Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined the Sundance Film Festival after all on Sunday, showing up via webcast to salute the premiere of “Knock Down the House,” a documentary about the women candidates driving a political revolution in 2018.
“We can do 2018 again better in 2020,” the newly-elected congresswoman from the Bronx told the cheering crowd, which gave the film and her a standing ovation. “So when someone tells you they’re gonna run for office, believe in them early, don’t dismiss them, and know that we all participate, and when we all know what we have to give and choose to give it, our nation will be better.”
The documentary by director Rachel Lears focuses on four first-time candidates, all of them running against the odds, all of them underdogs, all of them running out of rage and frustration at the lack of change for working class Americans.
Of the four – Cori Bush in Missouri, Amy Vilela in Nevada, Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia and AOC, as Ocasio-Cortez is known, in New York – only the latter won her race, which pitted her against the Democratic political machine of longtime congressman Joe Crowley.
The audience was fired up and enthusiastic, breaking into cheers several times during the film. At least one audience member sobbed aloud when Vilela lost her race in Nevada against the incumbent.
AOC was supposed to travel to Park City for the festival, but cancelled when the government shutdown ended. But she appeared via webcast along with her fellow candidates and listened carefully to the questions from the audience.
“I’m so glad that this moment for all four of us was captured and documented – not just for the personal meaning of it but for everyday people to see that yes, this is incredibly challenging, yes, the odds are long, but yes, that it’s worth it,” she said.
Bush and Swearengin both said they intended to run again, despite their defeat in 2018.
“When we don’t step then we end up with what we have now,” said Bush, adding that there is a cost. “You don’t get to see how we’re sometimes terrorized, you don’t see the corruption, the really bad things that happen. After my first race I had a violent rape. But I got right back up.”
The film is a fascinating chronicle of the political uprising sparked by the election of Donald Trump in 2016, which led to a tidal wave of unconventional candidates backed by Democratic groups like Brand New Congress and Working Democrats. The documentary follows these four candidates in detail, and offers a gritty perspective on the shoe-leather work that goes into an upstart campaign.
And “Knock Down the House” left the audience with a real sense of what drove these four women, and what drives the movement of which they are a part. “If we really want a government that’s going to serve us,” said Swearingen near the end of the Q&A, “we need to take our government back.”