AOC Is Right to Get Personal About the Capitol Riot

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been criticized for her Instagram video last week recounting the Capitol riot. But AOC showed exactly how a left-wing politician should act: courageous, genuine, and refusing to back down in the face of right-wing threats.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York City, 2019. (Dimitri Rodriguez / Wikimedia Commons)

Anyone who follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram account probably expected that she would, at some point, post a video about what it was like to be inside the United States Capitol on January 6. Millions tuned in last week as she recounted what she saw.

The sometimes harrowing, sometimes humorous account had all the hallmarks of an AOC video — the self-deprecating laughter, the intense hand gestures, the clumsy maneuvering of the phone — only this one was undoubtedly more personal. She disclosed that she was a sexual assault survivor and explained that it was especially important for her to tell her story. “We cannot move on without accountability,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, all manner of right-wing commentators wasted no time in denouncing the Instagram video as a narcissistic, manipulative, self-centered, and — most amusingly — overly political response to the right-wing riot. More unexpected, though, were the denunciations from some corners of the Left.

On the Jimmy Dore Show, Glenn Greenwald took AOC to task for refusing to let bygones be bygones and rebuffing Ted Cruz on Twitter. The Texas senator had made a cynical overture to AOC by retweeting her call to investigate Robinhood’s role in the GameStop scandal, to which she responded: “I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out . . . In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign.”

Greenwald bemoaned AOC’s treatment of Cruz, citing a missed “opportunity for Right and Left to join together” — as if the problem with the Democratic Party is that it doesn’t collaborate with the Republican Party enough.

Luckily, AOC has yet to take the less-than-sage advice regularly hurled at her (for example, that she should force a floor vote on Medicare for All or be exposed as a sellout).

Since being elected in 2018, AOC has proven adept at the difficult balancing act of confronting those in her own party when necessary while parrying the GOP’s incessant attacks on her — and she understands very well just how racist and dangerous a significant section of the Republican base is. In 2018, federal investigators discovered a Facebook page made up of thousands of Border Patrol agents posting openly racist and sexist rants about detainees along with sexually graphic depictions of AOC. The existence of the group came to light as she and other lawmakers were on their way to visit a facility in Texas where members of the Facebook group worked.

Being an unabashedly left-wing politician in this country is not without its risks and requires a thick skin. This goes double for women and, especially, women of color. AOC had good reason to fear for her life on January 6.

In the Instagram video, she described the tense atmosphere in Washington, DC in the days leading up to the riot and receiving text messages from concerned colleagues that she “needed to be careful” because “everybody knew something was going to happen.” The buildup that she detailed, coupled with the reality that the armed, rabidly angry base of her political opponents was swarming the Capitol building, was more than enough reason for her to be terrified by the time she heard a booming voice yell, “Where is she? Where is she?” (She later learned it was a police officer.)

What seems to bother AOC’s detractors is that she’s even talking about it at all and in such personal terms. But this is just how she does politics. From the first day AOC was elected to Congress, she promised that she would take her constituents with her and demystify what went on in those supposedly hallowed halls. She is speaking to the audience that voted for her — and people who would have if they could have.

AOC’s approach is based on a rather obvious supposition: that people don’t want to be condescended to by politicians, they want to be leveled with. AOC’s Instagram videos are a venue to do just that. While other politicians struggle to seem like real people, AOC engages with supporters and brings them, as much as she can, into the foreign world of the legislature, sharing her dilemmas with a rare and striking frankness.

Her firsthand account of “What Happened at the Capitol” is not an aberration but a continuation of an extremely communicative, extremely effective style of politics that matches our era. Considering the historically unprecedented events that occurred at the Capitol, we should want our politicians to share what they saw, and we should expect them to be moved and sometimes terrified by those events. We should expect our politicians to be real people.