Last Sunday over dinner my son and I talked enthusiastically about a movie on Netflix we had both just watched. It is called Knock Down the House and tells the incredible story of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and how she defeated ten-term incumbent Democratic Congressman Joe Crawley to become a candidate in the 2018 election and subsequently was elected to the American House of Representatives. Although Crawley was a prominent member of the Democratic caucus, was backed by big business interests, and spent nearly twenty times as much money as Ocasio-Cortez did, she still won. Everyone knows this story but it is chronicled in exciting personal detail in Knock Down the House.
What I learned while watching Knock Down the House that I didn’t know before was that AOC, as she is affectionately called, was one of many new candidates for office sponsored by the Justice Democrats an organization that formed after the 2016 election to promote Democratic candidates that were not in the pocket of big business, candidates that were not funded by wealthy individuals or major corporations. The movie details the bids of three other women besides AOC who also tried to defeat established corporately funded candidates to be nominated in their congressional districts. Although they didn’t win their primaries their stories are also inspirational.
In Nevada, Amy Vilela ran for nomination inspired by her twenty-two-year-old daughter who died because she didn’t get the medical procedure she needed due to confusion over whether the young woman’s health insurance would cover it.
In West Virginia Paula Jean Swearengin a coal miner’s daughter ran for nomination inspired by the poor living conditions and low wages of coal miners and her concerns over the environmental damage caused by the industry including the high rates of cancer among her neighbors.
In Missouri Cori Bush a registered nurse, ordained pastor and community organizer ran for nomination inspired by her own experience as a single parent having to rely on food stamps and Medicaid. She wanted to change a justice system that over-incarcerates, an education system that under educates and was disturbed by the fact that millions of American children live in poverty.
Some critics say Knock Down the House would have been a better movie if it had just focused on the story of AOC but I think it is stronger for also showing us the other candidates, equally passionate, equally bent on changing America, equally dedicated to giving government ‘back to the people’, but women who ultimately did not have the success AOC did and were defeated by corporately backed candidates.
My son and I talked about what was the most moving scene in the film for both of us. After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is elected to Congress she visits Washington DC and remembers how her father who died in 2008 once took her there and showing her the great monuments in the capital said, “These all belong to us.”
We have an election coming this fall in Canada and Knock Down the House is a good reminder that indeed our government belongs to us and that we each have an important role to play in determining our country’s future.