“We need to push for a lot more AOCs on both sides of the pond before we’re A-OK again,” says Lucy Mangan.
I was 25 before it dawned on me, while idly reading an article at the bus stop, that politicians were meant to represent us. A quarter of a century before I realised that the people I saw on telly shouting at each other or avoiding questions on the news were supposed to be working on behalf of us, for the greater good, rather than their own careerist ends.
In part, sure, this is something of an indictment of my intellectual prowess. I do think I should have grasped the abstract principles of democracy before this. But I think it’s a greater indictment of the system, populated entirely by people who looked, sounded and dressed in a way entirely unlike me or anyone I knew, that made it so hard to see. There were the many, many layers of corruption (after all, so many of those policies that pleased no one did, it turned out, please a few people who were going to make lots of money), the venality, the meaningless pomp…
I think of this every time I see the beautiful, uplifting face of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez staring out at me as I scroll determinedly through the day’s headlines (I made a new year’s resolution not to avoid the news, just not to get it through Twitter). She is the 29-year-old former educational adviser, from a working class Hispanic family, who became the United States’ youngest ever Congresswoman.
Her differences from the pale, male, stale run of things (forgive the cliche, but there is absolutely no better description) inform everything she does. She knew how to shut down the distracting conversation about the lipstick she wore during a debate without alienating anyone. She sent an exuberant tweet acknowledging all the enquiries as to the shade: “I GOT YOU. It’s Stila ‘Stay All Day’ Liquid in Beso” and then the focus moved back to what she was saying. She overtly and uncompromisingly, supports healthcare for all, family leave and, most recently, a 70% tax rate on the wealthiest Americans. Her difference in perspective from her predecessors is palpable.
AOC, as she is increasingly known – because, when you are essentially political Madonna, you don’t need your full name either – shows just why we need to break the stranglehold people of a certain class, gender and schooling have on our political (and business, educational, ecclesiastical, legal, you-name-it) institutions. They are not held hostage by expectations, old school ties, or the demands of the place in the network they have been delicately prepared to slot into.
People who are marginalised – by sex, colour, physical disability, religion, or anything else – have a greater freedom from convention. A year before she was elected, AOC was bartending. She bought her first sofa two weeks before winning the election, “after I got health insurance”. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who is relatively unshackled to represent you? Or someone drawn from the elite, who is already permanently tangled up with media moguls, power brokers, party donors and all the people they want to keep happy because those people are part of the network that will push lucrative jobs towards them when they step back from politics in a few years’ time?
Increasing diversity means increasing the proportion of outsiders, people from backgrounds like yours and mine. They can bring in the beliefs and ideas that truly represent us. We need to push for a lot more AOCs on both sides of the pond before we’re A-OK again.