The 30-year-old first term lawmaker learned last week that she was given only a minute to address this year’s virtual Democratic National Convention. Her response, quoting the poetry of Benjamin E. Mays, was a social media bat signal to her Yorktown, N.Y., second grade teacher, Mai Jacobs, who taught Ocasio-Cortez to memorize and recite poetry from an early age.
Jacobs responded, “Remember all the poems we recited together in 2nd grade? It was prep for this moment. You’ve got this.”
The exchange was both heartwarming, and heart wrenching, a reminder that one of the most talented political communicators in either party was given just a minute to speak at the most consequential Democratic convention in memory.
She made the most of it, her greeting of “Bienvenidos,” teeing up a night that showcased the diversity of languages, accents and dialects across America.
Boiling water takes more time than AOC was given. But the magic of poetry, rhyme and rhythm teach those who are less privileged to weave eternities into limited space, shorter lines and compressed time.
While seconding the nomination for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for president, Ocasio-Cortez again planted her flag firmly in the progressive wing of her party by emphasizing the power and energy not of a political campaign, but a people’s movement that “seeks to recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny and homophobia.”
She pulled no punches, noting the movement “realizes the unsustainable brutality of an economy that rewards explosive inequalities of wealth for the few at the expense of long-term stability for the many.”
AOC’s foundation in poetry and brevity has long been the secret sauce in her social media power. She is a Titan of Twitter, a Grandmaster of Instagram, able to leap over her opponents and win over audiences in a single tweet or IG story. In an age of character limits, AOC was well suited for her moment.
Pelosi was talking about votes. But Black women and women of color hear this all the time, that our use of Twitter isn’t serious. We are labeled and dismissed as a “Twitter mob” and part of a “Cancel culture” when we express our anger, disappointment and dissent with policies, narratives and rhetoric that harms and silences us.
She wrote then of the difference between how White women in elite spaces deemed prose to be the more valuable art form, and that poetry was less rigorous and serious.
“The form our creativity takes is often a class issue,” Lorde wrote. “Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one that can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway and on scraps of surplus paper … poetry has been the major voice of poor, working class, and Colored women.”
“En el espiritu del pueblo, and out of a love for all people, I hereby second the nomination of Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont for president of the United states of America,” Ocasio-Cortez said, closing her speech.
Then came the roll call, speakers from all the states and overseas territories reflecting the beautiful diversity of America, all coming together to vote for a better future.
The moment was brief, unpredictable, unconventional. Also powerful and inspiring. Much like Ocasio-Cortez herself.
Mai Jacobs is surely proud.