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AOC’s performative activism misses the mark

October 22, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the author .
Kyra Tan

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC) viral Met Gala dress sucked.

Every year, uninvited celebrities spend $35,000 to attend the Met Gala, an event inspired by fashion and decadence. This year’s theme was titled “American Independence,” and routinely, Hollywood stars, fashion designers and models pulled out all the stops. Unlike the many celebrities who paid $35k for a seat at the Gala, AOC was invited as many local elected officials are each year.

As per usual, certain outfits stood out over others, perhaps the most memorable one being AOC’s. A Democratic-Socialist famously known for promoting the Green New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez strutted down the red carpet in a white off-the-shoulder dress with the words “tax the rich” printed in red on her back. The dress was designed by Aurora James, a trend-setter in the world of fashion.

Ironically enough, James failed to pay both her state and federal taxes in several states for years. Her company, though popular among celebrities like Meghan Markle, has taken a number of recent blows due to the number of warrants stacking up directly relating to James’ tax debt. Her refusal to pay taxes only stings more upon learning that she received over $41,000 in pandemic relief aid to assist her company through the pandemic. Although “tax the rich” is an important message, taking the context into account, it is a message that falls flat.

It is also rather laughable for AOC to be wearing this dress to an elite event replete with her liberal allies. Perhaps she wore the dress to nudge the billionaires attending the Met Gala; however, the bottom line is billionaires do not change tax laws. The real power to impact effective legislation is in the hands of government officials like AOC herself. Wearing this dress around exclusively rich celebrities is not only ironic, but completely out of touch with reality.

Her methodology also radiates performative spirit. This is a form of false activism employed solely for the purpose of promoting her central social status and fishing for publicity. AOC has been extremely vocal about raising taxes for the wealthy, but astoundingly unreactive even though she holds the position to generate true progression. This begs the questions: did she do this simply for the attention? Did she want to become the meme she became shortly after? Does she truly care? Or was this all just another publicity stunt from the U.S. Democratic Representative of the state of New York?

In AOC’s defense, she may have been addressing the idea that billionaires hoarding most of the wealth is an inherently American issue. “Tax the rich” is bold and straightforward and the large red letters stand out from the suffragette white dress. Though the message is there, it is a rather silly way of following the theme of this year’s ball which was “American Independence.” My issue is not with the message itself; it is about the way she got it across.

An example of true celebrity activism at the Met Gala is when Lewis Hamilton, a Formula One racer, bought out an entire table to host black designers who could not afford attendance to the soirée. This was a tremendous opportunity for designers Kenneth Nicholson, Edvin Thompson and Jason Rembert. They were given the opportunity to get their names out into the world. He also invited Sha’Carri Richardson, Law Roach, Kehlani, Miles Watson and Alton Mason—all black guests. Bringing solely black company to a primarily white event as mainstream as the Met Gala is a powerful way to protest. Hamilton kept this on the low, unsubscribing from the normal mass-produced performative activism that is so prevalent with celebrities today.

While Hamilton’s form of activism succeeded in the Met Gala, AOC’s performative activism failed miserably, sparking more controversy than meaningful conversation. In fact, she provided ammunition to various Republican channels such as Fox News, who not only discussed the hypocrisy in the dress, but also ridiculed the outfit for looking like a paper bag from Chick-fil-A.

Although the event took place a month ago, this is still a relevant conversation to be had seeing that performative activism is prevalent throughout American society, especially on social media. In the span of time between now and the Met Gala, AOC has continued to fail in exercising meaningful development in “taxing the rich.”

Galas and dresses aside, it is repugnant for such a wealthy and politically powerful woman as AOC to have attended an exclusive event, surrounded by stars who mostly agree with her politics, with “tax the rich” slapped on her back. Go do your job instead.

Ella Henry is a member of the Class of 2025.

Editor’s Note, 10/27/21, 1:31 p.m.: In an earlier version of this article, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was incorrectly stated to have paid for her own seat at the Met Gala. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was invited to this event as is typical for local elected officials.


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  1. James Pierce says:

    My views exactly. It’s high time for AOC to quit being a performance artist and start acting like a responsible legislator.

  2. Barsha A. says:

    No wonder has better elaborated upon the hypocritical act unleashed by AOC at the MET Gala. I wish more of the so-called liberals and progressives had the intellect to understand the contexts of the environment and then conduct their performative activism.

  3. Kyra Tan says:

    I think this is kinda a terrible take. She’s publicly wearing a political statement that she has been advocating for her entire career? Like she’s been supporting tax reform bills consistently? Just because activism is public, it doesn’t make it performative. I feel like this is another instance of WOC being held to an impossible double standard, and the author’s comments closely align with the biased comments from Fox News.

  4. Class of 2020 says:

    AOC is “astoundingly unreactive” on tax legislation? She spent half her career in a democratic minority house as a small cog out of hundreds of representatives as the Trump administration passed sweeping tax cuts. During the Biden presidency, she’s been one of the staunchest defenders of tax increases in the looming reconciliation budget. Given that your entire argument rests on the “performative” nature of her activism, it doesn’t seem like the rest of your article holds up under even the slightest scrutiny.

  5. Hamda Dafque says:

    Preach, brother.

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