An Ode to Parks and Rec's Leslie Knope: America's Most Successful Public Servant

February 24th 2015

Alicia Lutes

A few years ago, it would have been way cooler for a girl like me to sit here on the Internet and proclaim herself a Liz Lemon of sorts (Tina Fey’s 30 Rock alter-ego), but the truth is: I’m much more of a Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation (the NBC comedy series ending its run on Tuesday night, sniff sniff). But I learned through her that there’s nothing wrong with being fearless and passionate in equal measure, that being a good friend is just as important as being a good boss, and knowing how to manage the two in order to benefit other people is the best hat trick of all.

Because ultimately Leslie Knope was a public servant: she gave her life to the people of Pawnee, even when they didn’t like it or care. She and her real-life alter-ego, Amy Poehler, have proven time and time again that being an ambitious, passionate do-gooder in the public realm doesn’t have to be an anomaly. Both women are heroes for the fight for equality and confidence in the face of a ramshackle world hell bent on tearing us all down (at least, it feels that way sometimes). But simply by Leslie and Amy accepting and relishing who they are on their own merits — and having that play out on screen for thousands of young women to see? Well that is the best thing that could've ever happened for female representation on TV. In that way, we dare say that Leslie Knope is a revolutionary simply by existing and paving the way for that to not an anomaly.

She’s inspired girls and women alike to open up to the radical possibility of being themselves, but never once was Leslie ever touted as perfect. And thank goodness for that: we already have enough Strong Women archetypes that do nothing to forward the cause of real, human women. More than anything, Leslie and her Parks compatriots have always been decidedly human  flawed, emotional, brash, outrageous, and sometimes in the wrong.

Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt

There was never a moment where the series didn’t look to those decidedly human moments, those flaws in our way of being and/or seeing, in order to serve a greater good. You still loved Leslie (and everyone else) not just in spite of, but because of those things that, under the ordinary light of day — and without the comedic timing of Nick Offerman to highlight ‘em — would’ve easily been dismissed as problematic or flaw.

Leslie, however, has always been one to learn from her mistakes, understand what role her strengths and weaknesses can play in her achieving her dreams. She was fearless; she was a feminist; she was proud to be a woman, and she fought hard to prove she was just as good (and often better) than the boys and would surely laugh at you for even suggesting she might think otherwise. Leslie Knope has heart and strength, intelligence and passion — she has herself and her beliefs and she's worked hard for the people of Pawnee (and later the rest of America as the head of the National Parks service), because she wanted to give. There was never an ulterior motive with her — the Knope Agenda has always been pure.

If anything, Leslie Knope has proven we need more Leslie Knopes in this world — and it feels safe to wager that, with any luck, the show has already inspired a whole generation of young women (and men!) to do just that. To love your home, your country, your freedoms, and your people just as fiercely as your beloved JJ’s waffles. To collaborate on the solutions for problems bigger than one’s self in order to make things better for everyone. To never stop fighting for that which you know creates a more equal and just world …even if people fight you tooth and nail every step of the way.

Because there can never be enough passionate, proud, bright, intrepid people in this world (and particularly in government) — and the story of Leslie Knope has proven just that.