As the COVID-19 crisis continues to ravage our healthcare system, it continues its assault on our economic livelihoods as well. Widespread unemployment has affected both small communities and urban areas, while those who are considered essential risk their health by continuing to go into work.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that unemployment jumped from 0.9% to 4.4% in March, the largest increase seen since January 1975. In that same month, the number of unemployed Americans rose to 7.1 million.
One would hope that at this time of grave uncertainty, we could turn to our elected officials for leadership and guidance. But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has demonstrated that we’d be better off seeking those assurances elsewhere. During a recent conversation with Vice’s Anand Giridharadas, she advised Americans not to return to work when we’re allowed to, exhibiting little confidence in the American people and even in her own ability to affect change as an elected official.
Missing the Mark
It’s important to note the context of Ocasio-Cortez’s comments, which were meant to address the largest issue currently plaguing average Americans. She speaks of how unfair it is to ask working Americans who make nonviable wages to return to “seventy-hour” workweeks, a valid criticism.
I’m not a politician myself, nor do I have a degree in economics, but somehow it seems disingenuous to suggest that further unemployment is the solution to genuine economic insecurity. The comments also seem at odds with her personal convictions. As arguably the most progressive member of Congress and a Democratic-Socialist, you would think she would encourage those currently unable to work. But overall, the message feels more like a pointed jab at President Trump and his allies rather than a message of sincerity to her constituents.
Employment is the most direct way to financial (and therefore personal) freedom for Americans.
AOC also criticized President Trump’s use of the word “liberate” when discussing reopening the economy. “Only in America when the president tweets about liberation does he mean ‘go back to work’,” she says to Giridharadas, a sardonic smile on her face, failing to recognize that employment is the most direct way to financial (and therefore personal) freedom for Americans. At least someone’s smiling in this economy.
Even more puzzling is Ocasio-Cortez’s discussion of how her constituents are handling the crisis, with many of them unemployed and unsure of where their next meal is going to come from, a sentiment undoubtedly familiar to many Americans right now. It’s evident that she recognizes the severity of the crisis at hand, yet she still sticks to what feels more like a campaign ad than a heartfelt message to Americans.
Why It Matters
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is one of a select group who is elected to serve and represent her district in perhaps the most sophisticated system of government ever seen for such a relatively young country. Yet her suggestion seems more like a write off of her own capabilities as an elected official and her colleagues’ abilities as well. Spearheading policy change, as she’s done in the past, or crossing the partisan line to partner with other officials at this time would’ve been a more genuine expression of how she’s working to solve the very problems that are affecting her constituents.
AOC and every other member of Congress will continue to receive a paycheck, even if the majority of their constituents don’t.
It’s easy for AOC to urge Americans not to go back to work. It’s easy for Speaker Pelosi to show off a fully stocked freezer of boutique ice cream while food pantries across the country become more and more strained. Neither they nor their colleagues have to work to make any change at all because they’re still getting paid, despite whatever empathy they may say they feel for those who are worse off.
AOC and every other member of Congress will continue to receive a paycheck, even if the majority of their constituents don’t. For that privileged reason alone, taking her advice, whatever it may be, should only be done with a large grain of salt.
What We Should Be Doing
Instead of listening to politicians, celebrities, or any other member of the elite for that matter, we should be looking around our own communities. If we’re in a position right now to give back, we should look for every opportunity to do so. If we need help, we should reach out and ask for it. When the time comes, whether it’s a week or a month from now, we should be ready to return to work, which is most likely our economy’s best chance of even beginning to heal from this crisis.
While we’re stuck at home on our phones and feeds, we should be using critical thinking to examine every claim targeted at us.
In addition to that, while we’re stuck at home on our phones and feeds, we should be using critical thinking to examine every claim targeted at us. Instead of internalizing messages, whoever they may be from, we should be asking ourselves where it’s really coming from and what exactly the party on the other end stands to gain from it.
A mere six months shy of our next election, it’s important to examine how our elected officials are actively working for us, or even if they’re attempting to at all.
Regardless of who we vote for, examining the advantages and privileges our elected officials have, especially when they claim to be representing average people, is crucial for working towards a more productive system. Writing off those biases only puts us deeper into more codependent relationships with them, which we should avoid.
Our elected officials work for us. As we’re bombarded with the tone-deaf messages in the media they disseminate day after day, especially in this time of crisis, it’s important we’re all reminded of that.