Mexican-American woman with a rose in her hair.

“The rhetorical transformation of a new media image unfolds at differing speeds and in different spatial configurations, depending on what material forms it takes on, whether these manifest in physical or cyberspace, and any number of institutional, economic, political, or personal forces that shape their design, production, distribution, and maintenance.”

Laurie Gries, On Rhetorical Becoming

After reading Laurie Grie’s On Rhetorical Becoming, I eagerly searched for an iconic image created to inspire hope: the We the People Defend Dignity poster—an image of a Mexican-American woman with a rose in her hair. After a few minutes, I quickly discovered that the artist, Shepherd Fairey, is the same for both this image and the Obama Hope poster are the same, making this an interesting connection to an artist whose work is often remixed.  

We the People Defend Dignity was unveiled at the first Women’s March, a response to the election of Trump in 2016. Used on posters and social media advertising, the image quickly gained traction as it supported not only the Women’s March, but also the fight for immigrant justice. The iconic image has its own history of virality and “digital remixing.”

One of the most interesting remixes, a portrait sketch unveiled on Twitter by artist Gianluca Costantini (@channeldraw), places Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) as the model for We the People Defend Dignity, and she is styled similarly to the original woman. Her pose is reflective of a photo taken early in her career as she ran for Congress. It has since been phased out and was replaced with her official congressional photo, but the images that remain on the internet reflect an approachable woman, with a soft smile and a direct gaze. As in the remix, her hair is pulled back into a bun with some loose strands, and she wears a wide V-neck.

The significance of this remix lies in its rhetorical transformation from an image of a resistance movement, to a specific use of the image to embody the ideology of the movement within a single congresswoman. It should not come as a shock to anyone who follows the political sphere that AOC is part of that movement and aligns politically with much of the platforms of the Women’s March—which allows the messaging of the original image to remain the same.

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