July 04, 2019
What Aspiring Indonesian Leaders Can Learn from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

US Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez challenges the status quo, bringing youthful hope and ambitions without the usual political rhetoric.

by Isabella Veronica Silalahi
Issues // Politics and Society
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
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They say that young people in Indonesia right now are the drivers of politics. This year’s election as the world’s biggest and one of the most complicated presidential election has reflected that.

Millennials make up about 42 percent of Indonesia’s total registered voters for the 2019 election and in April we saw that the total turnout almost reached 80 percent. This year, we also saw a rise of a youth-dominated party that gained big momentum and reach. All over the world, millennials are making their voices heard in the best possible way, from the streets of their cities to the halls of their parliaments.

A quote by the United States Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a perfect reminder of how much our voices matter as a generation often dismissed as self-serving. It also reminds us of the bigger responsibility that truly lies within it.

During a panel at the SXSW Ocasio-Cortez said: “We’ve become so cynical that we start to view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude. On the other hand, we’ve also start to view ambition as youthful naiveté. When we think about the greatest things that we have accomplished so far in this generation and time as a society, have been ambitious acts of vision.”

Ocasio-Cortez challenges the status quo, bringing youthful hope and ambitions without the usual political rhetoric. Her policies are policies of the possibilities, not the practical. She is not thinking of how it can further her personal agenda; her personal agenda is for the people. Servanthood and humility are at the crux of her grassroots activities and reach. This is because she came into politics from an activism background. Grassroots activism focuses more on the moral imperatives of politics rather than small policy wins. Not one that is necessarily accepted in the adage of how traditional politics is being done.

So, if we can learn a thing or two from Ocasio-Cortez, it is surely that redefining the bureaucracy, traditional civility, and bringing in the inclusive voices that a lot of policy-makers are afraid to start will gain criticism. This is because having a voice is not enough, you need to be critical about it.

So, here are several ways that the youth in Indonesia can continue to make their voices heard to see the change that is within our fingertips: 

  1. When you put people at the heart of the agenda, you learn to pay it forward.

If non-profits, governments and leaders really want to create and see change, they need to listen to the young people who are in the forefront of activism in small towns and big cities, nationally and internationally. AOC said that what is important is courting people in the community who are rarely spoken to. Think about it, differences truly lie within the little things that make a big difference.  Jakarta is a metropolitan city that truly recognizes the value of upbringings, and we can get so easily caught up in the conversation revolving privilege and how we can take that for granted.

If there is anything that AOC does best is that she d speaks to a community that is normally not spoken to. The same goes in every development practice. The most basic idea is that the communities we are serving know best what they need. They have the solutions to the issues within their communities and those who need to be heard and heeded, and at the center of how development policies, practice, and funding is done.    

  1. Create Fundamental Moral Causes.

The young people in Indonesia truly value the diversity of perspective and those occupying political seats need to follow our lead. It goes beyond being unified in our thoughts and opinions. I have learned more about inclusivity and equity in the last couple of years than I ever did in my whole life through the stories I listened to that are different from where I grew up in. When I talked with youth in my own country, and in Myanmar, the biggest thing that they taught me is to lead from a place that considers and includes the unique perspectives of every gender, religion, race, and collective identity.

For example, AOC has a deeper and moral meaningful response to the debate about the immigration policy and border wall. It extends from recognizing that there’s no such thing as a singular wall. Any proposed border wall is a series of physical barriers that must be constantly policed by military and paramilitary forces. Walls and borders are extremely human enterprises that involve inflicting violence on people on one side of the wall. Ocasio-Cortez spoke out against the militarization of the immigration policy in moral imperative terms, including how that is actively harming people, especially children.

Ocasio-Cortez’s response was not about process. It was moral. She pointed out how the immigration policy is failing and how it is exploiting and perpetuating that failure to keep attacking immigrants and blaming them for the entirety of a nation’s economic struggles.

A valuable lesson for aspiring Indonesian leaders: when debates are broken, challenge the premise of the debate. Don’t obscure the real-world impact policy has. Confront it. And speak to people’s moral values and the type of world we want to live in. Start from there, and you’ll be on the right track.

  1. Taking actions today inspires leadership tomorrow.

Both now and in the future, start small but think big. This is because the sooner you see the positive impact of your actions, the more confident you will be going forward and continuing to act. For example, many of the reactions to AOC’s politics are grounded in the idea that today’s politics should be like yesterday’s. The reaction is that: They shouldn’t! Individuals running our government today should be looking at the generation that is coming and asking what inspires them, what will keep them involved in politics, and what they can do to keep passing the torch to a new generation of leaders.

They say that leadership through action will mold you to keep leading. Frankly speaking, the young people in Indonesia today do not have to and should not have to wait until they “grow up” to change the world. They are all coming in together from exactly where they are, in their respective communities and circles as they start to bring each other along.

More of our young activists, future change-makers, and political and non-political leaders of their respective communities should be learning from AOC, both when it comes to their policy agenda and when it comes to their communication style. That is indeed a positive thing to take on. So, embrace that change, including change from the outside, and remember to not be afraid to compromise with the next generation.

Isabella Veronica Silalahi (Bella) has been working her passion in Gender Equality and Youth Participation within the United Nations. She is now in UNFPA Indonesia Youth Advisory and is also busy managing Girl Up Indonesia a global gender equality movement she founded for young girls as a part of the United Nations Foundation. Follow her on activism on ig: @isabellaveronicaa