MANY OF US have no doubt been dismayed at times by the regularity of activists who challenge the inequities and injustices of the status quo but become the politicians of 'compromise' and 'pragmatism' once safely ensconced in office. Almost overnight they are transformed into politicians of the very system they once campaigned against. They may have once talked the talk but when the rubber hits the road, they refuse to walk the walk. Its something we've all too familiar with in New Zealand and there's still one or two of these creatures sitting in Parliament, playing their roles as functionaries of neoliberalism and capitalism while professing to 'progressive' beliefs.
United States congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (these days popularly known as AOC) recently spoke about the dangers of descending into the self-interested political mire in a recent interview. She knows too well about the dangers of pretending that your career interests correspond with the interests of the people who put you into office in the first place. She has to navigate the halls of capitalist power everyday while remaining true to own socialist beliefs.
Her strategy is one of non-attachment. While it might remind some of a spiritual practice what it really underlines is AOC's refusal to surrender to capitalism and its political representatives. It is a reminder that while she might be engaged with capitalism, she remains its implacable enemy.
'Non attachment is the most important practice in my position because politics, the immense intimidation and pressure to conform, is entirely based on your attachment to things.' she says. 'If I can threaten to take away your attachments then I can make you do what I want you to do. So I have to practice non-attachment each day.'
In practice this means even remaining unattached to her position as a congresswoman.
'I could become attached to my office. I could become attached to my position as a congresswoman. But while my job is a congresswoman, my mission is to advance the principles of a better world, to advance a better world. If I become attached to keeping my seat, then I can't advance my mission. I made this decision during my very first year as a congresswoman and I knew than that it would encourage people to work against me and drop millions of dollars in a campaign against me'.
AOC understands better than most that any attempt to advance the interests of the working class she represents will die a quick death if she allows herself to be come a fully paid up member of the political elite. She says her everyday defence against this is a non attachment to ego and status.
'I can't allow myself to chase acceptance by the rich and powerful which, frankly, are mostly everyone in congress. This has been extremely painful for me because people have constantly sought to undermine me, they turn their backs on me when I walk into a room, they talk about me anonymously in the media.'
While she might be resented within the political class she has overwhelming support within her community. She was recently voted back into office with over 70 percent of the vote easily defeating her rival Democratic Party candidate who was backed by the Democratic Party establishment and corporate interests such as Goldman Sachs and Amazon.
In the end what counts is that AOC speaks to the interests and concerns of working class Americans who have been left without a voice by an entrenched political establishment. It would be nice to see such a political figure emerging in New Zealand prepared to take on the political establishment and put forward an alternative socialist view to the present neoliberal stranglehold over New Zealand mainstream politics. There is still a world to win, rather than a status quo to tinker with - however 'kind' the tinkering.