To Those Criticizing Me for Inviting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a Panel: The Future Is Female and Makes No Apologies

Aug 10, 2018
10:43 AM

It was me. It was not the Museum of Jewish Heritage. It was not the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.

It was me, the president of the Immigrant Arts Coalition, Marlena Fitzpatrick, who invited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to be part of the Francesca Cerna Slovin Immigrant Arts and Women’s Empowerment Summit on August 7.

I need not to ask permission to anyone outside our board to produce our events, let alone preside this institution. We are a talented group of artists, fierce servants of our respective communities and committed individuals who want to best for all. In producing this summit, we became the target of oppressive commentary, and even protests, by a few members of the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene board and supporters.

On August 1, 2018 Stewart Ain from The New York Jewish Week posted a typo-filled article titled “Ocasio-Cortez Invite To Shoah Museum Backfires,” in which he claims the following:

Like Yente in the new Yiddish production of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, The Immigrant Arts Coalition was trying to make a match—hold a conference on immigration and women’s empowerment at the museum and feature the future face of the Democratic Party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It seemed like a simple shidduch. But —Miracle of Miracles— it turned out not to be a match made in heaven.

I wasn’t trying to match anything. Truth is, I couldn’t care less if Ocasio-Cortez is the “fresh face” of the Democratic Party. I’ve known her for several years now, and like 72% of all summit participants who are either my close friends or industry colleagues, I invited her solely on that capacity. In fact, I invited her in April 2018, two months before her stunning win.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on August 7 at Francesca Cerna Slovin Immigrant Arts and Women’s Empowerment Summit in New York. (Photo by Micol Maia)

In that same article, Ain also claims a downright lie:

The National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene […] was not informed in advance that Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic congressional candidate from the 14th CD and an outspoken critic of Israel, had been invited to speak next Sunday.

The first lie, easily verifiable with a simple Google search, is that the panel called “The Future is Female: Mobilizing and Organizing Women Through The Arts,” was scheduled on Tuesday, August 7 at 10:30 am. Not on Sunday August 5, but on Tuesday, August 7 at 10:30 am, confusing attendees and the summit protestors alike.  More importantly, all participants were cleared as discussed in a meeting with the executive director of the venue in question.

This didn’t stop National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene board chair Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld to memorialize his thoughts in a string of published nonsense. In the piece Ocasio-Cortez’s Invitation To Holocaust Museum Stirs Debate, a Wiesenfeld quote to Jewish Week said this: “Absent a public reassessment by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez of her unfair and extremist position [on Israel], she dishonors both the Immigrant Summit and the museum by her scheduled appearance.”

No, Mr. Wiesenfeld, you are wrong.

A woman stating facts and working for our communities does not dishonor a summit based on empathy, diversity, inclusion, compassion and activism. Second, you are not, nor will ever be a spokesman for the institution I preside.

Other opinionated shenanigans —Judy Rosen, secretary of the board of the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene, and William Helmreich, professor of sociology at City College of New York— went on the record expressing why Ocasio-Cortez shouldn’t be invited to speak at the museum. Their reasons? She’s “naïve,” she “doesn’t understand the issue of immigration or the Arab-Israeli situation” and she’ll be “seeking a lot of attention.”

This is all the condescending spew women of color continuously hear from people in power: you know nothing and must be educated by me, before being allowed to speak.

All this oral fixation calling her “extremist,” and hence, demonizing me for inviting her is based on a tweet and a CNN interview.

Let’s talk about facts. Wiesenfeld is correct in his second op-ed, when he writes this:

First, concerning the partnership with the Immigrant Arts Summit, we were not involved with invitations. When professional staff raised the question of the partnership, I had some concerns about the Summit’s unilateral programming of speakers, i.e., no control. News of the attendance of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, as well as of the other participants, was a fait accompli.

The programming was developed by me alongside our board. I personally managed all the invitations and deliverables. I’m not bowing down nor apologizing for that.

It is where when Wiesenfeld’s male fragility takes a bizarre turn:

To buttress the editorial’s selective assertions, it omits circumstances which render the message unbalanced against those who desire the same respect for Jews —and Israel— that blacks, Hispanics and other ethnic groups demand as well.

He is correct. We all must respect each other, including our Jewish brothers and sisters from all over. But rolling my sleeves, and pumping my fists in defense, I must ask, how dare he even mention, let alone know, what’s the “same respect” that Blacks and Latinos demand?

To Wiesenfeld and his supporters: It is a fact that clashes in the Gaza border are a massacre. It is a fact that FARC has derives the majority of their revenues from criminal activities and has now secured seats in Colombian politics. It is a fact that 50 million inhabitants of North, Central, and South America died in our own Holocaust. It is a fact that over 6 million Jewish brothers and sisters died in their Holocaust. It’s a fact the United States is responsible for between 1 and 1.8 million deaths during their funded wars, including Operation Condor in Argentina, the Banzer Plan in Bolivia, the stain in Latin American’s history under Pinochet in Chile and the invasion of my own home country, Puerto Rico.

It is a fact that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. It is a fact that our Native-Americans brothers and sisters continue to suffer systematic oppression in their own homeland, the United States of America.

These are all unspeakable, horrible facts.

While these are historical examples of extreme oppression, stating these facts in interviews, or tweets, are not “unfair and extremist” positions. We’re not immediately “anti” or “pro” nothing: feminazi, anti-American, or hater. The framework used to immediately bubble each other into stereotypical categories segregating us into radical opposing views must end. Expressing empathy for anything that boggles our minds just shows awareness, because human lives aren’t disposable.

Now, let’s employ the same thought and labeling process Wiesenfeld used to persecute Ocasio-Cortez and myself.

As you may be aware, Puerto Rico is currently suffering an irreparable debt crisis. On November 27, 2015, Thanksgiving Day, while most people enjoyed turkey with their loved ones, I was helplessly watching my father die as a result of this crisis. It is a fact, that the island’s debt that killed my father was thanks to wealth managers and vulture capitalists, just like Wiesenfeld himself. These millionaires are closing schools, hospitals, corporations, stealing our land and screwing the poor to enrich themselves at all costs. And yes, the expense has been, literally, thousands of lives. So, if I had the impulsive freedom to employ the “unfair and extremist” labeling, wouldn’t I be able to categorize him as a murderer simply by association? No. That would be disgustingly wrong.

We all have opinions of other people’s lives and homelands. After Hurricane María and the debt crisis made headlines, everyone and their families presented their own “solutions” to Puerto Rico’s problems. While the debate is certainly welcome, only Puerto Ricans have the right and should have the power to solve this, be it those living on the island or the Diasporas. This same rule applies to our Jewish and Palestinian sisters and brothers. We can speak out, be in solidarity and take action. But only those who’re educated and experienced in these specific sensitive issues should take the lead.

The situation with Ocasio-Cortez isn’t about Israel more than it is about strong women coming together. It’s a blatant display of a bigoted, misogynistic approach to silence two women, while ignoring the existence of the other five. Only a rich, white privileged man would dare to ostracize an Afro-Puerto Rican woman for inviting another Puerto Rican woman to sit in a panel of diverse women to talk about women.

Not once our thought opponents reflected on the make-up of this panel, its intent and the power that came with this discussion. What’s even more baffling, in doing so, by default, he completely erased the fact that his own community was represented by two Jewish women: the honorable Ruth Messinger and moderator Lindsay Beyerstein. The rest of my sister panelists —Aizzah Fatima (Muslim Pakistani), Mickela Mallozi (Italian) and Caroline McKinnon (the U.K.)— discussed the issues with strength, intelligence and diplomacy. Ironically, they satisfied the attendees as covered by the same media who outcasted us, proving that indeed the future is female and very strong.

From the August 7 “The Future is Female: Mobilizing and Organizing Women Through The Arts” session in New York City (l-r): Mickela Mallozi, Aizzah Fatima, Caroline McKinnon, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lindsay Beyerstein, Ruth Messinger and Marlena Fitzpatrick. (Photo by Burak Tatar)

In closing, I’m sure Wiesenfeld and my thought opponents have visited many cultural spaces, including those that display Puerto Rican and Latino art. The last thing I would do is to advocate for them to be banned from doing so.

This is America. We’re supposed to advocate for freedom. We’re supposed to foster unity. Thought opponents are welcomed to my table.

But if you’re labeling and chastising me for a simple invitation to an esteemed colleague, then it is you dishonoring the spirit of unity and solidarity and you have no place to be leading any institution fostering diversity and inclusion.


Marlena Fitzpatrick tweets from @MarlenaFitz.