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AOC Opens Up About Her Experience During the Insurrection and Trauma

Photo by Claire Harbage for NPR

As the weeks go on after January 6th, we are learning more and more about what happened that day at the Capitol when a mob of angry Trump supporters tried to derail democracy and put lives in danger in the process. On February 22nd, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram Live to tell her story about what she experienced on the day she thought she and her colleagues were going to die. The video is an hour and a half long and worth every second but if you don’t have the time right now, we’re going to boil it down to the main events as she experienced them.

AOC starts her video by saying that the politicians who are trying to tell everyone to just move on and forget about what happened are “using the same tactics of every other abuser who just tells you to move on.” She begins by apologizing to her friends and loved ones who are about to learn something about her that they didn’t know. After a moment of pause, her voice shakes as she admits that she is a survivor of sexual assault. While in any other case, this would be the main focus of the story, it’s used merely as an anecdote to convey that she personally knows how abusers behave.

The story starts on New Years Eve, six days before the insurrection. It was this early that she says she started to receive text messages from other members of Congress telling her specifically to be careful on Wednesday. Capitol police were already well aware of the violent threats surrounding the following Wednesday. Keep that in mind as we continue. Fast forward to Monday, the Congresswoman pulled up to the Capitol, excited that she found a close parking spot. As she returned to her car a little later in the day, she noticed a small crowd wearing MAGA attire not too far behind her car, separated only by a small, waist high aluminum partition. The crowd began to act like high school bullies, yelling at her agonizingly. Not wanting to fuel the flame, she blew the crowd kisses and took off. On the way back to her apartment, AOC stopped by a local grocery store where she noticed more MAGA wearing folks and “caught a vibe” that things aren’t quite right here.

Then Tuesday comes. As she was on her way into work, Ocasio-Cortez saw a fellow colleague walking by so she offered them a ride. When they got to the Capitol, they noticed the crowd from yesterday had grown. She said it was at this point that “it felt actively volatile and dangerous.” Feeling herself and her colleagues were no longer entirely safe, she took off her Congressional pin so as to not be spotted right away. Later that night, Ocasio-Cortez popped into the grocery store again, only this time the tension became so high that the decision was made that she would stay inside until further notice. 

Photo by Desiree Rios for NY Times

When asked about security plans for the 6th, Capitol police assured AOC that there was a plan in place but they couldn’t disclose detailed information for fear of it being leaked. Which brings us to Wednesday January 6th. It started off as normally as it could have: She received her second vaccine and decided to celebrate the recent Georgia runoff win by buying her team lunch, when suddenly she heard a loud and violent banging sound on her office door. A staffer named G told the Congresswoman to run and hide. This is when the sense of time became distorted. Not thinking twice about it, that’s exactly what she did. She hid in the bathroom and braced for the worst. She heard someone yelling, “WHERE IS SHE?” and for the first time that day, thought she was about to die. The thought “if this is the plan for me, then people will be able to take it from here,” rang in her head. A few moments later, G announced that it was ok to come out. Hesitantly, Representative Ocasio-Cortez stepped out of the bathroom and was met by the Capitol police officer who never announced himself and had a face that read fury. He told the two to run to a building that was not named in the video, not giving them any specific room or extraction point. They ran. No escort, no plan beyond a building, and unprotected.

Once inside, AOC and G started to hear the hinges of the doors crack, as the rioters drew near the not-yet-secured building. Eventually, they came across Representative Katie Porter’s office and they took shelter there with her. At this point, they believed the building had been breached and Representative Ocasio-Cortez was “at a ten.” She frantically looked for hiding places and asked if anyone had any clothes she could change into in case she had to jump out a window and run. As the staffers of both representatives, including G, barricaded the doors, they couldn’t help but draw the parallel of their current reality to the drills school students practice in the case of an active shooter. 

While sheltering together, Porter and AOC began receiving intel that there were bombs found nearby and they braced for a wing of the building to explode as they found their emergency hoods, which the first officer should have instructed them to get. This led AOC to wonder if that first officer missed so many things because he was rattled in the moment or if he intentionally put them in a vulnerable position. 

Eventually, the decision to continue to certify the vote was made and the group found out where the extraction point was. Although the building began to feel a bit more secure, AOC and Porter didn’t feel it was safe to meet at the designated location. They learned that all the members of Congress were meeting there, and that some fellow representatives were live tweeting about the speakers’ location. Instead Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Porter, along with their staffers, met up with Representative Ayanna Pressley who texted Ocasio-Cortez an invitation to join her for a meal. Tensions began to ease and as AOC told Representative Pressley what happened in her office, she realized that she never actually told Representative Porter. In a moment, Pressley told AOC that she had just experienced something incredibly traumatizing. They all remained in that office until about 4am. 

“This is at a point where it’s not about a difference of political opinion. This is about just like, basic humanity”—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Representative Ocasio-Cortez finishes her IG Live by reminding the viewers that people like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley who are trying to convince everyone to move on, and that what happened wasn’t that bad, are using the same exact tactics abusers are known to use. That their unwillingness to take action on the matter tells the world that given the opportunity they would do it again. They would put their colleagues in danger. She talked about how trauma compounds on itself, especially when subject to the secondary trauma of not being believed. She reminded everyone that holding people accountable and telling your story are vital steps for recovery. 

Even after hearing the stories of those who survived the attacks, enough cowards in the Senate voted to acquit Trump, saying he was not guilty of inciting these domestic terrorists, proving yet again: There is still so much work that needs to be done. 

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