Can a new political actor break into the establishment with just a fresh image on social media, attractive colors, a catchy name, or by enunciating words that generate noise in the citizenry? Probably not.
In the same way, if a new political actor tries to break into the establishment by focusing only on its program, its purposes, and pointing out what is wrong with society, likely it will also fail.
In politics, to create a force capable of persuading and mobilizing, a comprehensive creative conceptualization is necessary. The charisma that catapults political actors to the fore is a combination of visual energy with strong purposes.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has irreverently disrupted American politics after defeat in the Democratic Party primaries in 2018 Joseph Crowley, who had been a member of the House of Representatives for the 14th congressional district of New York for 20 years.
To confront a candidate whose local weakness was paradoxically his importance in the national structure of the Democratic Party, Ocasio-Cortez opted for a grassroots mobilization campaign capable of profiting from Crowley’s disconnection with his electorate. Ocasio-Cortez’s main weapon (since her campaign against Crowley) is to use the power of her image and message in the service of her purposes to capitalize on empathy with her electorate.
The empathy strategy from the images generated by Ocasio-Cortez must be studied in depth. Crowley is a seasoned politician whose main advantage was his strong connections to Washington’s elite. To defeat AOC, he used as a campaign weapon the loss of power that would mean for the voters of the Bronx and Queens to replace a distant, but experienced politician with strong connections, by a bold but without contacts young woman. In a scenario like the United States where politics is crossed by a system of lobbies, this placed voters before a realistic decision capable of counteracting AOC’s idealistic emotion.
To counter Crowley’s strategy, Ocasio-Cortez had to launch a campaign that showed her to be both successful and angry with the political and social establishment. Contrary to popular belief, it is these contradictory feelings that generate empathy in citizens, which are emotionally connected through role and status inquiries.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not afraid to show herself as a young woman from a Latin family with a precarious job as a bartender in a bar, because she was also able to disseminate through her profiles and words her university training and how informed she was of the American political debate. This strategy produced an aura of authenticity at AOC by showing her as part of the community she was trying to represent, but with the intellectual tools to do so.
The central tool of all creative conceptualization is to ensure that the political actor can disseminate feelings and emotions. Feelings and emotions are the energy behind political mobilization. A comprehensive creative conceptualization is based on the dissemination of feelings and emotions, uses creative development as a vehicle, and is concretized by positioning the agenda and the purposes of the political actor in the national debate.
Ocasio-Cortez’s discursive energy allows her to open a door of empathy with the people she is trying to persuade. When she takes the floor she shows herself as an extrovert, however, her speech always refers to the positioning of her agenda and purposes. In this way, her energy and extroversion do not turn against her by generating the natural emotional rejection caused by those who only want to attract attention. At the same time, Ocasio-Cortez builds an image of herself on social media that focuses on closeness to citizens, always balanced with images that mix seriousness and professionalism. Irony and humor are also used to expose the points of view that she defends.
Ocasio-Cortez’s creative campaign package has been a great success focusing on both simplicity and ability to inform. To position herself discursively it was key to coin an acronym (AOC) that simplifies her name. Her semiotic identity, instead of focusing on the candidate’s iconography as political marketing often recommends, focused on creating an environment of cultural pride for the district she tries to represent. This undoubtedly functioned as an important mobilizing agent in building an “imagined community.” AOC performed the community she wanted to represent.
Once she achieved her position in the United States House of Representatives, Ocasio-Cortez made a creative transformation, demonstrating that conceptual development is always necessary for politics. The energy with which she was trying to mobilize her electorate was reinvented to try to break into the national political agenda.
Ocasio-Cortez has been successful on the path of creative development in politics knowing that visual energy, feelings and emotions, and discursive strategy are a complement to the agenda and the purposes. That an important conservative think tank like the Brookings Institute is forced to respond to AOC initiatives is a reflection that her creative development accomplished the task of putting her purposes on the agenda and therefore its enemies cannot ignore it.