Innovation Ecosystem/Opinion

A lesson in American politics in 2020

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez: You can be a powerful man, a married man with daughters, projecting an image of being a family man, and accost women, without remorse, with a sense of impunity

Photo courtesy of Facebook post by Congressman Susan Wild

Rep. Ted Yoho demonstrates how not to properly wear a mask while in Congress.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 7/27/20
The speech given by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday, July 23, in the U.S. House was a brilliant reply to the use of abusive language by Rep. Ted Yoho directed at her.
Will any of Rep. Yoho’s Republican colleagues be willing to speak up and hold him accountable for his abusive language directed at Rep. Ocasio-Cortez? How can Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s speech be integrated into online curricula for high school and college students to talk about domestic violence? Why has the news media been relatively silent about President Trump wishing an alleged child sex ring facilitator well? Will the upcoming second annual Rhode Island Life Index track the increases in domestic violence as a key indicator?
In all the hubbub about whether or not to open schools in the midst of coronavirus pandemic, there is an undercurrent that has not been addressed fully: the way in which teachers and parents have been asked to put themselves in harm’s way, without assurances that there will be adequate measures to protect them and their families from the virus.
Why is it so important to open the schools in Rhode Island on Aug. 31? Why not delay the reopening for a month, until October, to make sure plans are in place and implemented? What is the rush?
The answer, of course, is intrinsically tied to economics – and the fact that women in the workplace are critical, essential participants. If schools are not safe for children to attend, if there are no adequate, safe daycare facilities, the risk – as calculated by parents, may be too great, regardless of what commissioners and governors and Presidents say.
If women hold up more than half the sky, they hold up some three-quarters of the health care system and even more of the educational system in Rhode Island. They are no longer willing to be cajoled or bullied or demeaned in the workplace, if it puts themselves and their families at risk.

PROVIDENCE – The stark political, sexual and racial divides in America were on full frontal display last week.

The confrontation between Republican Congressman Ted Yoho and Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, during which Yoho was heard by a reporter from The Hill calling the congresswoman a “fucking bitch,” escalated to the floor of the U.S. House.

Yoho, addressing his colleagues, issued what at best can be called a non-apology apology, denying he had said the offending slur, wrapping himself in the cloak that he is a married man and has two daughters.

The next day, on Wednesday, July 22, Ocasio-Cortez, speaking from the floor of the U.S. House, answered, with an eloquent speech that resonated across the nation.

On that very same day, the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence issued a news release, talking about how domestic violence affects all of us, sending “harmful ripple effects throughout our state,” talking about how in June of 2020, there was a “42 percent increase in calls to helplines and hotlines” compared to June of 2019. “The epidemic of domestic abuse preceded COVID-19 and has only become more heightened during these unprecedented times. For those experiencing abuse, the public health pandemic emergency has layered one crisis on top of another,” read the statement from the R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The day before, President Donald Trump, when asked about Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged accomplice in child sex abuse schemes, Ghislaine Maxwell, Trump responded, inexplicably, by wishing her well. “I haven’t really been following it too much. I just wish her well, frankly. I’ve met her numerous times over the years, especially since I lived in Palm Beach, and I guess they lived in Palm Beach. But I wish her well, whatever it is.”

For a self-proclaimed “law and order” President running for re-election, wishing one of the alleged architects of a child sex ring “well” stands in sharp contrast to the kind of language the President often uses, particularly against women of color at Presidential news conferences, calling them unprofessional and their questions “nasty.”

Here is a major excerpt from the speech by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, connecting the dots between domestic violence and powerful men using abusive language to dehumanize women:

THIS ISSUE IS NOT ABOUT one incident, it is cultural, it is a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.

Because not only have I been spoken to disrespectfully, particularly by members of the Republican Party and elected officials of the Republican Party, not just here, but the President of the United States last year told me to go home, to another country, with the implication that I don’t even belong in America.

The governor of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis, before I was even sworn in, called me a “whatever that is.”

Dehumanizing language is not new. And what we are seeing is that incidents like these are happening in a pattern. This is a pattern of an attitude toward women and dehumanization of others.

So, while I was not deeply hurt or offended by little comments that are made, when I was reflecting on this, I honestly thought that I was going to pack it up and go home. It’s just another day, right?

But, then yesterday [on Tuesday, July 21], Rep. Yoho decided to come to the floor of the House of Representatives and make excuses for his behavior.

And, that I could not let go. 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 that, to see that excuse, and 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, which I why I am rising today to raise this point of personal privilege.

And I do not need Rep. Yoho to apologize to me. Clearly, he does not want to. Clearly, when given the opportunity, he will not, And, I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse over calling women and using abusive language toward women.

But what I do have issue with, is using women, our wives and daughters, as shields and excuses for poor behavior.

Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter.

I am someone’s daughter, too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of this House towards me on television.

And, I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter, and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.

Now, what I am here to say is that this harm that Mr. Yoho levied, that he tried to levy against me, was not just an incident directed at me.

But when you do that to any woman, what Mr. Yoho did was to give permission to other men to do that to his daughters. In using that language, in front of the press, he gave permission to use that language against his wife, his daughters, women in his community, and I am here to stand up to say: that is not acceptable.

I do not care what your views are. It does not matter how much I disagree, or how much it incenses me, or how much I feel that people are dehumanizing others. I will not do that, myself. I will not allow people to change, and create hatred in our hearts.

And so what I believe is that 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.

Not to save face, not to win a vote. He apologizes, genuinely to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.

Lastly what I want to express to Mr. Yoho, is gratitude. I want to thank him for showing the world that you can be a powerful man and accost women. You can have daughters and accost women without remorse. You can be married and accost women. You can take photos and project an image to the world of being a family man and accost women, without remorse, and with a sense of impunity.

It happens every day in this country. It happened here on the steps of our nation’s Capitol [building]. It happens when individuals who hold the highest office in this land admit, admit to hurting women and using this language against all of us.

[Editor’s Note: While millions may have viewed Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech online, ConvergenceRI believes it is an important obligation of a free press in these perilous times to present her words in print, as a historical record, to move beyond sound bites. Words matter.]

Moving beyond sound bites
In a separate but related issue, the nation is serving as witnesses to President Trump’s attempts to paint a country where cities, allegedly beset by “anarchists” who are rioting, has sent federal troops of unknown origins, not to quell the violence, but to promote it, in a desperate attempt to distract from his own failed policies to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.

In a tweet, Trump, as part of his ramped up Presidential campaign, wrote: “The Suburban Housewives of America must read this article. Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!”

The problem for Trump, and the problem for many men such as Harvey Weinstein, is that the words spoken by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez ring truer.

Words matter
The clashes on the streets in many cities recall a time, more than 50 years ago, when there were clashes between nonviolent demonstrators and police in the city of Chicago, in the midst of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Those images were then used by Republican Presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon to propel himself into the White House as a “law and order” candidate, stoking the fears of a divided nation. The reality is that he turned out to be the most corrupt President in history [before President Trump], forced to resign from office, along with Vice President Spiro Agnew.

From an historical perspective, there was a moment captured on Aug. 28, 1968, at the Democratic National Convention, held in Chicago, when Sen. Abraham Ribicoff from Connecticut was placing the name of Sen. George McGovern in nomination for President.

McGovern had been the official placeholder for the remnants of the Robert Kennedy for President campaign, which had been halted by the tragic assassination of Kennedy on June 5, 1968, the evening on which he had won the California primary and had announced, in the last words for his speech, right before he was shot and killed, “It’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.”

The convention itself had been riven by the divisions between those who supported the Vietnam War and those who opposed it, represented respectively by the candidacies of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

Outside, the streets of Chicago had been turned into a literal war zone, as Chicago police, aided by National Guard troops, had attacked and savagely beaten nonviolent protesters.

Ribicoff had suddenly veered away from his prepared speech praising McGovern, saying: “And, with George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn’t have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in. And then, in response, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley rose to feet and shouted at Ribicoff, who was Jewish: “Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy mother fucker. Go home!” according to court transcripts.

To which Ribicoff replied: “How hard it is to accept the truth.”

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