“Knock Down the House” is Netflix’s new documentary, which follows four women, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who challenged incumbent seats in Congress supported by grassroots movements. “Before my primary,” says Ocasio Cortez in tweet, “three women & I agreed to film our journey of trying to run for office without big money.” The film by Rachel Lear follows Cori Bush, Amy Vilela, and Paula Jean Swearengin through their 2018 campaign. While neither of them ran successfully, what lies at the heart of their career is a grassroots movement determined to undermine the system.
Each of these candidates were motivated by personal reasons, which they found had common grievances with thousands of people across the United States. As per the synopsis found on Netflix, Amy Vilela decided to campaign after losing her daughter “to a preventable medical condition,” using her anger to go against “America’s broken health care system.” We hear her explain in a trailer: “It’s not just my family, it’s 30,000 families a year losing loved ones because they don’t have insurance”.
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A parallel story comes with Cori Bush, “a registered nurse and pastor, who was drawn to the streets when the police shooting of an unarmed black man brought protests and tanks into her neighborhood.” She herself explains that she was not trying to become an activist. She lives only six minutes from Ferguson, the town hit by a police killing of an unarmed African-American, later followed by protests.” Being a woman of color, our image is scrutinized. People in my district this is how we look. The problems that we have in our district, we ourselves can fix.”
Paula Jean Swearengin, on the other hand, is a coal miner’s daughter who “was fed up with watching her friends and family suffer from the environmental effects of the coal industry.” “I come from a long line of coal miners,” she says. “We’ve been collateral damage. They underestimate us.”
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But perhaps no one has gathered more attention than AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who jumped to fame after her shock win in the primaries. When the documentary was rolling, she says, as shown in the trailer opening, “If I was a rational person, I would have dropped out of this race a long time ago.” And, nearly a year later with her already occupying her seat in Congress we recognize the spirit that started it all: “Americans aren’t asking for a lot. They’re just asking for politicians to help them get by.”
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No doubt the documentary will mostly draw attention to AOC’s beginnings, specially since none of the other runs were successful. However, what is mostly significant is what broods beneath challenges like Bush’s, Vilela’s and Swearengin’s, a desire to knock the house down, to change the system and to actually fix what is broken. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t win this time, for as AOC explains, “for one of us to make it through a hundred of us have to try.”
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