What was socialist activist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doing at the $35,000-per-head Met Gala?
And in a dress designed to stir controversy.
AOC walked the red carpet at the 2021 Met Gala in a white mermaid dress with a red graffiti-style lettering “Tax the Rich” on its back—in line with her political and ideological messaging.
The right-wing conservative critics had a field day, of course, trolling her for wearing a dress “attacking” the rich while hobnobbing with the uber-rich at the exclusive Met Gala event. Expected. What wasn’t expected was the backlash from some progressives and self-described socialists.
Critics have been quick to point out the apparent hypocrisy. John Ganz, a columnist for Gawker.com who says he’s a supporter, calling AOC a “beacon of hope” criticized her, noting that “The Met Gala is an event best shunned by sincere socialists.”
Some feel disappointed as they feel this gesture won’t further the cause.
“Tax the Rich” message on the dress—a publicity stunt, hypocrisy, or an insult to the A-list attendees?
Neither, I would say. No change has been brought about by preaching to the choir. What purpose would it serve if she were to blare that message in a union meeting or the city hall in Queens?
Also, asking the rich to pay their fair share of taxes is not the same as hating the rich or trying to make the rich, poor. Socialists don’t hate the rich; they are against the disparity and the ever-widening socioeconomic gap between the working class and the rich.
Changemaking required a multi-pronged approach and a varied toolkit. Yes, a dress isn’t going to magically bring about social change. But it is helping keep the conversation alive, taking it into the mainstream, and create discomfort.
On her Instagram post, AOC put a video explaining her decision to attend the event and wear that dress:
“In politics, there is this classic adage, which is that the medium is the message, and fashion is a medium. That’s why it’s important that we defend that medium when people try to diminish it. I’m excited to also use this opportunity to send a message.”
AOC didn’t pay/or gifted the seat at the Met Gala, but was a guest of the museum and the dress was borrowed from the designer Aurora James. This was a well-thought-out action, not an empty gesture with the goal of attracting eyeballs.
Along with relaying her championed cause, AOC also provided a platform to a sustainably focused, Black woman immigrant designer. Aurora James, a Ghanaian Canadian designer is the founder and creative director of Brother Vellies, a luxury accessories brand centered on keeping traditional African design techniques alive, as well as the founder of the 15 Percent Pledge, a nonprofit that boosts Black brands. She accompanied AOC on the red carpet, and like the congresswoman, wore suffrage white.
Not everyone was critical, though, and many commended AOC for her courage and commitment to the cause.
Maya Wiley, former New York City mayoral candidate:
“We turn everything into a purity contest. Politics shouldn’t be about purity. She did the right thing by not avoiding it, by saying this is part of who we are, and let’s have a conversation that includes the Met Gala.”
“To walk into a space that’s about art, fashion, luxury, and wealth and say, ‘Here is the conversation we have to confront, but I’m going to confront it in the vernacular of the event,’ is brilliant.”
Sumathy Kumar, a chair of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America:
“Whether you agree with a tactic or not, more people are talking about taxes on the wealthy, and at least that conversation is happening. We’ll take what we can get.”
“We all had a conversation about Taxing the Rich in front of the very people who lobby against it, and punctured the 4th wall of excess and spectacle.” ~ Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez