. I think it’s time we bring all classes into the conversation.”
Activism is performative and it is a dangerous thing to constantly conflate political statements with hypocrisy. Upon further inquiry, there is, in fact, a deep rift between AOC’s statement and, for lack of better words, authentic leftism. But AOC is only hypocritical if you assume that her political ideology is socialist. Democratic socialism, in the Bernie Sanders sense, is something different.
Explaining the origin of the idea behind the dress, AOC said, “When Aurora [James, the designer of the dress] and I were first kind of partnered, we really started having a conversation about what it means to be working-class women of color at the Met, and we said, ‘We can’t just play along, but we need to break the fourth wall and challenge some of the institutions.’”
There is one problem with this. Neither of these women are working class. They have working-class backgrounds. But class is not an identity that one can choose to shed or keep. Class is defined by one’s role in society. Neither James nor AOC sells her labor for a wage. They do not have bosses. They do not clock in or clock out. They are not alienated from the means of production.
In fact, if anything, James is a class traitor. In October 2019, James’ company, Cultural Brokerage Agency, received a $17,000 fine from the state Worker’s Compensation Board for not carrying worker’s comp insurance. Currently, James’ company owes workers $62,722 in worker’s comp. Cultural Brokerage Agency also has a slew of ex-employees who have called the work environment hostile while others have noted that it relied heavily on the unpaid work of interns. It would be hypocritical, then, for AOC to display a slogan like “Property is Robbery” or “Eat the Rich.” “Tax the Rich” is something that ostensibly aligns with the way these two people live their lives.
Outside of the Met Gala where AOC was making her statement, a racial and economic justice protest was taking place. While AOC was having pictures of her activism taken and giving interviews about her dress and what it meant, police brutalized protesters, beating them up and hog-tying them in ways that are all too normal nowadays. The organization protesting was calling for the defunding of the $11 billion New York Police Department budget. At least nine people were arrested. What we were left with was a dystopian scene of schmoozing elites inside the Gala and a brutal police crackdown outside of it. AOC has said not one word about this. Why would she? She is a U.S. Representative, not Antifa.
On Friday, Sept. 24, the United States House of Representatives voted to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system to the tune of one billion dollars, in addition to the more than three billion that Israel receives in military aid yearly. Initially, AOC voted no on this bill but after a mysterious huddle with other “progressives” in the House, through tears, she changed her vote to “present,” effectively abstaining. Nine people voted no on the bill, including Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. In a letter written by AOC, posted on her Twitter account, AOC criticized the “deeply unjust” manner with which the bill got to the floor and speaks out against those in Washington who support unconditional aid being given to the Israeli government. She does not explain why she changed her vote.
The Israeli government is currently responsible for one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world today and they have been since 2005. Gaza has been under siege since 2007 after Israel objected to free and fair elections that had taken place in Gaza the year prior. Every couple of years the Israeli military conducts incursions, referred to in private by Israeli officials as “mowing the lawn,” that result in the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of civilians. In May, Israeli airstrikes killed as many as 300 civilians, including 66 children, and destroyed 2,400 houses and 2,000 other facilities. Gazans are only allowed to leave upon approval by the Israeli government, which is seldom given. Since the pandemic, almost none of the applications filed by Gazans have been accepted. Gazan fishermen often come under live fire from Israeli gunmen for drifting too far from shore. Less than four percent of the fresh water in Gaza is drinkable. As of April, unemployment stood around 43% generally, 60.4% among women, and over 65% among young people, the highest in the world. Around 79% of people employed in the private sector earn less than $440 a month. It is one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world today and it is entirely the product of the policies of the state of Israel supported and funded by the United States.
If AOC is abstaining from a vote that effectively would send an additional one billion dollars to the state of Israel, she is not a leftist. She is playing a different game. Stop expecting anything different from her. Stop worrying about her. Unless she’s adequately facilitating revolution or actively partaking in the neoliberal assault on the working class, I really don’t see why anyone should care anymore. Time to move on.