The Impact: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at SXSW

I’ve been progressively watching more YouTube lately. Maybe it was because this summer I had 4 months off work to recover from my bike accident, or maybe I’m just really in tune with my younger millennial spirit. Regardless, I am super into it. I like exploring what the world has to offer in terms of democratized content.  Youtube has been around since 2005, thats given it 14 years to mature as a product AND (more importantly IMO) it’s given creators time to impact what the platform has become. Although I’m sure there are many algorithms at work, I find I’ve learned so many new things since expanding my content consumption outside the walls of cable, subscription OTT services and social media. I’ve found that learning about the world from different people, places and perspectives has made my own point of view more diverse.

I want to start sharing some of the unique and powerful perspectives I find with all of you. One of my most recent YouTube binges led me to the very recent 2019 SXSW interview featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. First of all, this woman is pretty incredible. If you have the time, I say watch the entire thing. If not, I want to share a part that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

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“We are the radical monarchs from East Oakland”

During the Q&A two young girls, probably around age 14? (seriously, I’m terrible at guessing peoples ages especially kids, but that would be my guess) Get up to introduce themselves as the radical monarchs from East Oakland and ask the following question: “What advice would you give to young girls of colour who want to get into politics?”

 If you’ve made it this far in my post, do not stop now, her answer is so incredible and so infrequently heard.  (The below quote has been edited for clarity)

AOC at SXSW 2019

AOC at SXSW 2019

“The advice that I give is stop trying to navigate systems of power and start building your own power. I represent Queens and I was recently doing a town hall with Girls Who Code and what I told them was that, you know, theres so many subconscious forces that make us try to act like somebody else. That’s why it was important for me to wear hoop earrings to my swearing in because we’re taught that when you’re a woman of colour, there are just so many things about you that are just…like…non conforming. You know? I happen to have been born with straight hair but my nieces have fros, right? And so, down to that, there are places where you have to make more space. We’re taught to put our hair back and be small and articulate in a certain way and be square and essentially try to do an impression of power…which our subconscious signals as “try to act like white men”. It’s down to how you are forced or encouraged to speak, the idea that some ways of speaking are less legitimate. The idea that some ways of dressing are less legitimate, or instead of saying illegitimate, we say “unprofessional”. If you say “ain’t” or you say “my mama” or whatever, it’s unprofessional. Even if you’re producing the same result or the same quality of work, you are somehow seen as less than. So…stop trying to navigate those systems because they weren’t built for you. We need to build our own systems.”

Ummmm, mic drop much? This is so powerful. A female public figure challenging historic systems and biases with a progressive opinion of how we can each have the confidence to move the world forward. I love that this question was asked by two very young girls, I love that a young woman responded, I love that the answer is about the necessity and power in unique identities. I LOVE ALL THE THINGS! I believe these are important conversations to have and that’s why I chose to share it here.

From my own personal experience, when I went to business school and since starting to work in the tech industry, I’ve felt challenged with how do I bring my whole true self to school or work while also adjusting to the norms of the industry. Hearing a woman in such a powerful position, a Congresswoman for the United States, speak like this gives me reassurance that I’m not alone in feeling this struggle. I love the advice of stop trying to adjust yourself to fit into a system that was not built for you, instead, build up new systems of what power can look like. To some it may not seem like a lot, but just like AOC’s hoop earrings, the more we bring our true identities to our daily lives, the more we can inspire others to do the same. These small actions can help to normalize things that may be seen as “illegitimate” or “unprofessional”. I am a strong supporter of the idea that “seeing is believing” and the more we start to see a diverse representation of what power can look like the more we believe we can be part of it. Subsequently, the more we believe, the more we can influence the current situation and increase equal opportunity for the future.

Me about to leave my NY apartment for work.

Me about to leave my NY apartment for work.

In any way you can today, try to display pride in who you are and where you come from. Instead of stressing about how to fit in, shift that same energy towards bravery to do something that may feel a bit out of place. I can almost guarantee you someone will notice, and that’s how the change begins. With the confidence and inspiration I’ve felt from this interview, I’m sporting red lipstick and square hoops to work today. From watching this video, my perception of hoop earrings has almost instantly changed into a symbol of strength. Let’s change what power looks like.

If you want to see more, or check out this bad ass piece of inspiration check out the video below, the question I’ve highlighted is asked exactly at the 1hr mark.