Knock Down the House
The documentary follows the political campaigns of four women running for office. (Illustration by Angela Rivans, Deakin University))

Netflix’s ‘Knock Down the House’ Is a Refreshing Jolt of Political Optimism

Good news? About politics? Couldn’t be.

Although politics are a contentious topic that can leave people feeling stressed and hopeless, Netflix’s new documentary “Knock Down the House” brings hope to a nerve-wracking topic. In 2018, director Rachel Lears followed four female progressive Democratic candidates: Amy Vilela from Nevada, Cori Bush from Missouri, Paula Jean Swearengin from West Virginia and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York.

All four of these women ran primary campaigns against incumbent Democrats, many of them men. “Knock Down the House” has already been successful at multiple festivals. It won the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary and Festival Favorite Award at its Sundance premiere, and it will be added to Netflix on May 1.

Although Ocasio-Cortez, who many refer to by her nickname, AOC, was the only candidate successful in her election, the documentary focuses on the other female politicians to show how progressive political figures are working to upend a broken system.

It is also important to note that two of the women featured are women of color, who are largely underrepresented in politics. “Knock Down the House” mainly focuses on Ocasio-Cortez, who has made a huge splash in the political world in the past year. However, though she is the focus, the other three women have important and inspiring stories even if they didn’t win their elections.

Cori Bush, a registered nurse and an ordained pastor, challenged incumbent Lacy Clay in Missouri. She is an activist and focuses on issues that affect her community, specifically police violence.

Paula Jean Swearengin, the daughter of a West Virginia coal miner, challenged incumbent Joe Manchin in the West Virginia primary. She is a progressive activist and a single mother who wants more for her community. Her average campaign donation was $15.

Amy Vilela ran in the  primary in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District against Steven Horsford. Vilela’s top issue is universal health care; her 22-year-old daughter, who lacked health insurance and suffered from deep vein thrombosis, died because she was uninsured.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez worked as a bartender in the Bronx. At the age of 29, she is now the youngest woman elected to Congress. Although she was at a financial disadvantage in her campaign against incumbent Joe Crawley, she was ultimately successful. Her victory was called “the biggest upset of 2018” by Time.

One of the reasons that “Knock Down the House” has been so successful at initial festivals is because the documentary features everyday women in politics. The candidates featured are underdogs, and it’s hard not to root for them. They fight for others like themselves to be able to have a say in politics, as well as fight for average Americans. As Ocasio-Cortez says at the end of the trailer, “For one of us to make it through, a hundred of us have to try.”

The four women featured don’t rely on huge donors or family money for their candidacies. Instead, they rely on small donations from average people. As AOC says in the trailer, “I’m running because everyday Americans deserve to be represented by everyday Americans.” The trailer shows glimpses of what made these women decide to get involved in politics and the struggles they faced along the way.

Ocasio-Cortez has been in the spotlight because of her refusal to back down in the face of opposition. Although her policies are controversial, they are radical and aim to make the world a better place for people who aren’t billionaires. She is making waves in the political world, and calling attention to Democratic Socialism. Her vision for the U.S. includes universal healthcare, the abolition of for-profit prisons and ICE, cancelling student debt and the Green New Deal. She is critical of the government and wants the Democratic Party to do better for working-class individuals.

AOC has become a favorite, especially among millennials, due to her ability to stick true to herself. When she wore red lipstick and gold hoops to her swearing-in ceremony, many commended her. As she said herself in a tweet, “Lip+hoops were inspired by Sonia Sotomayor, who was advised to wear neutral-colored nail polish to her confirmation hearings to avoid scrutiny. She kept hers red. Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they’re dressing like a Congresswoman,” making the moment more inspirational than a mere fashion choice. She is young, fiery and completely unlike most old, white, male Democrats. She knows what she wants and how to fight for her vision.

Although she has been criticized by many, especially the Republican Party, she refuses to back down or change her views. Her Green New Deal resolution has especially been contested, due to rampant climate change denial amongst Republicans. Others fear that the Green New Deal is too socialist, and that it would never be successful in the United States. The deal takes a holistic look at climate change, and considers it an economic and social issue. AOC focuses on the fact that minorities are often those most affected by climate change, while billionaires at the top are not doing enough to help.

All four of these women tried to make their communities better for people just like them. They showed that anyone with a passion can run for office and be more successful than expected. Although politics are bleak in the U.S. today, women like the four featured in “Knock Down the House” are giving hope to those who are under and unrepresented in the political world.

There are more women like these four who weren’t featured in this documentary, who fight for representation every day. Hopefully, a documentary like “Knock Down the House” will inspire more progressive female politicians to run for office and upend the archaic, patriarchal system. You should definitely check out the trailer and do some background research before watching the documentary on May 1.

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