United by a new vision of democracy, insurgent female candidates take on powerful political machines in very different American landscapes.

With trust in politicians at rock bottom, both major parties in crisis and sexual harassment dominating the news, historic numbers of women are choosing to run for office. In 2018, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia and a young bartender from the Bronx are challenging powerful male incumbents in the Senate and House. Backed by a surging grassroots movement and guided by the controversial organizers of Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, these women are part of an unprecedented civic experiment that has the potential to break down the barriers of access to the halls of power. But to win they will have to unify their divided districts, overcome their own fears, and withstand personal attacks from political machines desperate to hold on to power.

Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia is a single mom who buried family to black lung disease and is mad as hell about the coal industry’s stranglehold on her state. Bronx-born Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez worked double shifts in a restaurant to save her family’s home after losing her father to cancer. Both women understood that their lives were affected by politics, but neither had considered running for office themselves — until now.

Knock Down The House is a story about power, and what it takes to achieve it. It’s an intimate story about pain and loss and the strength it takes to channel anger in positive directions. But it's also a big story of cutting edge political organizing, and of people from heartland towns to inner cities finding common ground around widely popular policy ideas.

In 2018 dozens of “extraordinary ordinary people” are running for US Congress as part of a unified slate of progressive candidates called Justice Democrats. Borrowing ideas from recent presidential elections, the organizers behind this group seek to create a new pathway to power for everyday working people that bypasses lobbyists, big donors and good old boy networks, and they’ve recruited Paula and Alex to join their first wave of foot soldiers. As these non-politicians steel themselves for an ugly fight with the “bosses” — entrenched, well-funded insiders — they’re forming tight friendships with each other across culture and geography. Running on their own, they might never stand a chance. But running together, as part of a rising movement, they’re finding the courage to try something extraordinary.


What do the major parties stand for at this volatile moment in our history? Why do so few incumbent politicians face primary challenges? Why do so many young people and people of color abstain from voting, and what happens when they have new options to choose from? 

Ordinary people — especially women — running for office is poised to be one of the biggest stories of 2018. Justice Democrats and its sister organization Brand New Congress are the only groups systematically recruiting candidates and running them as a slate in a “presidential-style” national campaign— a strategy that has never been attempted in American history.

Behind the scenes and on the ground with the candidates from their early trainings to the aftermath of their elections, Knock Down the House will illuminate the nature of power in the United States, and reshape the way we think about democracy.


    Director, Producer, Cinematographer: Rachel Lears

    Producer, Editor: Robin Blotnick

    To learn more about the project or get involved, contact us using the links below.