In one of the more astounding incidents witnessed on the steps of the Capital in Washington, Rep. Ted Yoho loudly criticized Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In response, she gave a speech under “personal privilege” on the House floor, describing what happened.
“She began with narrative, setting the scene: “I was minding my own business, walking up the steps, and Representative Yoho put his finger in my face. He called me ‘disgusting.’ He called me ‘crazy.’ He called me ‘out of my mind.’ And he called me ‘dangerous.’ ” Then she broadened her scope: “This issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting violence and violent language against women and an entire structure of power that supports that.” Ocasio-Cortez made it clear that she was not going to fall down and faint. She had heard it all before, on the subway and as a bartender. But she wasn’t going to let this pass, not from a fellow-member of Congress: “I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse, and worse, to see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance. I could not allow that to stand.” What’s more, she was not going to allow Yoho, in his clumsy way, to use his family as a “shield” for his barrage.
“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and does apologize,” she said. “I am someone’s daughter, too.”
Among other things, he called her a “f**king b*tch.” AOC responded with her personal privilege speech – one well worth watching for her poise and prose. And she hit the nail on the head. Without even mentioning Black Lives Matter, she presented us with her answer to the question, “Why Do Our Lives Matter?”
The other day I was writing about how we can make our lives matter. “Motivation …. should come from self-satisfaction and praise from others.” Motivation should not come from foul words and wild criticism. There is no reason why one Congressman should treat another with disrespect. And AOC is right when she says that what happened to her was simply an example of disrespect by men to women.
But, to be fair, isn’t there also disrespect by women to men? While white people are disrespectful to black people, are not black people disrespectful to white people? If straight people disrespect trans people, don’t trans people disrespect straight people? And, as AOC said, this must stop.
We are living in a time where the very continuation of the human race is in question. COVID-19 and climate change call on us to cooperate with one another – to treat one another with respect. Men should respect women for the richness and fulfillment that they add to their lives. Women should respect men for the support and sustenance that they give to their existence. Each is necessary for the lives of the others.
“The politics of our moment are dominated by a bully of miserable character, a President who has failed to contain a pandemic through sheer indifference, who has fabricated a reëlection campaign based on bigotry and the deliberate inflammation of division. His language is abusive, his attitude toward women disdainful. Trump is all about himself: his needs, his ego, his self-preservation. Along the way, he has created a Republican Party in his own image. Imitators like Ted Yoho slavishly follow his lead. On the House floor Thursday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exemplified a different sort of character. She defended not only herself; she defended principle and countless women. And all in just a few short minutes on the floor of the House of Representatives.”
Responses such as AOC’s are needed to counter speech and acts which try to make our lives not matter. We, on the other hand, should be making every effort to make the lives of others matter, even as we would want them to do the same with respect to our own lives. We should not be using Trump as our model. Instead, we should be conscious of the needs of others and provide the praise that they need in any circumstance when they deserve it.