Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) captivated the country last month when she delivered her response to sexist remarks from Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.). From the House floor, she described the harassment that women experience on a daily basis, eviscerating the excuses offered by Yoho and other men forced to confront their own similar behavior. On C-SPAN’s Twitter account, Ocasio-Cortez’s speech was viewed over 12 million times in one day.
The speech lasted just over 10 minutes.
When she speaks at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, she will have 60 seconds.
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a poem about her convention time-limit on Wednesday night, announcing that she would “use” — and not “abuse” — her “tiny little minute” on center stage.
There will be 35 speakers at this year’s Democratic National Convention, spread out across four nights of programming, with everyone joining the event by video conference. Some speakers, including Ocasio-Cortez, will symbolically nominate the various candidates who won delegates in the Democratic primary before the candidates come on-screen to cede their delegates to Biden. All “nominators” will be given one minute to speak. Ocasio-Cortez will be nominating Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who she supported in the primary.
Even though others are subject to the same 60-second limit, many voters are arguing that Ocasio-Cortez should be given more time. Young progressives, in particular, are criticizing the decision, accusing leadership of ignoring the party’s growing leftist wing, especially in light of the broader speaker lineup: Only two of the 35 speakers at the convention will be under the age of 50. Three are Latino. (The Democratic National Committee spoke with The Lily on background.)
This is likely a somewhat strategic decision, said Jennifer Lawless, a professor of women and politics at the University of Virginia. Ocasio-Cortez is far to the left of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif). An extended appearance from Ocasio-Cortez, Lawless says, could “give fodder” to President Trump’s campaign, which is trying to hold onto the moderate Democrats who voted for him in 2016.
“Democrats think they have a shot at taking back the sliver of the population that voted for Obama and then went for Trump,” Lawless said. “Highlighting someone that could alienate that group — they might worry they’re playing into Trump’s hands.”
A speech at the convention has often been seen as a fast-track to stardom within the party. Barack Obama’s 2004 address catapulted the future president onto the national stage, helping him establish a path to the presidency. While politicians today have far more opportunities for breakout, viral moments — with constant media coverage and their own sizable social media platforms — the convention speech still retains a symbolic importance, signaling your prominence within the party.
Ilana Cohen, 19, was happy to see that the Democratic Party included Ocasio-Cortez on their speaker list. However concerned they might be about alienating moderates, the choice signaled a sincere interest in building a “bridge” between the center and the left, said Cohen, a college student who backed Sanders in the primary.
But the decision to limit her speech to 60 seconds struck Cohen as “radically tone-deaf,” she said.
“To give her 60 seconds, regardless of how you personally feel about AOC, is failing to recognize the ground that she’s made.”
Amina Akhtar, 26, can easily imagine herself leaving the Democratic Party for “something new that someone hopefully will create,” further to the left, she says. With Biden at the helm, she says, the party feels more and more distant from her own views. But she is encouraged by young progressives like Ocasio-Cortez.
“She just walked in there, and showed them that you can speak up about these critical issues that no one was talking about,” Akhtar said. “To me, she is unstoppable.”
The vast majority of the prime-time speakers selected for the convention strike Akhtar as “business as usual” Democrats. The list includes many moderates, she says, including the Clintons and John Kasich, the former governor of Ohio and a Republican. Looking at the speaker list, she says, she feels even further away from the core of her party.
“There is so little in the lineup that is inspiring to young people,” said Akhtar. “I don’t think it reflects the current political moment — or the room.”
It’s important to remember that Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who lean much further left than Biden and Harris, will hold prime-time spots at the convention, said Lawless, both almost certainly with a significant amount of speaking time. In the past, she said, the Democratic Party might not have offered a platform to figures that veer so far from the “old guard.” Their inclusion, as well as Ocasio-Cortez’s, signals that the party is trying to come together in earnest. (Though considering how close Sanders came to the nomination — twice — Lawless notes that they “really had no choice.”)
Marsha Vivinate, a Boomer-generation Democrat in the Bay Area, was relieved to hear that Ocasio-Cortez would only have a minute to talk at the convention. If she had it her way, she said, Ocasio-Cortez would not be in the lineup at all.
“The first thing I noticed about her was all the division, all the dividing,” she said.
While Vivinate considers herself a progessive and respects that Ocasio-Cortez has a “huge following,” she says she is “against division.” It was off putting, she said, to see Ocasio-Cortez staging a sit-in over climate change in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office almost as soon as she got to Congress. Vivinate suspects that many independents and moderates find this behavior jarring, too.
To Akhtar, the time-limit seems like “retribution.” The party doesn’t like some of Ocasio-Cortez’s tactics, she says, so they denied her this major platform.
“Women of color and especially Black women have constantly been punished for daring to be bold, and not ‘waiting their turn.’”
The time-limit on Ocasio-Cortez likely has less to do with retribution than logistics and timing, said Lawless.
In a normal year, less prominent figures have the chance speak at the convention during the day. News stations will play the highlights from those speeches, elevating the best moments to prime time. If 2020 was a normal year, and Ocasio-Cortez was not asked to speak, even during the day, Lawless said, she might wonder about the motives of the Democratic Party. But this year’s convention is far shorter than usual, limited to just two hours every night. Making time even tighter, she said, the Democratic presidential field was especially large this year. Many of those candidates will be given the opportunity to speak, so they can urge their base to support the nominee.
“There’s just not a lot of time,” said Lawless.
Even with just 60 seconds, Cohen suspects that Ocasio-Cortez will pull off something special. Whatever she says in her speech, Cohen says, you can be sure a lot of people will be watching.
“Whether it’s 60 seconds or 60 minutes, people want to hear from AOC.”