“The AOC Effect”: how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez changed politics her first year in office

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Following her meteoric rise from bartender to the youngest-ever congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s first year in office has been just as impressive. If this is what she can achieve in a year, we can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Few people knew the name Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before the evening of 26 June 2018, when she defeated 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in a stunning primary victory, shocking the political establishment and garnering nationwide attention.

Just over four months later, she became the youngest-ever congresswoman when she was elected Democratic representative for New York’s 14th district in the Bronx, arriving on Capitol Hill in January this year.

Thanks to her whip-smart tweets, fearless advocacy for equality, passion for sustainability and progress and her refusal to be boxed in by institutionalised misogyny of certain circles of American politics, she is now universally recognised by her initials: AOC.

Now as the sun sets on AOC’s first year in office, we reflect on some of the ways she has already upended politics for the better.

She uses social media in a way rarely seen before in politics

Playful banter, razor-sharp wit and brutal clapbacks have earned AOC a loyal following on social media that extends far beyond her New York district.

As a digital native, mixing the personal and the political is something that comes naturally to Ocasio-Cortez, and she is not afraid to tell it how it is, whether that means standing up to a certain big president or hosting an Instagram Live about her skincare routine.

She is dismantling the one-dimensional woman narrative

Speaking of her skincare routine, AOC refuses to be boxed in by the outdated (and sexist) narrative that a woman can be interested in either books or beauty. Not both.

“Skincare is a straight-up hobby of mine,” she revealed on social media. “I’m a science nerd and I truly enjoy the science of it, reading about compounds and studies, etc.”

It’s easy to see how a female politician could be pilloried or dismissed as an airhead for discussing her skincare regime, given that many still associate such matters as inherently frivolous and silly.

However, by refusing to shy away from this, Ocasio-Cortez proved that you can’t shame a women for her femininity – or love of skincare. 

Smart, political women can be obsessed with the benefits of vitamin C serum too.

Pick something to add to your life to grow and explore as a person.

She turns boring congressional hearings into must-see TV

It’s not very often we see Twitter whipped into a frenzy over a congressional hearing but then again, AOC tends to have that effect.

In October, the congresswoman grilled Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook and, quite frankly, it was beautiful to watch.

Ocasio-Cortez stole the show when she transformed what could have been just-another-congressional-hearing into an electrifying Twitter-worthy debate.

She had questions: Was Facebook allowing politicians to lie in their ads? Was it fact-checking political ads? Well then, why not? And, she wasn’t leaving until she got some answers.

She exposed the suffering of migrant women in detention centres

In July, AOC helped to expose the appalling conditions for women and children in migrant detention facilities at the US-Mexico border.

In a series of tweets, the congresswoman claimed women were being kept in cells with no water, forced to drink water from toilets and harassed by officers.

AOC wrote that she feared for the welfare of the women, some of whom had reportedly gone 15 days without a shower and denied life-saving medication.

We couldn’t look away, and neither could the rest of the world.

She is redefining what LGBTQ+ equality looks like

Addressing the issue head on during Pride Month in New York, AOC gave a speech breaking down the LGBTQ+ policies she would introduce to move towards equality in the community. Namely, making PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) widely available, tackling disproportionate levels of homelessness amongst LGBTQ+ youth and ensuring protections against transgender people in police custody.

Though perhaps her biggest hurdle has been fighting for The Equality Act on behalf of the LGBTQ+community. This bill, if passed, would enshrine civil rights protections to the LGBT community as federal law, which has twice failed on Capitol Hill, leaving 30 states without protections for the community and putting LGBTQ+ individuals at risk of discrimination in housing and workplaces.

She is playing – and beating – Trump at his own social media game

In news that will likely come as a surprise to precisely no one, an engagement ranking of politicians on Twitter revealed that – surprise, surprise – trigger-happy Trump, fan of an all-caps tweet, was number one.

However, interestingly, he was being trailed by none other than digital native AOC, who racked up nearly 12 million Twitter impressions in a month.

Not only is AOC known for her impassioned tweets and active engagement on the platform, but also for her steely, no-nonsense rebuttal of Trump’s online intimidation tactics.

Most recently, Trump accused Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the Democratic party of being so obsessed with his impeachment that they have failed to deliver on their legislative agenda. 

To which AOC shot back: “In my first 11 months I’ve cosponsored 339 pieces of legislation, authored 15, took on Big Pharma w/ my colleagues in hearings that brought PreP generic a year early & exposed abuse of power. In 4 years, you’ve jailed kids & made corruption the cause celebré. Try to keep up.”

The “AOC effect”

Another thing: Ocasio-Cortez’s meteoric rise from bartender to political powerhouse in just over a year is making waves far beyond her New York district, inspiring a surge of insurgent candidates to run against long-serving incumbents.

Dubbed the “AOC effect”, there are a growing number of women and people of colour who now feel emboldened to challenge the status quo.

Not only are these candidates paving the way for future wins, but they are also shaking up the current playing field by putting previously-unchallenged incumbents in a position where they can no longer ignore problems such as climate change.

If this is what she can achieve in her first year – we can’t wait to see what 2020 and beyond holds.

Images: Getty

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Jessica Rapana

Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.

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