Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at SXSW 2019 / Wikimedia Commons
When Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S House of Representatives, was asked about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar in a now-infamous New York Times profile, she dismissed their Twitter presence.
The question regarded their refusal to vote to give billions of unchecked dollars to border patrol, without assurance that conditions at the southern border would improve. Essentially, the president could do as he pleased with those billions and The Squad, as they’ve come to be known, didn’t like it. Pelosi claimed it was the best deal she could get. The Squad didn’t think it was near good enough.
“They have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” said Pelosi, “but they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
Okay, so they had a disagreement, but why the condescension? And why the bizarre contempt for their popularity online? She later doubled down on her Twitter disdain, according to reports, saying “you got a complaint? You come and talk to me about it, but do not tweet about our members and expect us to think that that is just okay." If you're not aware - Pelosi and The Squad indeed represent the same political party.
It’s an ironic statement, really, given that she aired her grievances with the foursome in the New York Times – which is not exactly behind closed doors.
So, why the double standard?
I have a theory that Pelosi and her ilk – that is, people and politicians who represent the status quo – don’t particularly delight in the equalising effects of social media. I would venture that they prefer the old model – one where adoring profiles, written by other members of the establishment, were one of the few ways the public could engage with politicians on a personal level. Other ways included TV interviews – often, once again, conducted by wealthy members of the upper echelons.
Twitter is a tool that 'gives a voice' to the people traditionally silenced. That includes women, in particular, women of colour. But it also includes public servants who rally against the status quo - who may have once found their messages muddied by traditional media. Now we can hear a politician’s (or activist's) opinion in real-time, a tool that’s been utilised, most adeptly, by progressives.
Which makes a lot of sense. Twitter is about the ugliest place imaginable. But it’s ugly because humans are ugly, and Twitter is nothing but a gathering of humans. (Okay, bots too.) And progressive politics has always been about the people.
Few make better use of the audience social media grants them than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC), the congresswoman for New York’s 14th precinct with a cool 4.9 million Twitter followers. But while our own Chlöe Swarbrick may (understandably) trail her in numbers, she’s long been making much the same use of social media. Golriz Ghahraman too.
Swarbrick and Ghahraman have a particular knack for Twitter and the like – something mostly unprecedented among many of the old fogies of parliament. Where New Zealand politics has long been the ‘exclusive’ domain of wonks and Boomers, young progressive politicians are using their platforms to call people in. To explain votes, and bills, and stances. And to highlight injustices, at least as they see them. I can’t tell you how many young people I know who would never read a newspaper – but who won’t shut up about ‘their friend’ Chlöe Swarbrick.
This is the politics of the future. These are the people who are leading the resistance.
Real political change always occurs in the same manner – through groups of people banded together with a common goal. We are seeing that now at Ihumātao. It’s not insignificant that Swarbrick and Ghahraman (and Jan Logie and Marama Davidson) are there now. In fact it’s entirely the point.
Gathered crowds spur change. It is especially effective when those crowds gather in person. But sometimes, when the right person speaks, they will gather on Twitter.
In response to Pelosi’s bizarre comments, AOC replied, “that public “whatever” is called public sentiment. And wielding the power to shift it is how we actually achieve meaningful change...”
The tweet, of course, went viral.Support Villainesse