In 2016, after the Presidential election, many were looking for a story of hope and inspiration. Director Rachel Lears found that hope and inspiration in the insurgents who began campaigning for the next election as a response to the results of the previous one.
“Knock Down The House” follows four such insurgents, running grassroots campaigns to represent the working class in House of Representatives and Senate. These are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin. In telling the stories of these four women advocating for the working class, this documentary necessarily addresses the differences in how women are expected to carry themselves in public.
This documentary is invaluable to understanding how the 2016 presidential election changed grassroots organizing. Organizations such as Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, which crowdsourced nominations for all of the women featured, are fixated on creating a path to positions in government for ordinary people. Political organizing, for the women in this documentary, is about connecting with their communities and holding their opponents accountable. The emphasis is placed on being available to possible constituents, rather than fundraising. This understanding of their process is essential to understanding the message of film, and it’s laid out pretty plainly.
The film opens with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez putting on her makeup and talking about how difficult it is to navigate politics as a woman because she has to worry about her appearance all of the time. Men, she says, can wear a suit or slacks and a light colored shirt “with the sleeves rolled up” and be perfectly presentable. This is not a problem limited to politics. Women, especially women of color, are held to unfair standards of presentability which require more time and money than a man will ever need to spend on his appearance. This open the discussion of the exclusion of women from political spaces runs through the whole production.
Women are also expected to mind the way they speak or allow their face to rest, lest they be labeled something unkind. Watching the women of this documentary struggle to keep their composure or throw composure out the window and act how they want is both inspiring and a challenge to the establishment. As politicians and public figures, women are expected to remain smiling in the face of situations where they are being disparaged or issues close to their own heart are being discussed. To be emotional is to be human and “Knock Down The House” does its best to drive this point home.
“Knock Down The House” is the story of women breaking institutional barriers that everyone should try to see.
“Knock Down The House”