"For every 10 rejections, you get one acceptance, and that's how you win everything."
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn't a socialist icon in Knock Down the House, Netflix's documentary about four female Democrats running for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.
In fact, "socialism" isn't uttered at all in the 1 hour and 26 minutes of Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick's simple feature; because co-producers Lears, Blotnick, and Sarah Olson present the four grassroots candidates as "regular people taking on political machines," as Lears told HuffPost. In an interview during the early days of her campaign, Ocasio-Cortez summed up the filmmakers' stance: "Basically, what political machines do is suppress democracy." Lears and Blotnick use straightforward camerawork to illuminate the unique obstacles facing women of color in politics, the protected elitism of America's political firmament, and the leaps of faith necessary to challenge the status quo.
Ocasio-Cortez during her waitressing shiftYahoo
In the wake of Donald Trump's 2016 election, former staffers and supporters of Bernie Sanders formed the political action committees Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats. With the goals to reform the Democratic Party and "replace every corporate-backed member of Congress," according to Justice Democrat's website, they supported a record-breaking number of women running for office.
"It's just the reality that in order for one of us to make it through, 100 of us have to try," Ocasio-Cortez tells a tearful Paula Jean Swearengin, the West Virginian who challenged Senator Joe Manchin on the platform against big businesses destroying the health of the working class. Her speeches included the proud proclamation, "I'm a coal miner's daughter, and I'm mad as hell." Swearengin lost her election weeks before New York's 14th congressional district elected Ocasio-Cortez, but footage of all four women detail the year leading up to their election nights. Lears was able to capture the most footage of Ocasio-Cortez, from her early days waitressing and street canvassing for 10,000 signatures in order to get on the ballot to her victory night: a fortuitous circumstance of the filmmaker living in the same city. But each woman was selected by Lears and Blotnick for her charismatic presence, articulation of issues, and soldier-like mindset in the war against corporate interests and self-interested politicians.
In addition to Swearengin and Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela made healthcare her primary issue when she challenged incumbent Steven Horsford in Nevada. In frank interviews, she attributes her motivation to the death of her 22-year-old daughter, who died in 2015 after doctors refused to perform tests that would have saved her life because she couldn't show proof of health insurance. In Missouri, Cori Bush "was not trying to become an activist," but she lived six minutes away from Ferguson, where Mike Brown was murdered in 2014. Bush shared, "Being a woman of color, our image is scrutinized...Basically, you deal with it. The people of my district, this is how we look."
As for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the then-28-year-old reiterates in interviews that the four women's campaigns represent one unified movement for change; she sees herself as being on the "front lines." She says, "I'm from New York, and New York isn't about Democrat vs. Republican. New York is Establishment vs. whatever poor stray cat who thinks you can stand up against them." At one point, she clarifies with her patent directness: "Here's the best part about all of this. We're not running to make a statement; we're not running to pressure the incumbent to the left; we're running to win."
The low budget production is direct and earnest. Aside from well-timed, emotional music cues and a few poignant clips from Vilela and Ocasio-Cortez's home videos, Lears doesn't manipulate the audience. The documentarian also makes the voting public an integral character in the film through powerful close-ups on the faces of concerned community members, the candidates' campaign teams, and anonymous spectators of their speeches. As Ocasio-Cortez shared on Twitter, "At early screenings, even Trump supporters left the film in tears - because it's about the power of everyday people."
Ultimately, Vilela, Bush, and Swearengin share a crushing defeat—one that's immediately tempered by Ocasio-Cortez's victory, which is filmed with organic energy that's somehow lovely, graceless, and ecstatic. Knock Down the House is best described the same way, in that it frankly depicts why tearing down a corrupt political establishment is nearly impossible. Any hope for change is built from the belief that Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez shared with her niece in 2017 while they were canvassing on a cold street corner in Queens: "For every 10 rejections, you get one acceptance, and that's how you win everything."
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They are two masters at the top of their game—their game just happens to be making fools of themselves.
Once in a generation two titans in their fields go toe-to-toe in a battle that will echo through the ages.
Ali vs. Frazier. Venus vs. Serena. Kasparov vs. Topalov. Now we have a new match to mark down in the annals of history. Not between two great athletes or cunning strategists, but between two of the most unflappably obnoxious ghouls the world of TV punditry has ever known: Rudy Giuliani and Piers Morgan.
In interview after interview they have each proven themselves incapable of allowing others to speak or of recognizing when they're making asses of themselves. No call for civility or reminder of their contradictions will convince either of these mythic figures to back down, apologize, or allow someone else to finish a thought. To see such paragons of interruption and phony outrage sparring over President Trump's disgusting handling of the George Floyd protests—shouting over each other through a delayed video feed—is like watching Baryshnikov and Nureyev stomping on each other's toes.
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The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.
Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.
"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."
This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.
Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality
Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.
But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?
Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?
When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.
After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.
Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.
Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.
Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.
For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.