The power of this Instagram goes way beyond gender or race

Image: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
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Yesterday, several female friends, all ages 24 to 28, sent me the same Instagram post, which was initially shared by New York representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s a photo of Ocasio-Cortez, one of the youngest people ever elected to US Congress, sitting at a table in Washington DC with soon-to-be congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib (left to right in the image above).

Omar and Tlaib are the first Muslim women elected to US Congress, and Pressley is the first black woman elected to represent Massachusetts. In the photo, which has over 154,000 likes at the time of this writing, each woman is broadly smiling. Their diversity stands in stark contrast with the old, white, male politician rendered in a painting behind them.

“I’m crying,” one friend messaged me. “Best photo I’ve seen since 2016,” said another. “My heart is bursting,” said a former colleague, who’s considering working in politics. “This could be us some day,” she added.

“How do I get Alexandria to be my best friend,” my own best friend inquired.

Of course, my friends, along with the thousands of people who’ve commented on Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram post, are motivated by female candidates’ unprecedented success in the 2018 midterm elections, and thrilled for the chance to see young, intelligent women of color—instead of Trump and his surrogates—as the new face of American politics.

“This is what progress looks like,” one woman commented on Ocasio-Cortez’s photo. “So much hope in this picture… Our future presidents,” another replied.

To liberal Americans, especially young women, the photo Ocasio-Cortez posted is exactly what political progress looks like. Its existence alone is worth celebrating. But as a 25-year-old progressive American woman, what struck me most about the Instagram post was that instead of waxing poetic, as older politicians often do on social media, Ocasio-Cortez wrote a one-word caption for the photo: “Squad,” it reads.

Despite valid controversy surrounding the use of terms like “Squad” and “#SquadGoals,” Ocasio-Cortez’s caption speaks to us (and for us) in a way that establishment Democrats haven’t been able to, arguably since Barack Obama’s rise in 2007.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen an elected official employ young-people social media slang—Hillz had some pretty hilarious attempts—but it’s definitely the first time I, and many of my peers, have genuinely believed that the politician speaking to us on social media is fluent in our language, and subsequently, fluent in our values. If a crew of my friends and I were elected to Congress, we’d post an Instagram identical to that of Ocasio-Cortez’s.

What we, as young, progressive Americans, care about is unity, equality, and empathy for all people, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, age, ability, or immigrant status. What we want is change, from the neo-fascist regime in the White House and from the establishment Democrats who’ve tried, but failed, to modernize Washington.

Of course, neither an Instagram post nor a massively effective political campaign guarantees success for Ocasio-Cortez or her new allies in Washington. But it’s a certainty now that, for the first time in a long time, young people are watching, and we believe.