Opinion: Taking cheap shots at AOC hurts the progressive movement

After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Met Gala attendance and Iron Dome vote, progressives are hurting the democratic socialist cause by joining in with the conservatives criticizing her.

Congresswoman+Alexandria+Ocasio-Cortez+has+recently+come+under+fire+for+her+actions.+Progressives+targeting+her+are+only+hurting+their+own+cause.+%28Illustration+by+Bridget+Harshman%29

Bridget Harshman

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has recently come under fire for her actions. Progressives targeting her are only hurting their own cause. (Illustration by Bridget Harshman)

By Batoul Fathi, Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended her first Met Gala last month wearing a dress with the words “tax the rich” emblazoned on the back in red letters. Later that month, she was one of two House representatives to vote “present” on a $1 billion bill for additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, and was seen crying on the House floor after changing her vote from “no” to “present.” The media, of course, had a field day with both incidents.

Conservative publications and personalities criticized her attendance at the Met Gala, calling her hypocritical for preaching taxing the rich while at a social event with America’s elite. Many also claimed that she paid upwards of $35,000 for the ticket, an assumption that was later proven false. In regard to the Iron Dome bill, Republicans were quick to claim political theater and “crocodile tears.” 

While she is often an easy target for the right wing, leftists were also unhappy with Ocasio-Cortez’s actions. Many agreed that the Met Gala look was a performative and shallow stunt; others claimed that, because she can no longer relate to poor communities, her efforts mean less. Additionally, progressives who support the human rights of Palestinians felt betrayed at her last-minute decision to change her vote.

She released a statement later that week suggesting that she had changed her vote after being subjected to “hateful targeting.” Similary, when a college student asked Vice President Kamala Harris about the “ethnic genocides and displacement of [Palestinian] people” earlier this week, Harris was scolded by the CEO of a pro-Israel organization for “her failure to correct the student.” Harris’ team later reached out to that organization, as well as others, to reiterate her unwavering support for Israel and her disapproval of the student’s description.

The more urgent problem than one “present” vote is the broader infringement of democracy that occurs when organizations are able to intimidate politicians into voting and speaking how they want.

While many progressives claim that they are only holding Ocasio-Cortez accountable, consider the fact that Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who has historically advocated for the safety and rights of Palestinians, voted “yes” on the bill. Jayapal is not alone — other progressives previously supportive of Palestine voted for the bill: Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). So why is there outrage only toward Ocasio-Cortez for her “present” vote?

The simple answer here is that she is the face of the progressive movement and, as a young woman of color, is an easy target for Republicans. That does not mean, though, that progressives have to join in when she does something they disapprove of. As long as Ocasio-Cortez is the face of the democratic socialist movement, contributing to public mockery of her is counterproductive and harmful. Doing so only reinforces what Republicans and moderates believe about democratic socialism: that it is idealistic and frivolous.

A party-unity approach should be standard when it comes to long-term change in progressive spheres, especially because movement figureheads are in and out of the spotlight so often.

While no one should be completely exempt from accountability, maintaining nuance — however difficult it may be — is essential to the advancement of progressive causes in a conservative-leaning political world.

Contact Batoul Fathi at [email protected]