Knock Down The House
“For one of us to get through, 100 of us have to try’’ – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Our final Yellow Wednesdays screening at Impact Hub Birmingham comes at what could be a historic time in the history of British politics. With support from Doc Society, we host Knock Down the House, the story of four exceptional working-class women, (including the formidable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) who embraced the challenge to run for office in America’s midterm elections of 2018 against powerful incumbents. Knock Down the House, is an inspiring look at th2 2018 midterm elections that tipped the balance of power.
Film director Rachel Lears selected four subjects for the feature that would ultimately blossom into her film Knock Down the House. She trained her lens on Cori Bush, a woman of color who thought Missouri’s seats in the House of Representatives should reflect its diverse populace. She followed Nevada’s Amy Vilela on her tireless crusade to overhaul healthcare after insurance complications resulted in the death of her daughter. She went to West Virginia’s coalmining belt, where Paula Jean Swearengin ran on a platform of cleansing the pollution that had choked out their community. And she took a special interest in a bartender from the Bronx named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a far-leftist with new ideas and an electrifying presence with which to sell them.
“At a moment of historic volatility in American politics, these four women decide to fight back, setting themselves on a journey that will change their lives and their country forever”
Length: 86 minutes
Director: Rachel Lears
Writers: Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears
Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Joe Crowley
When tragedy struck her family in the midst of the financial crisis, Bronx-born Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to work double shifts in a restaurant to save her home from foreclosure. After losing a loved one to a preventable medical condition, Amy Vilela didn’t know what to do with the anger she felt about America’s broken health care system.
Cori Bush was drawn into the streets when the police shooting of an unarmed black man brought protests and tanks into her neighborhood. Paula Jean Swearengin was fed up with watching her friends and family suffer and die from the environmental effects of the coal industry.
At a moment of historic volatility in American politics, these four women decide to fight back, setting themselves on a journey that will change their lives and their country forever. Without political experience or corporate money, they build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. Their efforts result in a legendary upset.
“The purpose of the documentary is not to create a platform for the politicians. The purpose is to tell a story about a historic moment, and what it was like for the people inside it, and how the politically impossible becomes possible.” – Rachel Lears, Director – Knock Down The House
As always our film screenings end with a post screening panel and this final Yellow Wednesdays screening is no different. Impact Hub Birmingham Co-Founder Immy Kaur will be joined by Olly Armstrong, Labour Councillor, Northfield and Jayne Haynes, Politics & People Editor at Birmingham Live.
The post screening discussion will cover themes such as the importance of voting, how people can get more involved with local elections, how can we engage more women and young people to get involved local politics and how can British politics be more democratic and open and what role does the media play when it comes to forming political narratives?
Demographics of UK Parliament and US Congress: How do we compare to the U.S.?
Total UK Population: 66 million
|In the General Population||In the 2017 Parliament|
|People of Colour||19.5%||8%|
From: Diversity in the 2017 Parliament report
Total U.S. Population: 325 million
|In the General Population||In the 2019 Congress|
|People of Colour||39%||22%|
From: Reflective Democracy 2018 Report
It’s important to know that these disparities, in both the U.S. and UK, have improved over time. Both the 2017 General Election and 2018 U.S. midterms returned the most diverse legislatures either country has ever seen. With more women and people of colour, as well as greater diversity in both religious belief and sexual orientation, the pendulum is swinging in the right direction.
But the pace of this change is too slow. According to the Fawcett Society, to achieve equal gender representation in Parliament, estimates it will take until 50 for Britain to see parity.
Ways to get involved and engaged with local politics:
#KnockDownBarriers and find out more about civic or political decision-making to take the following actions by checking out these organisations::
Register to Vote: #RegisterToVote
Ask an inspirational woman to stand in parliament: #AskHerToStand #SignUpToStand 5050 Parliament. Sign up for hands-on training and support that demystifies the process for women wanting to get involved in politics or join an online peer support circle supporting women’s political ambitions more deeply #GetReadyToStand
Join the If you are a young woman and want economic justice and power for all young women #TrustInWomen Young Womens Trust
Participate in greater racial justice and equality in the UK and apply for a Parliamentary Leadership scheme Operation Black Vote.
Register to Vote
Registering to vote takes less than five minutes. It is the simplest way to make sure your voice counts in any upcoming election. To register, go to https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote – you’ll need the following:
- Your National Insurance number (find this on payslips, bank statements, in correspondence with HMRC. If you can’t find it, request it at https://www.gov.uk/lost-national-insurance-number)
- Your passport if you’re a British citizen living abroad, and want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales
- You can register in two locations. If you’re already registered but think you might be at another address on election day, you can re-register with this new address through the same route.
If you’re busy and worry about being tied up on election day, consider casting your ballot through postal vote. You should also consider doing this if you travel frequently or could be living abroad at the time of an election. Apply for a postal vote here.
Those from communities underrepresented in Parliament are also less likely to be registered to vote, and less likely to go on to cast their ballot. Only four in ten young people voted in 2017, for example, and fewer than six in ten Black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) and private and social renters voted.
This matters: politicians respond to those who hold the keys to their office. The leverage yielded by young people on issues such as, say, climate justice and mental health reform, will be far higher when young people pose a serious and inescapable threat to an MPs office.
When you’ve registered, share this on social media with the hashtag #KnockDownBarriers or #KnockDownTheHouse. Check your friends and family are registered too. Shout loud and proud about shaping the next election on your terms.
Support a Candidate
When an election is announced, ask yourself the question: how can I help somebody who shares my values succeed?
First, find them. If you support a party, or recognise your values as closely aligned with one, take a look at their candidate list (you’ll find these on the party websites). If your own constituency is a safe seat – and highly unlikely to elect a fresh face – take a look at your neighbouring constituency elections. Is there a competitive race there with a candidate you could support?
Sadly, under our electoral system, not everybody will get a fair shot at winning. Some seats are notoriously competitive – swing seats – and these could be where your help really makes a difference. In 2017, 97 seats were won by a margin of 5% or less of votes cast, and Parliament’s full results and analysis of the 2017 election includes information on where these are.
Then, get in touch. Either the local party or the candidate will let you know when campaign events and door-knocking are taking place. And if you don’t fancy on-the-ground campaigning but can give some time to help online, support a candidate on social media. Share their posts with your friends and family, and if you have digital skills – or know somebody who does – offer these to the candidate too. Social media is at the heart of successful modern campaigning, but local party infrastructures are often far behind in important developments.
If you don’t have time to give, why not make a donation to a candidate, party or organisation working to increase representation in British politics? The economic barriers are felt disproportionately by women and people of colour putting themselves forward. Help close this gap.
Run for Election
The women in Knock Down The House didn’t always see themselves as politicians. Their personal journeys to running are different. Each had their own reasons for coming forward and taking the biggest leap possible: running for office.
What is the change you want to see in politics? If you look at the current political crop and don’t see the progress you want on the issues you care about, is there somebody you trust working tirelessly on your behalf? And, even if there is, what’s stopping you from doing a better job?
Those whose backgrounds comfortably match the traditional politician – privately educated, economically privileged, male and white – are more likely to look at Parliament and see themselves at home in the gilded chambers. But British politics urgently needs more people, from different backgrounds, to speak up for the issues they care about and to drive reform. This could be you.
If you want to change Britain, put yourself forward. It need not be as an MP: there are thousands of elected positions up for grabs regularly. The organisations in the following section are campaigning for better representation in British politics. At least one is likely to be able to provide you with support, if you want to go on the same journey as Amy, Cori, Alexandria and Paula-Jean.
But for immediate information about how to stand:
Fighting for Change: Organisations Knocking Down Barriers
It is an uphill battle, but Britain is lucky to have a number of campaigns working exhaustively to improve representation. If you’re interested, take a closer look at the work they do by heading to their websites or attending their events.
50:50 Parliament – campaign for gender balance in UK Parliament – runs #AskHerToStand, which encourages women to nominate other women to run
Bite the Ballot – youth democracy charity
Centenary Action Group (CAG) – a cross-party campaigning coalition of over 100 grassroots women’s organisations
Fawcett Society – charity campaigning for gender equality
My Life My Say – youth-led, charity on mission to re-brand politics and secure a better Brexit for young people by facilitating their direct involvement in the decision-making processes
Operation Black Vote – non-partisan and not-for-profit national organisation that was established in 1996 to address the Black British and ethnic minority democratic deficit.
Parliament Project – has run workshops and provided ongoing support for over 3000 women intending to run for public office since launching two years ago
Women’s Equality Party – feminist political party
Women 2 Win – the Conservative party’s campaign to elect more women in the party to Parliament
Young Women’s Trust – charity for women aged 18-30, especially those on low pay or struggling to find work right for them
Conservative Women, Labour Women’s Network, Lib Dem Women, Green Party Women – respective women’s networks within each major political party campaigning for greater female representation
Doc Society is a non-profit founded in 2005, committed to enabling great documentary films and connecting them to audiences globally. We bring people together to unleash the transformational power of documentary film and are dedicated to the art of impact and the impact of art.
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