Ocasio Cortez: A candidate like me

Germany 2021: election year. As the candidates gear up and the media coverage focuses on their election programs, Valeria has taken it upon herself to define "identity politics". In the process she attempts to answer some basic questions about this concept.

Fotograf: Jonas Stolle on Unsplash

„Identity Politics“ ─the first time I read this term was in an article about one of my favorite politicians in the world: Alexandra Ocasio Cortez. The US Democratic party representative and congresswoman, often called by her initials „AOC“, is the woman I want to be when I grow up. Yes, in my daydreams, I see myself as a kid who still has time to grow up sometime in the future, even though I am already 32 years old.

Ocasio Cortez’s political values

Many aspects of Ocasio Cortez’s political values speak to my convictions and everything I dream the world of politics to be. She is a working-class New Yorker who is strong, courageous, and decisive. An activist that is tackling issues that she has first-hand knowledge about. She has a Puerto Rican background, speaks Spanish, and grew up in the Bronx. That is a district that is primarily made up of migrant communities.

Her political work is based on a progressive platform. It aims to create a health care system accessible to everyone and improve labor laws and access to higher education. AOC has also fearlessly criticized the criminalization of migrants. And she demanded the abolishment of US Immigration and customs enforcement (ICE). People also know her for advocating for the rights of the LGBTQI community. More over she drafted a „New Green Deal“ in an attempt to draw attention to the climate crisis.

Reproach in the article

In the article in question, she was being accused of using identity politics to her advantage. The author publishing under the name „revolutionary ideas“[1] stated that Ocasio Cortez was using her identity and heritage to gain the support of Latinx[2] voters. It is not hard to imagine where that assumption comes from. The concept of identity politics is used loosely in many discussions. And its definition is never as important as why it is being used.

Right-wing supporters and even people from the left side of the political spectrum often argue that identity politics create a „selfish“ and divided society. Namely a society, where everyone only looks for their interests. It might sound like a reasonable concern to the reader coming in contact with the concept of identity politics for the first time. If everyone is voting for the candidate whose identity is most similar to theirs, does it mean that in the long run, this would have a polarizing effect on the politics of the country? No, not really, and we need to have a differentiated talk about this concept.

(Re) defining identity politics

According to Cambridge Dictionary, identity politics can be defined as „political beliefs and systems that place a lot of importance on the group to which people see themselves as belonging, especially according to their race, gender, or sexual orientation.“ It is not easy to find an accurate and objective description of the concept. Depending on the context, identity politics are often interpreted as one group favoring itself over another. Right-wing parties generally use this interpretation to denounce politicians seeking a better representation of the groups they belong to.

However, right-wing parties, such as the AfD have a target group they publicly favor over others. They profit from a version of „German identity“ that appeals to their voter base. You just need to walk past an AfD placard to remember who their ads are targeting. While I may not feel included (or even discriminated against), I can imagine the emotions they might trigger on the average middle-aged white conservative voters. Namely the people who believe in the „German identity“ illustrated on their posters. Identity politics have been capitalized on extensively by German right-wing and conservative parties. That was long before the concept became a highly debated topic. Yet, when marginalized communities seek political influence by voting for candidates they identify with, they are accused of threatening unity.

Interview with political activist Dr. Emilia Roig

During my research, I came across an interview with political activist and founder of the Center for International Justice (CIJ) in Berlin, Dr. Emilia Roig. She  advocates against discrimination and racism. In her interview with BR Puzzle Kulturmagazine she explains that „identity politics are about representing the diversity and variety of interests equally.“[3] According to Roig, the concept conveys the struggle for a political system, in which the needs and concerns of the people who have been relegated to the background can gain visibility.

Consequently it can favor marginalized communities in a number of ways. People from these communities who hold political offices are more likely to have personal experience with inequality and discrimination. Their experiences with these issues can help paving the way for policies that not only cater to a privileged group of people. Another advantage is representation. Having representatives in public office is essential to a group’s collective self-esteem and vital for political empowerment. Thus, Roig’s definition show why identity politics can also be interpreted as something positive and even necessary in the fight for equality.

It is crucial to critically view every definition of this concept, whether we read it in an article or hear it in a political debate ─especially when used to undermine the voices of people promoting a more diverse political system.

The dream candidate

Roig’s definition brought me back to Ocasio Cortez and the reasons why I admire her political journey. People who question identity politics might say that the part about her political persona that inspires me the most are the similarities we share. And that this is why I support her political stance. They might not be entirely wrong. Without knowing too many aspects of her personal life, I admit that I feel drawn to her personal story. I can identify with her struggle and understand the obstacles she faced to achieve her goals.

But arguing that this is the only reason why I would support a candidate is reductive and also a bit condescending. Not every candidate of a marginalized group represents all the facets of the community they come from. Nor does Ocasio Cortez’s values align with every person of the Latinx community. In her campaign video, her words summarize what I believe identity politics is about: „there’s a difference between [someone] saying, ‚Vote for me, I’m Latina.‘ and saying, ‚Latinos deserve equal representation and a seat at the table“[4].

Relation to German election

As we grow closer to election day, I wish for a candidate like AOC. I want to see more Black, Indigenous, People of Color in the German cabinet. People who understand the specific problems of being a migrant in this country. A potential chancellor invested in the topics of asylum and integration. Someone who has first-hand knowledge of what it means to be discriminated against and have their voice ignored.

In addition, I expect the political representatives I support to show the same empathy and disposition for the interests of the LGBTIQ community: People with disabilities, sex workers, and a long list of disenfranchised groups I am not directly part of. It is not just about one person, one group or one identity. We all need and deserve more representation, more seats at the table. I hope this dream comes true sooner rather than later.

Here you can read more about the Bundestagswahl in German.

 

[1] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Fetishizing “Identity Politics” can pay big, at times, Revolutionary Ideas, Medium. Stand: 27.06.2018

[2] Latinx is a gender neutral term used to refer to people of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity in the United States. The “x” suffix replaces the “o/a” ending of the gendered forms Latina and Latino.

[3] Über Privilegien und Identität, mit Politologin Dr. Emilia Roig, von Andreas Krieger

Stand: 17.05.2021, https://www.br.de/br-fernsehen/sendungen/puzzle/emilia-roig-why-we-matter-puzzle-18-mai-2021-100.html

[4] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Could Be The First Latina to Represent Her District in Congress

Stand: Jun 19, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs5fmEc5QIY&t=303s

This article will be published in German on September 25th

Valeria kommt aus Ecuador und wohnt in Hamburg. Sie ist Kriminologin und arbeitet zurzeit als Sozialpädagogin in der Drogenhilfe. Das Schreiben ist für sie sowohl ein Rückzugsort, als auch ein Weg ihre Erlebnisse als Migrantin in Deutschland aufzuzeichnen. „Ich habe lange nach einer Plattform wie Kohero gesucht, für die keine Geschichte zu unwichtig ist und BIPoC Stimmen Gehör finden können. Die Erfahrungen im Schreibtandem und die Unterstützung meiner Tandempartnerin haben mich dazu ermutigt weiter zu schreiben.“
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Valeria kommt aus Ecuador und wohnt in Hamburg. Sie ist Kriminologin und arbeitet zurzeit als Sozialpädagogin in der Drogenhilfe. Das Schreiben ist für sie sowohl ein Rückzugsort, als auch ein Weg ihre Erlebnisse als Migrantin in Deutschland aufzuzeichnen. „Ich habe lange nach einer Plattform wie Kohero gesucht, für die keine Geschichte zu unwichtig ist und BIPoC Stimmen Gehör finden können. Die Erfahrungen im Schreibtandem und die Unterstützung meiner Tandempartnerin haben mich dazu ermutigt weiter zu schreiben.“

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