Perhaps this morning is the first time you’ve heard of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the woman who won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District against a 20-year incumbent. Financial records show she had spent $194,763 to her opponent’s $3,414,700 as of June 6.
Ocasio-Cortez’s funding came from thousands of individuals giving what they could afford. She spent her money on reaching people in ways that would pay the dividends she wanted: engaged volunteers and voters whose values were aligned with those of her campaign. Her Twitter feed is a story of community engagement, in the streets and at the ballot box.
I had been thinking earlier this week about the values we express through how we invest our own resources. I’d spent some hours on the weekend volunteering at a fund raising event for a community that is important to me, bringing in thousands of dollars from people who were happy to pay reasonable prices for food and drink in a festival environment. My time gave the community centre much more fungible value than what I might have given had I reached for my bank card for a donation instead.
My fellow volunteers were predominantly members of groups I’ve often heard referred to as racialized. I was in a minority for being white, and for not speaking Spanish. What we all had in common was time, interest, energy, and ability to help a community we loved. We appreciated the people who chose to spend their recreational budget on partying in a welcoming environment and in support of a community where they and we belong.
Each sector or cause I choose to spend my resources supporting has its own focus and brings its own demographic. Few of my tech friends are also my arts friends and my societal equity friends and my LGBTQ+ friends and my public speaking friends. I’m blessed with a broad set of interests and communities where I can be a wonk or a nerd in an environment I work on improving.
Reviewing my skills and interests, I realize I’ve come close to meeting a former public school teacher’s prediction: going into the government and fixing things. As a youth I’d scoffed at the idea of running for public office, whether federal or provincial or municipal. With the wisdom of age I see great potential for me to invest my time, skills, and knowledge in making the world a better place through varied types of public service.
I see Ocasio-Cortez’s recent victory and the road ahead of her as confirmation that individuals investing what we value can change systems we’d been encouraged to see as immutable. It doesn’t take millions of dollars. Dividends depend on focus, commitment, and leverage to magnify our investments.
We got this.