New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez arrived at the Met Gala on Monday night wearing an ivory wool Brother Vellies jacket dress personalized with an organza ruffle and the message “Tax the Rich” in red on her back.
In video footage shot before her arrival, she can be seen walking towards the vehicle that brought her to the gala, a masked assistant holding the train of her dress as she smiles brightly and waves to her fans.
Designers and corporate sponsors typically pay the hefty price of admission – $ 35,000 a ticket or $ 200,000 to $ 300,000 a table – for gala guests, which typically include a quorum of Hollywood star Kardashians. and mannequins. The star-studded event is often referred to as the Fashion Oscars.
Many elected New Yorkers are also invited, as “museum guests” who do not pay to attend.
Either way, Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s presence and attire provided easy fodder for her most trusted critics. On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of the former president, called her a fraud for sending a message about taxing the rich “while hanging out with a group of rich left elites.”
Rep. Jim Banks, Republican of Indiana, tweeted that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is the “gift that keeps on giving.”
But more surprising than the rote judgments of her political opponents was the criticism Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, drew from the left – a chorus of dissatisfaction of progressives and self-proclaimed socialists disappointed with a gesture they were saying. caricaturing a progressive cause and stressed their feeling that it is not maximizing its ability to fight for congressional workers.
Briahna Gray, the former national press secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign and co-host of the “Bad Faith” podcast, said Ms Ocasio-Cortez is “subject to a single standard exactly because people expect more. of her “. She said part of the gradual backlash for the dress resulted from a more general disappointment with some of her political positions.
“People are disappointed with his behavior outside of this context, and it seems to reflect a lack of commitment that has been shown in a purely political context,” said Ms Gray.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez was first invited to the Met Ball in 2019, the year after her victory over former Rep Joe Crowley – the most significant upheaval for a Democratic incumbent in more than a decade. She did not attend and the following year’s gala was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, Ms Ocasio-Cortez was seated at the table of Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and artistic director of Condé Nast, who is the longtime co-host of the gala.
Some supporters had a simple and negative gut reaction to his decision to attend. “The Met Gala is an event sincere socialists should avoid,” wrote John Ganz, a Gawker.com columnist who described himself as a supporter who at other times viewed Ms. Ocasio-Cortez as a ” light of hope “.
Danny Haiphong, a socialist activist and writer, said what had offended him was not the dissonance of a self-proclaimed democratic socialist hanging out with the elite, but that “AOC and the Squad are not taking advantage of their huge base. of support for demanding the very thing that she put on her dress.
Many progressives still credit Ms. Ocasio-Cortez for being a steadfast advocate for progressive causes. She was the only Democrat to oppose the $ 484 billion coronavirus relief package last year, saying she found it too generous to business without providing enough help to working class people .
Along with Mr Sanders, she lobbied to triple the amount of money President Biden is proposing to improve the country’s aging public housing system.
Recently, she joined the marathon protests on the Capitol steps against the expiration of a federal moratorium on pandemic-era evictions that neither the White House nor Congress had until then acted to stop.
“She’s generally happy to spark people’s enthusiasm for a different take on America,” said Faiz Shakir, director of Mr. Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. “It’s an art: politics is theater. You are looking for ways to animate it.
Indeed, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has used the slogan “Tax the Rich” on campaign products, which Republicans have criticized in the past.
But a group of more left-wing activists tried to push the party further and became increasingly critical of Ms Ocasio-Cortez.
Some had demanded that Ms Ocasio-Cortez and others withhold their votes for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unless she agreed to put the Medicare for All bill to a floor vote. They also urged Ms Ocasio-Cortez to use her position to force a vote on a $ 15 minimum wage and to take sharper criticism of the Biden administration for pushing back calls for blanket student debt cancellation. .
Ms Ocasio-Cortez is seen as a supposed stranger in Congress, Ms Gray said, but “doesn’t really do the kinds of things that might actually attract the real backlash and hardship that some people expected her to do. do, given the way she presented herself. in. ” The image of her “rubbing shoulders with these people” on Monday evening angered some on the left, she said.
The slogan on the dress was also a problem, according to Ms Gray – not because it was too radical but because it was too innocuous; According to a 2020 Reuters / Ipsos poll, a majority of American voters are in favor of a wealth tax for the very rich.
“If she had chosen to highlight a message that was not already so well received, then her act would have been seen as more subversive, as opposed to a pageantry comparable to Cara Delevingne’s ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ shirt,” Ms Gray said. – another Met Gala outfit that caught attention for the message it carried.
Other New York politicians were at the gala this year, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who represents Manhattan’s former Silk Stocking neighborhood, and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio jumped the ball for years before breaking his streak of absence Monday night, in the final months of his mayoralty.
“It’s not my cup of tea,” de Blasio said during an appearance on NY1 in 2019 when asked about his absence. “It’s an elite rally, I’m not an elite guy. It really is – let’s simplify it, it’s just not my thing. It’s the kind of place where the elite go and like to be together, and I have a different approach.
Among Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s supporters was Maya Wiley, the former New York mayoral candidate whose campaign Ms Ocasio-Cortez supported earlier this year. Ms Wiley said the Met Gala is part of the fabric of New York City and identifying as a Democratic Socialist does not mean hating or avoiding the wealthy who show up.
“We are turning everything into a contest of purity,” Ms. Wiley said. “Politics shouldn’t be about purity. She did the right thing by not avoiding it, saying it’s part of who we are, and let’s have a conversation that includes the Met Gala.
“Walk into a space devoted to art, fashion, luxury and wealth and say, ‘This is the conversation we have to face, but I’m going to face it in the vernacular of the event, it is awesome, ”Ms. Wiley said.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez may have succeeded in highlighting an issue at the heart of what Democrats are pushing for in the reconciliation bill they are trying to push through by the end of the month. Most importantly, the dress served as Rorschach’s final test on Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, and whether she is seen as fighting for the people or aligning with the elites.
“I don’t envy him,” said Sumathy Kumar, president of the New York City Democratic Socialist Association. “Faced with this question, ‘Do I go to this event and use it as an opportunity to spread the message, or do I boycott it?’, She usually chooses to spread this message.”
Ms Kumar added, “Whether you agree with a tactic or not, more and more people are talking about taxes on the rich and at least this conversation is taking place. We’ll take what we can get.
On Tuesday, Ms Ocasio-Cortez, who declined to comment for this article, defended herself against criticism in a lengthy Instagram post. “Me and my body have been so heavily and relentlessly monitored politically from all sides since the moment I won my election,” she wrote.
In the end, she said, “we all had a conversation about taxing the rich in front of the same people who are pushing against it and broke through the 4th wall of excess and spectacle.” In a follow-up fundraising email, she asked supporters to purchase their own “Tax the Rich” outfit. A t-shirt costs $ 27 and the hoodie costs $ 58.