By: Rachel Hess Wachman (Copy Editor)
When Democrats took back the House last November amidst a wave of diverse female representatives following the midterm elections, many Americans around the country rejoiced, relishing in these trail-blazing women’s promises of change.
Knock Down The House, a documentary film which follows four of these record-breaking women during their congressional campaigns, came out on May 1st and is currently streaming on Netflix. The documentary most notably features New Yorker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the months since her election.
“I was very interested in both the personal stories of individuals running—what it would take to believe in yourself to that degree and put yourself out there in that way—and the broader political themes we could explore of what it looks like to build a grassroots movement to challenge established power structures and create true representation in Washington,” said director Rachel Lears, who worked with her husband, Robin Blotnick to write and produce the film.
Lears’ film follows Paula Jean Swearengin from West Virginia, Cori Bush from Missouri, and
Amy Vilela from Nevada, in addition to Ocasio-Cortez. All four women were running against male Democrats with previous political experience. Driven to run for office because of the hardship faced in their own lives, these women gained momentum based on platforms built from the possibility of positive change that would benefit millions of Americans.
“If we’re going to have true representation in this democracy, we need to have a system in which people of all backgrounds and walks of life can effectively run for office to hold some of those seats,” said Lears. “When it costs millions of dollars to run a campaign, it’s much easier for independently wealthy individuals and more difficult for working-class and middle-class people to make that choice.”
“I kind of wanted to make the process as raw and as accessible as possible.” said 29 year-old Ocasio-Cortez recently in an interview. At the end of her campaign, Ocasio-Cortez, who had been a bartender before running for office, became the youngest woman elected to Congress.
“While I knew that the race was winnable and I knew that [Ocasio-Cortez] was very talented and charismatic, and I could see that there was momentum building in the final weeks of her campaign, I don’t think anyone could have predicted how far it would go, in terms of her popularity and the backlash,” Lears said.
“I felt that we had to stop reinventing the wheel every single time a normal person decided to run for office and make it accessible, so we can learn and iterate,” said Ocasio-Cortez of her decision to run. “Our democracy is supposed to belong to everyday people.”
“Representation is important,” said Cori Bush, a nurse in St. Louis. “I’m a nurse because I saw a black woman working as a nurse and that taught me that I can do this. And in the same way, I want other black girls to see that it’s O.K., that you can do this.” Although Bush lost the race against six-term congressman Lacy Clay, she has already filed to run again in the next election.
“What I love about the vulnerability that we see, throughout this entire film from everybody — it shows the world a different model of strength,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “You know, I’m like ugly crying on a screen.”
“As a businesswoman, you’re always told, ‘You should never let them see you cry,’” said Vilela, who lost the race in Nevada. “But at the end, it came down to: Darn it, I wish more of our politicians would cry.”
Ocasio-Cortez is aware of the critics but refuses to let adversity knock her down. “I think the fact that you have nothing to hide is a huge and intimidating strength.”