I had planned to write a column recently about the terrifying raid of the U.S. Capitol earlier this month by White supremacist mobs and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s refusal to accept offers from the likes of Senator Ted Cruz to work on issues they’ve expressed shared interest in, namely on Wall Street regulation. Then, Ocasio-Cortez revealed that she was a survivor of sexual assault.
That revelation re-framed the issue a bit for me, though not in a way that I’ve seen many others discuss. So, I’ve decided to write a few words of reflection down, below. Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram recently and replied to criticism of her centering her own experience during the Capitol raid as well as criticism that she flatly condemned the likes of Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley and rejected the possibility of working with them on other issues after they personally fanned the violent flames of the attacking White supremacist mobs last month, by contextualizing her claims of trauma during the attack with the revelation of her having been sexually assaulted in the past.
Ocasio-Cortez explained that for people who have undergone trauma in their past, the effects of any new traumas – like, say, having to flee from mobs armed with firearms and zip ties who are calling for the execution of public officials and are being assisted by police who are supposed to protect you and uphold the law – are compounded. I’ve seen far too much callousness on social media in response to these revelations from Ocasio-Cortez from people both on the Left and the Right.
It’s one thing to critique a powerful person like Ocasio-Cortez for centering her own experiences while occluding the traumas of more marginalized people. It is a whole other, inexcusable thing, to deny that she could have legitimately felt traumatized by the raid, or to deny the seriousness of the Capitol attack itself as I’ve seen many examples of online.
I don’t doubt that officials like Ocasio-Cortez felt trauma that day. January sixth. And, I’ve already written about how that raid was, of course, a part of Donald Trump’s obvious coup attempt.
It’s also understandable that Ocasio-Cortez didn’t want to work with Cruz in the wake of the entertaining Reddit fiasco/triumph. For one, there’s little reason to believe that Cruz – whose own household is enriched from Wall Street – was offering to work with her on regulating those Buccaneers in good faith.
And, of course, Cruz has been one of the most high-profile fanners of hatred against Ocasio-Cortez, personally. It is also true that people much more vulnerable than the Representative have found reasons to work with those who want them to die, in the past, in pursuit of tactical class solidarity and uplift.
Take, for example, Rev. Annie Chambers, also a survivor of sexual assault. Chambers recalls how, decades ago in Nevada, she says she chose to approach members of the Klu Klux Klan to work with her and other Black freedom fighters to protest the state’s decision to cut welfare payments to the poor.
“They just as bad off as we is. And somebody [needed to] shake them and say, ‘look, you ain’t got a damn thing, either. I don’t need you to like me as an individual if you don’t want to but your ass starving, too,’” she remembers telling other Black leaders who were reluctant to approach the White supremacists.
“I went over there…and he said, ‘what you want, nigger?’ I said, ‘the same damn thing you want, a check. I don’t need you to like me but you ain’t going to get no damn check if I don’t get one.’”
The point is that liberation struggles certainly can and have included people marginalized by their race, ethnicities, and genders (among other things) seeking to work on particular issues in solidarity with groups of problematic, even violently hateful people to achieve a specific end. Perhaps Ocasio-Cortez should have taken the bait and expressed openness to working with the likes of a bigot like Cruz, perhaps not.
I certainly don’t blame her for not wanting to work with him, considering the mobs of armed racists he egged on only weeks ago caused her to flee her own workplace in fear. Ocasio-Cortez has also faced criticism from the Right and Left for claiming she was “almost murdered” in the raid.
Of course she wasn’t “almost murdered,” but that’s semantics and ultimately not that important in the big picture. Mobs of armed people were put in position where they could have possibly made an attempt on her and her colleague’s lives.
Tara Reade (R) is one of many women who have accused now President Joe Biden (L) of sexual abuse
Though the terrorists were not successful in getting to her, I have little doubt that mob, armed with guns and equipped with zip-ties, assisted by Capitol police, would have gotten physically violent with Ocasio-Cortez and other elected officials if they had the chance.
They certainly didn’t hesitate to go after and murder police officers.
Taken on its own, in isolation, all that must have been terrifying for her, and that terror continues every day that she goes into work and sees the colleagues who urged that mob onwards remain unrepentant and unpunished. This much would be clear to any honest observer, even for critics of Ocasio-Cortez’s politics like myself.
Then, the Congresswoman revealed that she is a sexual assault survivor. “When we go through trauma, trauma compounds,” she explained.
“These folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize, these are the same tactics of abusers. And, I’m a survivor of sexual assault, and I haven’t told many people that in my life.”
Ocasio-Cortez is right, and she’s brave for discussing all of that. And, I believe her.
I also believe Tara Reade. I also believe Lucy Flores, Amy Lappos, Caitlyn Caruso, D.J. Hill, Sofie Karasek, Ally Coll, and Vail Kohnert-Yount, the women who have publicly and credibly accused U.S. President Joe Biden of sexual harassment and assault that ranges from the type of subtle but predatory behavior we’ve all seen him do in public, on camera, to both child girls and grown women, to even more physically rough assault.
We’ve all, including Ocasio-Cortez, watched Biden make many women and children visibly uncomfortable on camera with his groping, his smelling, and sexual comments. We’ve heard some speak publicly afterwards about how he made them feel unsafe and uncomfortable.
I believe them all and am sick thinking about how we just elected our second-consecutive sexual predator to the Presidency, how Democrats only speak out against powerful men committing these crimes when they’re Republicans. I wish Ocasio-Cortez believed Joe Biden’s victims and cared enough to support them in solidarity, instead of casting aspersions on other survivors like Reade and enabling her perpetrator.
I wish she fought for these girls and women. I wish she spoke out against Biden’s policies and cabinet nominations at the very least on account of that long list above of his direct sexual assault victims the way she bravely speaks out on her own behalf, now.
“Sometimes you can’t tell the same story over and over,” Ocasio-Cortez said, explaining why she hadn’t previously spoken publicly about her own sexual abuse trauma.
I can only imagine how true that must be for survivors like her. Tara Reade has told her story over and over, for years.
As a result, she’s been pilloried, threatened, harassed by Ocasio-Cortez’s party and colleagues, and been betrayed by the MeToo Movement and its attendant organizations that swore to help women like her, who are brave enough to risk everything in order to speak truth to power and attempt to prevent further abuse, and show solidarity with other survivors.
“Instead of support from MeToo and AOC or any other Democrat, I was silenced and shamed for even daring to speak my history. Joe Biden was placed in his present position of commander in chief, and my messy, inconvenient story was shoved under the recesses while the New York Times, Newsweek, and other mainstream media lavished propagandized praise on Joe Biden,” Reade recently wrote.
Ocasio-Cortez now has to go to work with colleagues who remind her of her abusers. That’s awful, and I won’t ever dare minimize that.
Tara Reade’s abuser is now the President of the United States. I can’t even begin to imagine what that feels like, and so the least that I can do is to not forget it.