by Jim Rigby
Minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – Austin, Texas
It is perfectly fine to disagree with radical thinkers but it is something else to be so propagandized by the dominant culture that we can’t really hear what they are saying.
There is no question Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has a steep learning curve. There is no question she will make many mistakes, but she is being attacked by liberals as well as conservatives and many of the attacks misstate her positions. I believe that is because many of us on both sides of the aisle are afraid of hearing what this young woman has to say.
Here are a few suggestion on how to hear the context from which Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is speaking to us:
She is speaking as a radical: When Ocasio-Cortez uses the word “radical” she does not mean “extremist.” She means someone who tries to get past political dualisms and find the “roots” of our problems. That means she believes the answer to our problems cannot be found by polarizing our corrupt system and choosing the better of the two sides. A “radical” isn’t fooled by political labels. Instead of a melodrama of the good team against the bad team, a “radical” analyses the system itself and asks simply who has power and who doesn’t.
Someone who values principles over their own party is not a traitor to that party. They are what we used to call a “statesman.” This young “stateswoman” understands that getting rid of Trump is essential. She is not making false equivalence between the parties. She is looking for the “roots” of a common standard that will be fair to everyone, especially the most vulnerable. Most all of us agree the system is rigged, right? So why do let our leaders continually convince us to keep playing by the same rules?
Whatever system we end up will be a hybrid different approaches. What is so bad about having someone who actually stands in the corner of the working poor even that means she needs to embarrass those of us liberals who have found a comfortable niche in the hierarchy of oppression?
She is speaking as a woman: If you hadn’t noticed it, the good ol’ boys are freaking out at her refusal to be deferential. Some people tried to discredit her by showing her dancing with abandon, but the video went viral. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is brilliant, strong, joyful, brown, and fearless. In other words, she is white patriarchy’s worst nightmare.
She speaks as a Person of Color: Rep. Ocasio-Cortez makes many white liberals and conservatives alike uncomfortable because they want racial justice but don’t want to understand that justice will mean a major redistribution of power in this nation. What is so bad about a young Woman of Color who has such a knack for making us white liberals uncomfortable enough to feel the pain our white privilege causes others?
She is speaking “inter-sectionally”: in other words, she thinks about how all the forms of oppression overlap. She is not fooled by a politician who claims to be feminist but will bomb women and children in another country, or one that leaves Women of Color behind. She will not accept legislation that makes most healthy people comfortable, but leaves out people with disabilities. She isn’t being divisive, we are the ones being divisive when our idea of humanity doesn’t include EVERYONE.
She speaks as a youth: The world belongs to young people in a way it does not belong to us older folk who, when it comes to climate change, make the proverbial frogs boiling in water look prophetic.
When Rep. Ocasio-Cortez showed up at a protest in Rep. Pelosi’s office, she wasn’t “pooping” on Democrats (to use Whoopi Goldberg’s words about this young upstart.) Rep. Ocasio-Cortez was supporting young climate activists and trying to get Rep. Pelosi to listen to them, period. Why is it disrespectful to question someone in authority, but not disrespectful to discount the young voices who will have to live in the world being poisoned by our every comfortable compromise today?
It is our duty to critique Rep. Ocasio Cortez like everyone else in leadership. But before we have a right to criticize her, we first have a duty to hear what she is really saying. And that means we need to listen, not in our own contexts, but the context in which she speaks.
And we liberals need to make damn sure that what most offends us most about Rep. Ocasio-Cortezis is not that she is disrespectful and arrogant, but that she is who we pretend to be, but really aren’t.