By Maha Fier, Image by Jun Lu
It’s safe to say that that my political beliefs fall under progressive left-wing politics with an obsession for economic equality, an end to discrimination, youth to power, and a focus on our planets well-being.
This means that some of my favourite role models are women in politics likes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Chlöe Swarbrick, Golriz Ghahraman and Ilhan Omar. All these women have had some form of focus on the things I care about as stated above, using their political status to address these topics, and urging change.
What I love about these women is that they have always made note that discussing politics goes beyond just addressing these topics in Chambers. They have found ways to make political discussion more accessible for the public and have continuously used their platforms to engage in a way that always made me feel like I knew them personally. It was like two friends having a conversation on issues we both cared about.
Of course I was excited when I watched today’s live stream of the 2021 Met Gala, the theme being ‘In America,’ and saw my gal Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) using her invitation to spread some economic justice messaging.
The politician wore, as described by Vogue, “a white gown by Brother Vellies, splashed with the political slogan across the back,” the words being, ‘Tax the Rich.’
When hearing her interview discussing why she chose today to spread the message of economic justice, I was delighted. It’s not too often the Met Gala is used as an activist platform, and to me, it seemed like a worthwhile way to use a Met Gala invitation.
It’s no secret that America and the world has an economic wealth distribution problem. As a person who disagrees with the current capitalist system which has allowed for rich to become richer, whilst leaving behind the working class to essentially become poorer, AOC’s dress seemed like a short yet effective message to spark conversations on the current economic system.
AOC’s dress has also caused further backlash with statements of it being too ‘performative’ or ‘hypocritical.’ Although I understand why this may be the initial reaction by some, I wanted to discuss the importance of AOC using her chance of being surrounded by the world’s wealthiest people and having millions of eyes on her to spread this specific message.
Firstly, let us clarify what performative activism actually is. Performative activism is a type of activism which is done to increase ‘one’s social capital’ rather than because of ‘one’s devotion to the cause.’
It is far from new that AOC advocates against economic inequalities. Her key campaigning message which got her into Congress in the first place was surrounded by the push for economic justice, as a woman who was a waitress in NYC wanting to see more offered to the working class.
She has further developed her work on this by introducing legislation which enabled the creation of Public Banks, raising concerns about Amazons poor working conditions in the pandemic and more which can be found on her social platforms and her website. As stated in an interview with the Institute for New Economic Thinking, “she criticised the Democratic Party for not being more responsive to the problem of economic inequality and observed that many “reluctant” Trump voters shared anger with her supporters over the country’s economic divide.”
It makes sense that if a politician who has based so much of her work to address economic injustices would use the chance of being surrounded by multi-millionaires, billionaires, and the millions of eyes from the public to keep spreading the message that she has already been pushing. In fact, people would probably feel more insulted if AOC had accepted the invitation to the Met Gala and had not used it as an opportunity to discuss her beliefs on economic inequalities.
The fact that the Met Gala reaches an audience with some who may not perhaps be as engaged with social justice issues as much as others (*cough* like some of the celebrities invited!), AOC used the time she had to shed light on an issue whilst walking the red carpet and didn’t waste time in doing so. Her simple words of ‘Tax the Rich’ were enough to spark many conversations on social media platforms and probably even those who were at the Met Gala today.
I would say her statement is far from hypocritical. Yes, she’s a politician with a source of income and has managed to unintentionally receive a status of fame due to her history, the work she does, and her charisma. However, she is of course not excluding herself from the scenario of ‘taxing the rich’ as she is more than aware of her own privilege. She’s a politician! She’s supposed to advocate for change and promote economic methods which she believes will help better the people in the country she serves.
She may not be wearing a locally found op-shopped dress to the Met Gala (and to be honest, who would?), but it seems clear that those who are criticising her are doing so to take away from the meaning of her message and instead, are placing a focus on how to discredit her. Don’t fall for it.
She herself has been fact checked to have a net worth of less than 1 million despite previous false claims stating it was over. And even if she herself was to have a net worth of over 1 million, at the Met Gala she is being surrounded by celebrities who clearly hold a huge amount of the worlds’ wealth.
I applaud AOC for acknowledging that she would be entering a space essentially worth billions and therefore, using her presence to show her support to distribute these billions among citizens of the U.S and the world. As she says in her latest Instagram caption, “The time is now for childcare, healthcare, and climate action for all. Tax the Rich.”
To me, it’s exciting to see the Met Gala used in this way. AOC is not the first person to have used the Met Gala as an activist platform and there were a few other social justice messages on todays red carpet (cue Cara Delevingne ‘Peg the Patriarchy’), but I sure hope activism through fashion becomes the norm at events like the Met Gala.