Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has mastered a powerful political tool: Instagram Stories. As she grapples with the workaday details of becoming a US representative, as well as the big ideas she campaigned on, the 29-year-old congresswoman-elect from New York is offering Americans an unprecedented look into the inner workings of Congress, an institution otherwise known for its opaque processes and inability to get things done.
Instagram Stories, launched in August 2016, let users pull images and 15-second video clips into a single collection, which is visible to the public for 24 hours (unless the user saves it to their profile). These visuals can be adorned with different filters, gifs, or “stickers.” And they’re increasingly popular: Facebook executives have described the stories format as the future of social media.
Ocasio-Cortez used Instagram Stories throughout her campaign, and she’s continued to since the midterm elections made her ascent to the House official. Sometimes she can be seen in a suit, giving a speech. Other times she’s at home, in a cozy get-up, sans makeup, talking to her followers while cooking with her Instant Pot.
In one collection from the summer, saved to Ocasio-Cortez’s profile, she offers up a pep talk from a park bench. ”People ask me all the time how I’m feeling,” she says. “I feel good, I feel okay. I mean, like, the thing that’s hard is that you’re supposed to be perfect all the time on every issue, on every thing. I think that what people forget is that if we want everyday, working-class Americans to run for office, and not these, like robots, we have to acknowledge and accept imperfection and growth and humanity in our government.”
More recently, a series of story posts from Nov. 14 and 15 give followers an in-depth look at how a newbie navigates the complicated world of Congress. Many of Ocasio-Cortez’s inaugural experiences are reminiscent of the first days of college: freshmen orientation, meet-and-greets, even textbooks.
In many ways, Ocasio-Cortez shows how much Congress is like any other workplace, which inadvertently reminds voters that they cast their votes for real people. After all, what’s the first question many new hires ask about the office culture: What’s the snack situation???
Also: What are my health care options?
Even this image, striking in its simplicity, actually shows how power operates in Washington, and what kind of pressures a new representative might be under.
Ocasio-Cortez also frequently takes selfie videos. Below, she and congressman Joe Neguse of Colorado (a new work friend!) try to find their way around Capitol Hill.
That red strip is actually a form of closed-captioning. On Nov. 16, Ocasio-Cortez said via Twitter that advocates for the deaf community introduced her to a tool that subtitles what she says. Inclusivity was a huge part of her platform, and this gesture helps her show that she practices what she preaches.
She also uses the platform to hold herself accountable to constituents. On Instagram, Ocasio-Cortez takes polls, and answers questions from followers. Throughout, she is also endearingly surprised at where she’s ended up.
Social media has been available to politicians for more than a decade now; tech platforms helped both Barack Obama and Donald Trump win their elections. But Ocasio-Cortez is different. Her Instagram Stories are no massive operation designed to influence voters (a la Facebook). They’re not a giant megaphone for inflammatory statements (a la Twitter). They’re also not Instagram posts, which tend to be polished, professional photographs, often crafted by politicians’ staffers. These are sincere, sometimes intimate glimpses into the life of a 29-year-old, who shares her experiences on social media just like any other person her age. (An age that, by the way, makes her the youngest women ever elected to the US Congress.) What makes Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram stories so effective is that they don’t seem contrived.
Not everyone is groomed to become a politician from the day they’ve gotten their first monogrammed navy blazer. And not everyone can win an election, and rally a good part of a generation, on the power of being herself.