To those not pay­ing atten­tion, it might have seemed like Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez came out of nowhere to win the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry for the Unit­ed States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in New York’s 14th Dis­trict last year.

“Knock Down the House,” a new doc­u­men­tary cur­rent­ly stream­ing on Net­flix, tells the sto­ry of her cam­paign as well as those of three oth­er women who were all recruit­ed and backed by Jus­tice Democ­rats and Brand New Con­gress.

These orga­ni­za­tions start­ed work­ing in 2017 to recruit “out­sider” can­di­dates to run against estab­lished politi­cians in the 2018 elec­tion. Among the over 10,000 peo­ple nom­i­nat­ed by friends and fam­i­ly were Oca­sio-Cortez, whose broth­er nom­i­nat­ed her, Amy Vilela in Las Vegas, Cori Bush in St. Louis, and Paula Jean Swearen­gin in Coal City, West Vir­ginia, who are all fea­tured in the film.

Isra Alli­son of Brand New Con­gress explains in the film that their orga­ni­za­tion does­n’t care about polit­i­cal par­ty, they just want to help elect work­ing peo­ple, as they believe this will change pol­i­tics and they way peo­ple see our institutions.

Sim­i­lar­ly, Corbin Trent of Jus­tice Democ­rats says that the biggest issue is the need to remove the cor­rupt­ing influ­ence of mon­ey in politics.

He also notes that Con­gress is eight-one per­cent male, most­ly white, and has a lot of mil­lion­aires and lawyers in its ranks. (In our mon­ey-dom­i­nat­ed sys­tem, about one out of every two mem­bers of Con­gress is a millionaire.)

Saikat Chakrabar­ti, also from Jus­tice Democ­rats, says that most peo­ple in Con­gress are just think­ing about win­ning the next elec­tion and keep­ing their jobs. “That’s not the kind of think­ing that’s going to fix cli­mate change, or mass incar­cer­a­tion, or the these giant prob­lems that are fac­ing us,” he concluded.

These orga­ni­za­tions and their slate of can­di­dates con­tributed to sev­er­al new records set in 2018 midterm elec­tions, which saw unprece­dent­ed num­bers of women and peo­ple of col­or run for office. Many Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bents in Con­gress saw pri­ma­ry chal­lenges for the first time in years.

Among the oth­er can­di­dates Jus­tice Democ­rats sup­port­ed in 2018 but who weren’t fea­tured in the film were Wash­ing­ton’s Prami­la Jaya­pal (rep­re­sent­ing the 7th Dis­trict), Rashi­da Tal­ib in Michi­gan’s 13th, Ilhan Omar in the Min­neso­ta 5th, and Ayan­na Press­ley from the 7th Dis­trict in Mass­a­chu­setts. Their web­site has a form where peo­ple can nom­i­nate a per­son they think should run, or you can nom­i­nate a dis­trict where they think a pro­gres­sive Demo­c­rat needs to be running.

Oca­sio-Cortez is shown speak­ing at a pan­el dis­cus­sion at Net­roots Nation in Atlanta in 2017 (a ses­sion NPI cov­ered here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate) address­ing the atti­tude she and some of her fel­low first-time can­di­dates get of “how dare you mount a chal­lenge to some­one that’s established?”

“If they’re good enough, they’ll win,” she says matter-of-factly.

“If we’re good enough, we’ll win.”

Also on the Net­roots pan­el was Swearen­gin, who was run­ning for the Unit­ed States Sen­ate in West Vir­ginia against right wing Demo­c­rat Joe Manchin.

In the film she is shown back home in Coal City, point­ing out all the hous­es where one of the inhab­i­tants has had can­cer and then over­look­ing a closed min­ing site that used to be a large hill­side but in now a scarred landscape.

“If anoth­er coun­try [came] in here, blew up our moun­tains and poi­soned our water, we’d go to war,” Swearen­gin says bit­ter­ly. “But indus­try can.”

While Swearingin cam­paigned about the dam­age caused by the coal indus­try, Amy Vilela in Nevada’s 4th Dis­tric­t’s core issue was Medicare for All.

Vilela had been a sin­gle mom on food stamps, worked her way through col­lege, and even­tu­al­ly became a Chief Finan­cial Offi­cer of a company.

But she quit that job and sold her house in order to run for Con­gress. One of her oppo­nents in the race was a for­mer con­gress­man who most recent­ly worked at a lob­by­ing, high­light­ing some of the ethics prob­lems in our government.

Vilela was inspired to run after her then-twen­ty-two year-old daugh­ter died two years pri­or to the film­ing of the documentary.

She had gone to the emer­gency room with symp­toms of a blood clot, but with no proof of insur­ance, the hos­pi­tal would not run the nec­es­sary tests. A short time lat­er, she had a pul­monary embolism and was declared brain dead.

Thir­ty-thou­sand Amer­i­cans die every year because of lack of insurance.

“I will nev­er stop,” says Vilela emphatically.

“I’m not going to allow my daugh­ter to have died for nothing.”

Oca­sio-Cortez’s cam­paign did­n’t empha­size one par­tic­u­lar pol­i­cy direc­tion, but rather the need for whole­sale change across issues.

“Every­day Amer­i­cans deserve to be rep­re­sent­ed by every­day Amer­i­cans,” she says at a Brand New Con­gress sum­mit with oth­er can­di­dates in her cohort.

Ear­ly in the film, she is shown work­ing at her bar­tend­ing job, and she explains, “It’s called ‘work­ing class’ for a rea­son: because you are work­ing non-stop.”

While at home with her part­ner Riley Roberts, Oca­sio-Cortez com­pares a fly­er from her cam­paign to a mail­er Joe Crow­ley sent out to every­one in his dis­trict. His is miss­ing key infor­ma­tion about the pri­ma­ry, among oth­er things.

“One of these core, core issues for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment is that their con­sul­tants are garbage,” Roberts says. “They’re los­ing. It’s scary that this is, like, the fourth most pow­er­ful Demo­c­rat in coun­try [in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives], and this is the type of stuff that he’s doing.”

Oca­sio-Cortez’s strate­gic and com­pas­sion­ate cam­paign would, as we all now know, lead to her upset­ting Crow­ley in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry. In a dis­trict that is 85% Demo­c­ra­t­ic, who­ev­er wins the pri­ma­ry is basi­cal­ly guar­an­teed to win the gen­er­al elec­tion, which Oca­sio-Cortez did of course go on to do.

The oth­er three women fea­tured in the film unfor­tu­nate­ly lost their cam­paigns, but Swearin­gen and Bush are already gear­ing up for anoth­er race in 2020.

Vilela has not announced if she intends to run again.

Despite only Oca­sio-Cortez win­ning her race, the film ends on the hope­ful note of her and Roberts vis­it­ing the Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. a few days after the elec­tion. As she sits on a bench by her­self, Oca­sio-Cortez tells a sto­ry to the cam­era of her first vis­it to our nation’s Capi­tol city.

Her father, who died while she was in col­lege, brought her to the Dis­trict of Colum­bia when she was five years old. He point­ed at the many shin­ing mon­u­ments and said, “You know this all belongs to us. This is our gov­ern­ment. It belongs to us. So all of this stuff is yours.”

If you are need­ing a jolt of inspi­ra­tion to take back our gov­ern­ment from Trump and his swamp-crea­tures, I high­ly rec­om­mend watch­ing “Knock Down the House.” The pow­er­ful and pas­sion­ate women pro­filed may not all have won their cam­paigns, but they and the thou­sands of oth­ers who ran for the first time in 2018 have set the stage for future suc­cess­es… if we all keep fighting.

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