I still could not recover from how much I love the Netflix documentary Knock Down The House. It follows the journey of four women who decided to challenge their long-term incumbents and made headlines in the 2018 United States midterm elections. As a big fan of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), I am glad to see her journey as the face of the documentary as she ran against her opponent, Joe Crowley, who had not even resided in New York (he was staying in Virginia) remained unchallenged for 14 years — but also the fact that this documentary does not take the spotlight away from the other equally eligible three women candidates. We see Cori Bush, who vowed to make St Louis, Missouri much safer after the Ferguson unrest, Paula Jean Swearengin who was already fed up with the establishment Democrat representing her district who never seemed to do anything regarding the pollution that had caused cancer among her neighbours, and then we see Amy Vilela, who ran for Democratic primary in Nevada, who was the most personally invested after her daughter was refused treatment for not having the right insurance, which lead to her death. “No one should die because they don’t understand the intricacies of the insurance system,” Vilela said.
The documentary opens with AOC’s casual gender analysis while putting on makeup, “Getting ready, for women, it involves so many decisions about how you’re going to present yourselves to the world.” Throughout the documentary, Swearengin can be seen complaining about the comments she had been receiving about showing the proper emotions, “smile all the way” etc. While campaigning, AOC, despite knackered, kept a smiling face, and made this comment which got me heaving a sigh in solidarity, “I feel when I’m trying to be polite with someone, my voice goes up two octaves”. This experience speaks to many of us and proves that women often have to work harder than men regardless of any political affiliations.
Some very interesting observations:
- AOC, commenting on the plight of the working people who sometimes had to work multiple jobs and with long hours, showing the disconnect between many leaders and their constituencies, who sometimes run just for the sake of winning elections, “You just do your best to survive. That’s been the reality of millions of people in this country. They feel like they’re just hanging by a thread. And they feel like no one’s fighting for them, and everyone’s just in it for themselves.”
- The part where AOC held her flyer side-by-side her opponent’s and pointed to hers, “This is the work of a strategist!” Her flyer shows her face, the call to action to vote along with the date and venue and relevant details, and specific detailed demands. Crowley’s? It only showed that he was there to defeat Trump (?) and used vague words such as “deliver”, to which AOC said, “Deliver? Deliver is for pork!” There was also no call to action whatsoever on Crowley’s flyer — which highlights the importance of a call to action in political campaigns and the specificity of manifestos.
- Despite some of them didn’t win, they exemplified a dedication for the people of their constituencies, and especially respect and love for their campaign team (Vilela said to her campaign manager, “You are the best campaign manager I could have ever had, and we started from not knowing shit.”).
- AOC, comforting Vilela when she was defeated, “For one of us to make through, a hundred of us have to try.” I could not stress enough of how words have power, and AOC is good at wielding the right words in every situation, and this is something I need to learn to be better at.
- Perhaps teared up a bit (OK, a lot) when AOC talked about her father’s death during her college years, “Losing him in a time when I was just figuring out the world was really hard.”
- (Perhaps related to my thesis) Any movement can be deemed grassroots and/or leaderless but capacity building is still important and still can have an impact!
- The title is referenced from the moment when Swearengin received a call from Senator Manchin (who defeated her), asking if they want to meet to discuss about her demands. When Swearengin hesitated, her friend said, “Ask yourself where you can do the most good.” Swearengin finally agreed. This phrase will reverberate with me all throughout the next few weeks. So good.
As a conclusion, please read this article on the rise of hyperleaders by Paulo Gerbaudo, one of the most current political trends perpetuated by digital media:
These modern “hyperleaders” invert the relationship between politician and party. In contrast to the representative model of democracy where politicians were figureheads and parties were the true repositories of power, the hyperleader may have a far larger social media base than their organisation. They float above the party, lifting it into the air through their personal visibility.