Opinion

Why the latest criticism of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is so troubling

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The congresswoman was called out for riding in an Uber, proving that her detractors will do anything to try and take her down.

We think that if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Meghan Markle ever met, they would be friends.

Not only because they are both women of colour shaking up historic institutions with their passion and their voices. But because both of them have become the cherished targets of the tabloid media. Like Meghan, everything that Ocasio-Cortez does is scrutinised by the press.

If she wears a nice coat, critics wonder how much she paid for it. If she dances in a video, they label her flippant. If she doesn’t crack a smile during President Donald Trump’s bizarre State of the Union speech, she’s called “sullen, teenage and at a loss”.

The latest criticism of Ocasio-Cortez? That she’s a hypocrite. The cover of the New York Post this weekend was an investigation into how Ocasio-Cortez “wants to save the planet with her Green New Deal, but she keeps tripping over her own giant carbon footprint”. 

In this so-called ‘investigation’, the New York Post detailed Ocasio-Cortez’s gas-guzzling lifestyle since becoming a representative, which included taking ride-sharing services on 1,049 occasions, spending $29,365.70 “on those emissions-spewing vehicles”, as the New York Post put it, when the subway stop was a short walk from her office. But wait, there’s more. Ocasio-Cortez also took flights, the story detailed, some 66 of them, while taking the train 18 times.

Then there was the article’s piece de resistance, an in-depth analysis of her Instagram stories handled with Watergate-levels of scrutiny by the newspaper. On 24 February, the paper reports, Ocasio-Cortez threw two plastic bags into the bin along with the peelings from a sweet potato, which should have been put into a compost receptacle. Absolutely shocking stuff, that. 

Needless to say, when the New York Post reached out to Ocasio-Cortez’s team, they refused to answer whether or not the representative threw “organic material in the trash.” 

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 07: U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks as Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) (R) and other Congressional Democrats listen during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. Sen. Markey and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez held a news conference to unveil their Green New Deal resolution. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigning for her Green New Deal

As ever, the 29-year-old congresswoman has taken the article in her stride, sarcastically joking on Twitter that “the Pulitzer’s been decided. No one can rival this kind of hard-hitting journalism.” She added that “My tía [aunt] was very upset that the NY Post insulted her minivan… If they saw how many goldfish snacks were in this thing they’d say I was killing the ocean too.”

“I also fly and use A/C,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “Living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working towards a better future. The Green New Deal is about putting a LOT of people to work in developing new technologies, building new infrastructure, and getting us to 100% renewable energy.”

Ocasio-Cortez is right. Her taking an airplane as part of her job or using a car service when she needs to or, god forbid, reportedly putting the scraps from a sweet potato into the wrong bin, doesn’t mean that she is a hypocrite. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want to make the world a better, safer, greener place. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t believe in the principles of her Green New Deal. And it certainly doesn’t undermine the message of that policy. 

Ocasio-Cortez is living and moving through the world in the way that is required of her right now as prescribed by the rules of our current, broken way of living. She’s doing this in order to make real and lasting change for the future.

Ocasio-Cortez on the campaign trail

Where is the media investigation into Leonardo DiCaprio zipping around the world on his gas-guzzling private jet while, in the same breath, demanding that we all do more to save the oceans? Charity starts at home, doesn’t it Leo? 

Or, indeed, where is the investigation into Trump’s carbon footprint? Where is the discussion of the emissions generated by his many, many trips to his home in Florida’s Mar-a-Lago, whether by Air Force One or personal plane? Where is the investigation into the fact that Trump’s plane travel over the course of his presidential campaign was equal to the yearly output of 500 Americans combined?

Where is the front page splash about the six homes that Trump owns that he isn’t currently living in and which could emit huge carbon emissions per square metre? Why aren’t we talking about the fact that Trump’s insatiable desire to play golf is part of a wider love of the sport that necessitates an absolutely astonishing two billion gallons of water to irrigate the pitches across the US every single day. Where is that news story?

There isn’t one. The front page, hard-hitting news investigation of Trump’s carbon footprint doesn’t exist. 

Trump loves playing golf, and golf is draining the US of water supplies

At the risk of sounding like a bit of a broken record, there is a reason why Ocasio-Cortez and, in her own way, Meghan Markle, have become such targets for the tabloid media. Because both of them are women. They are loud, opinionated women with ideas of their own and a plan to implement them. They want more. They speak out. They push back. And that makes them powerful.

When the first wave of criticism of Ocasio-Cortez in the media started to hit back in January, actress Zoe Kazan perfectly summed up why it was so troubling. “What they are doing to AOC is not just designed to shame her,” she wrote. “It is designed to shame all young women into thinking they should not/could not run for office… That they could never dress/act/speak unimpeachably enough.”

“This doesn’t just extend to politics,” Kazan continued. “It is designed to intimidate us into thinking that we similarly will be attacked/undermined if we try to assume/wield power in whatever field. Protect and defend AOC. Protect and defend the future for all women.” 

Ocasio-Cortez isn’t just breaking the glass ceiling of American politics, she’s taking a baseball bat to it. And for the traditional denizens of power in that arena – on the whole, white men – that is a terrifying prospect. The simplest thing to do is attempt to poke holes in her wherever they can. If it means scouring her Instagram stories for the moment in which she does something so horrific as discard food waste into a rubbish bin, then so be it.

But it’s not working. In fact, it’s having the opposite effect. Because instead of making Ocasio-Cortez look like a hypocrite, it’s making those media organisations and the voices who power them look desperate. 

Really, really desperate. Like, Trump’s former lawyer is out here telling everyone that the president has lied and cheated and lied some more about everything from Russian ties to Wikileaks, and the worst thing that can be pinned on Ocasio-Cortez is that she threw some sweet potatoes into the bin.

And while these media organisations scramble to find something that sticks to Ocasio-Cortez, she’s only getting stronger. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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