"How do you get involved in politics?" If you were asked this question, one that's been bandied about a lot over the past two years, I'm sure you could blurt out a response. You might suggest someone attend school board meetings, volunteer for a campaign, or encourage their friends and families to vote.
But what if they asked you what it means to be a politician, specifically a member of Congress? What could you tell them about what actually goes down in Washington D.C., the steps it takes between getting elected in November and sitting down for a congressional session in January?
Politics is often shrouded in mystery, a world of mostly old, white men who then help elect other old, white men. And that's, of course, by design. The more inaccessible (and confusing) something seems, the more likely it is to remain in the hands of those who've built the systems.
But not anymore. In case you didn't hear the cheers of women across the nation last Tuesday, history was made this midterm election when a number of young, diverse women were elected to public office. One of those women was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old representative from New York's 14th congressional district, who will become the youngest serving congresswoman ever come January. Ocasio-Cortez is one of the women who's currently in D.C. for New Member Orientation, where members-elect gather for a two-week program. And via her Instagram Stories, Ocasio-Cortez has been giving us a look inside.
Earlier this week, she showed herself arriving at orientation, explaining that what no one tells you about getting elected to Congress is that all your clothes are stinky because there's no time to do laundry. And then she showed herself doing laundry:
Watching Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Instagram doing coin laundry has made me feel more human than anything has in the last two+ years- Emily Devereaux (@edevereauxxx) November 12, 2018
On Tuesday, she posted another story, explaining that when you get to orientation you get a swag bag. A swag bag!
She clarified that it's actually filled with "high security data devices," including her new government-issued tablet and phone. She's showed herself sitting in orientation, Instagrammed herself with some of the other history-making women. She's compared the week to freshman orientation in college, showing off her New Member Directory, which she jokes is like a freshman yearbook:
She showed her followers moments from their evening tour of the Capitol building, and their bus ride back:
By showing so much, Ocasio-Cortez is completely demystifying a process that had once been thought of only as the provenance of those old, white men. She makes politics seem relatable, doable, possible for any young person watching. Suddenly, entering the political sphere doesn't seem so scary after all. And she's doing it all through social media, a tool that those same old white men probably don't know how to use in an effective, engaging way, and who probably wouldn't pull the curtain on the process even if they could.
She's bringing everyone in, which, in a representative democracy, is exactly what should be happening, especially at a time when we have the ability to be more transparent than ever before. It's also what's necessary to get young people interested and involved in politics. We don't need to be making the process seem any more complicated than it actually is, and we don't need to scare away perfectly eligible candidates from running because they don't know what they're getting themselves into. What we do need is the Ocasio-Cortezs of the world to continue being open and honest about what it means to serve their communities, and then we need even more history-making young people to join her.
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