Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Decency

The Democratic congresswoman chose to respond to verbal aggression in the political arena. Don’t be quiet, answer back, and do it in the open. There’s a tremendous lesson here.

We’re looking for meaning, that’s clear. The pandemic, confinement, opening up, the fear of a second wave, tension boiling around questions of race and sexual assaults … it’s all overwhelming. From the douchebags who pollute the beaches of the Gaspé Peninsula, to the women calling out their harassers, from mask-wearers to paranoid conspiracy theorists, we’re trying to make sense of it all. Our well-ordered lives, for better or for worse, hit a wall in mid-March. Since then, we’ve been exploring, hesitating, and sometimes we cry and curl up into a ball.

That’s why, when an indisputably strong and inspiring event occurs, hoping for a better world, we are astounded. It happened last week. This event lasted six minutes and 38 seconds, and was filmed and shared on all platforms. The Democratic representative for New York’s 14th Congressional District, 30-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded calmly and with dignity in an exemplary speech to Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, 65, who had publicly called her a “fucking bitch” on the steps of the United States Capitol.

Ocasio-Cortez, who is openly socialist and outside the political establishment, is a rising star on the American left. The Netflix documentary, “Knock Down the House,” which followed four aspiring members of Congress during the 2018 midterm election, clearly showed her honest character, her empathy, her talent and her values. As the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, she is distinguished by her poise and her ideas. But what she did last week is completely out of the ordinary, and will not only be a foundational moment in her political career, but a part of history for all women who are insulted or attacked by men, whatever their status. At a moment when some women are publicly and anonymously denouncing their male harassers or attackers, with all the misconduct that entails, this firm and clear statement is remarkable.

Why does this speech move so many? First, it does so because of the manner in which it was done. Ocasio-Cortez chose to respond to verbal aggression in the political arena. Not behind closed doors, or outside, but at the heart of recognized power, a strong symbol. Then, throughout her speech, she remained calm and poised. Even though we could feel her roiling anger and emotions that surfaced, she never cracked or cried. She was not a victim. She firmly took the reins with her remarks.

Yoho, in an attempt to apologize, pointed to the fact that he is married and the father of two daughters. Ocasio-Cortez responded to him coldly: “Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.” These are the powerful words of a human being who speaks with dignity and a sense of morality, something which is cruelly lacking in the American political scene. And in society in general, lately.

Ocasio-Cortez speaks not only on behalf of female politicians, but for all women. In fact, for all people who are ridiculed. “Treating people with dignity and respect,” these words are revolutionary in an age of lies and amorality. It’s a magnificent lesson in these vicious times. Her six-minute, 38-seconds speech offers energy, hope and courage. Her speech shows that words, a response, and the use of institutions can also be subversive and can take down politicians who were thought to be untouchable.

Answer back. Don’t be quiet, and do it in the open. There’s a tremendous lesson here.

We’re eagerly searching for meaning in our lives and in our society, which has become so strange. A young woman, passionate and hurt but strong, has come along to provide us with a vaccine against defeatism. It’s the first dose of concentrated dignity in a long time.

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