Why AOC's Shoes Matter (or What it's Like to Phone Bank for Joe Biden)

About 2 years ago, a museum exhibit opened on Dec 6, 2018, titled “Women Empowered: Fashions from the Frontline” [1]. I never saw this exhibit in person, but I read about it because the exhibit contained a piece of history that I found particularly inspiring: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shoes were on display. And they were not just any pair of shoes - they were a worn out, beat-up pair of sensible flats that were literally falling apart because she had canvassed so many houses during her campaign. I think about AOC’s shoes a lot, because to me they are an answer for why knocking on doors and calling voters really matters. AOC had a historic win in the 2018 mid-term election, and a huge contributing factor to her success was her team’s excellent canvassing of potential voters in her district [2,3].

Fig 1
Figure 1 - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shoes after a nearly year-long campaign which involved knocking on thousands of voters’ doors (image source: [4]).

I am bringing this up because I volunteered in a virtual phone bank for Joe Biden for the first time this weekend, and there were a lot of moments when my resolve to keep making calls wavered. I did not track the numbers but I know I had to dial many numbers before I could get to a person who actually wanted to talk to me. I estimate that in an hour of dialing, I was only able to engage with about 10 real people. But I kept tryng because I thought about AOC’s shoes. The lesson I draw from them is that there is a lot of hard, unglamorous work to canvass potential voters, and the rewards may seem absurdly low for the amount of time that you have to put into it. But ultimately, I think the only way to really win a political campaign is to personally connect with voters, and phone banking is a way to do that. As Michael Kinnucan of Jacobin Magazine puts it, money is not everything: “your first $100,000 gets you the absolute essentials, your thirtieth $100,000 just buys you another couple of TV spots” [2].

In those roughly 10 conversations that I had, I think only 1 of them may have encouraged someone who was on the fence about voting for Joe Biden to consider him as a potential candidate. Actually, I am not sure this individual knew who Joe Biden was when we started talking. And I am not sure that they completely understood how the Georgia primary elections work (I cannot blame them, it took me hours of research to understand the primary system myself). We spoke for about 10 minutes, during which time I was able to explain that Joe Biden was the Democratic candidate for president (as of Friday June 5th, he is now the presumptive nominee with 2,011 of the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the nomination [5]). I also was able to outline that Georgia had an open primary, which means that you can vote on either a Democratic or Republican ballot without registering for party membership in advance [6]. Obviously I will never know what this individual will eventually decide to do, but maybe I was able to encourage them to vote, which is one of the most important duties we have as American citizens.

There is another motivator for this blog post: I want to explain why I decided to make phone calls for Joe Biden in the first place. I did it because of the current protests against racial injustice in the US. We are at a point in history where we have momentum to fight for racial equality, and it is going to be a long fight. As former President Barack Obama wrote in his inspiring Medium article this week [7]:

“So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.” [7]

Like many white people of privilege, I am trying to figure out how to fight for the long haul, and I believe that if Joe Biden won the presidential election in 2020, then he will “act on reform” and contribute to improving racial equality in the US. Because of this belief, I will keep making phone calls. And I will share this post mainly for my white friends as a suggestion that this is one way they can help, too.

Lastly, please understand that I am not writing this post because I want to value-signal my allyship instead of actually doing something to promote racial equality in the US. If you feel that I am, please write to me and tell me your thoughts. I will listen and engage with you. White people need to listen to BIPOC. I want to help by learning how to have the difficult conversations that we white people have been avoiding for 400 years.


[1] Maxouris, C. and Ahmed, S. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign shoes to join museum exhibition.” CNN Style. 22 Nov 2018. https://www.cnn.com/style/article/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-shoes-style-trnd/index.html Visited 07 Jun 2020.

[2] Kinnucan, M. “Why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won.” Jacobin Magazine. 29 Jun 2018. https://jacobinmag.com/2018/06/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-election-crowley-democratic-socialists Visited 07 Jun 2020.

[3] Segers, G. “How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the race that shocked the country.” City & State New York. 27 Jun 2018. https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/campaigns-elections/how-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-won-race-shocked-country.html Visited 07 Jun 2020.

[4] Ocasio-Cortez, A. Twitter post on 29 Jun 2018. https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1012816020476743680?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1012816020476743680&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Ffootwearnews.com%2F2018%2Finfluencers%2Fpower-players%2Falexandria-ocasio-cortez-campaign-shoes-tweet-other-stories-1202582383%2F Visited 07 Jun 2020.

[5] Detrow, S. “Biden Formally Clinches Democratic Nomination, While Gaining Steam Against Trump.” NPR. 05 Jun 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/05/869553801/biden-formally-secures-democratic-nomination-while-gaining-steam-against-trump Visited 07 June 2020.

[6] “Primary election.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_election#Types Visited 07 Jun 2020.

[7] Obama, B. “How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change.” Medium. 01 Jun 2020. https://medium.com/@BarackObama/how-to-make-this-moment-the-turning-point-for-real-change-9fa209806067 Visited 07 June 2020.

Written on June 7, 2020