Courage To Change. An Op-Ed by Tamara Cincik.
“It doesn’t take 100 years to do this, it takes political courage. It’s time for one of us to do this.” The viral campaign that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran on $200,000 versus the $3m coffered campaign of the Democrat incumbent Joe Crowley, has been the grass roots victory story of this week. As this 28 year old working class New Yorker, has against all the odds and pushing a Progressive Left agenda, won a New York district primary election.
Ocasis-Cortez spoke to The Cut the day before her election victory. What is evocative for me, is to identify with her jump from activist to front-line, her awareness that there are systemic institutional blocks in front of a working class ethnically mixed woman from the Bronx standing for office: “I had worked for the late Senator Ted Kennedy (scion of the great political Kennedy dynasty) years ago, actually, in his immigration office. I found it all to be incredibly fulfilling and satisfying work, but I never really saw myself running on my own. I counted out that possibility because I felt that possibility had counted out me. I felt like the only way to effectively run for office is if you had access to a lot of wealth, high social influence, a lot of high dynastic power, and I knew that I didn’t have any of those things.
The tipping point was when I was at Standing Rock in 2016, and I saw how all of the people there - particularly the Native people and the Lakota Sioux — were putting their whole lives and everything that they had on the line for the protection of their community. I saw how a corporation had literally militarized itself against the American people, and I just felt like we were at a point where we couldn’t afford to ignore politics anymore. We couldn’t afford to write off our collective power in self-governance anymore out of cynicism. It was the day that I got off camp that a national organization, Brand New Congress, called me and asked if I’d be willing to run.”
As a working class, mixed race woman, one consistent theme for me is wherever I go, I am usually the only person like me in the room. I had friends at primary school who were at least as clever and at least as creative as those I later met at university or in the fashion industry. But without the confidence, the family support and the sometimes, blind courage, as well as the debt mountain of tuition fees and lack of governmental financial support for anyone under 25, I can only see that arc of opportunity narrowing for others like me. With Nesta and DCMS citing figures of 9% for both working class and BAME communities within the designer fashion industry, no wonder.
The sense that this is not only morally unjust, but also not good for business if opportunities short circuit, is why I launched the Glass Ceiling Not Glass Slipper initiative on the day that Trump won against a better educated, more qualified woman. I wanted to pose and ask questions on what is really holding back women from all backgrounds. We held regular meetings at the Houses of Parliament, to promote those who are not often heard within the political narrative and nurture the shy voices at the back of the room, while also highlighting the systemic issues which block so many talented brilliant women from realising their potentials. I wanted to bring our ideas into the political seat of power and as I was working in Westminster at the time, it felt important to normalise the space, which can (and is intended to) be, very daunting with its Gothic architecture, evocative of an exclusive Oxbridge college.
Why is Ocasio-Cortez someone we can all identify with? Because all too often, women politicians who do manage to succeed are slanted by the narrative, as sensible mess-clearer-uppers. This is not only relevant here in the UK where I live, but a global truism. The so-called glass-cliff phenomenon refers to the fact that women are more likely to achieve leadership roles amid crisis, when the chances of failure are at their highest. (High-profile examples include Theresa May and Angela Merkel.) But Ocasio-Cortez has won her support through strong-and-steady messaging; not as the fixer of someone else’s mess. She stands in her own light, on her own progressive, well thought through terms, for a new and fresh approach in a quest for a fairer and more equal society.
Next month on July 11th, we are hosting our next event: The Power of Influence at the beautiful Shop at Bluebird in Covent Garden. One of the speakers will be Christine Megson, the woman behind the Fabian Women’s Network Mentoring Scheme which literally CHANGED MY LIFE. It was my tipping point. I was that silent (well ok, muttering) woman at the back, who knew things weren’t right in the world, but who didn’t have the confidence, the networks, or the agency to speak up. It’s thanks to the scheme that I have with both Glass Ceiling Not Glass Slipper and Fashion Roundtable, worked to promote inclusive positive change across politics and the fashion industry. My aim across all this work is to promote, share and include: hence Fashion Roundtable’s #inclusionrider hashtag.
I look forward to a time when in politics, fashion and our media, women like Ocasio-Cortez are the norm, not the exception. Because it’s been a long time coming!
Other speakers at our event on 11th July, who will discuss ideas around what does power mean, how to use our influence and networks and why they can be spaces for good, include Katharine Hamnett CBE, Dr Lisa Cameron MP Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Textiles and Fashion, designer Anna Murray from Patternity and Carson McColl from Gareth Pugh, as well as co-creator of Raw Power Movement.
For tickets payable by donations for the event, please click on the link here.