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alexandria-ocasio-cortez-july-2018

On Thursday, Nov. 29, Congresswoman-Elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez began livestreaming on her Instagram Live Feed. She showed her 978,000 followers one of the many rooms in the Congressional office buildings, nondescript except the fact that most citizens would never have seen it otherwise. She and Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar leaned into the camera and discussed how cold it was. “The AC is set to man!” Ocasio-Cortez quipped, while Omar agreed, pulling her hijab around her face. The next day, the same Instagram Feed showed the process by which Congressional representatives pick their offices. She joked, “Someone light a vela and someone palo santo for me.”

If this had been a description of a Princeton student’s Instagram or Snapchat Story, nothing would be amiss. Every day, hundreds of students upload videos and images to their social media accounts, sharing their day-to-day experiences. However, an elected official with a national presence participating in social media in this manner is unprecedented and shocking. Ocasio-Cortez’s social media presence represents a fulfillment of her political ideology: Bring the people back into politics. It is also the best way to engage with the forgotten and ignored in the U.S. political process. While some politicos have predicted the unsustainability of this tactic, this manner of social media politicking is the only viable way for candidates and politicians to effectively reach and excite the greater population.

A look at other politicians’ social media presences reveals curated, impersonal PR tools. Nancy Pelosi’s Twitter features a series of sound bites and press releases, all carefully selected by a staffer and likely not by Pelosi herself. While they do state in brief Congresswoman Pelosi’s positions, they don’t engage or teach. The same is true for former Speaker Paul Ryan, whose tweets are only interesting for dedicated politicos — nobody who isn’t extremely keyed in to the political process would find these feeds informative or engaging.

But Ocasio-Cortez has defied this norm. She posts videos while she is cooking in her apartment, explaining environmental policy in a genuine and digestible way. She posts videos of her nieces and nephews alongside her rousing political speeches. She tweets back passionate and personal responses to those who support her, as well as to those who try to mock or belittle her. Her content is highly relatable, especially for younger generations who grew up using social media instinctually. Her posts are natural, as if one of your friends were to wander into the Capital. 

Her method of engaging with the public is extremely effective, more so than traditional means of outreach, because it resonates with people who might not otherwise think that politics is for them. When she posted job applications for her office, the website reported “heavy traffic warnings.” Her posts get up to 100,000 likes, while other Congresspeople receive a few thousand. Even after she banned press from some of her campaign events, she was able to post footage sent to her by constituents.

She is making politics more transparent by sharing her day-to-day activities as a Congresswoman-elect. Her method of engaging through social media allows her to talk directly to people who don’t necessarily listen when the average politician speaks. By posting cartoons people draw of her and unplanned photos of her in Capital building, she is developing a feed that is entertaining to watch — which only draws more people in to hear about her policies.

The growing buzz around her Green Deal, which already has the support of 15 House Democrats before she has even been sworn in, is evidence that her tactics result in real political payoffs. While some have warned that this “can’t last forever,” I disagree: Ocasio-Cortez’s social media style is the only viable future of political engagement. If we want more people who have felt forgotten by the political elite to participate, we need more politicians like Ocasio-Cortez.

Madeleine Marr is a sophomore from Newtown Square, P.A. She can be reached atmmarr@princeton.edu.

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