Cori Bush has trodden a long path, from homelessness, to activism, to becoming Missouri’s first Black female representative in the 2020 election.
The progressive activist’s victory on November 3 was not a major struggle — the first congressional district of Missouri had been a Democratic stronghold for decades, and she was expected to win.
But the road to becoming candidate had been far harder. The seat had been in the hands of Black congressmen William Lacy Clay — and previously his father William — for more than 50 years, in a status quo that seemed unchangeable.
She had already tried once, in 2018, when the Clays’ hold on the district proved unassailable.
William Lacy Clay speaking during a House Oversight subcommittee in October 2019
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Her failed 2018 Congressional run was followed by the Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House,”directed by Rachel Lears.
She was one of four working class progressive candidates featured, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won a House seat in New York in 2018, and again on November 3.
In one scene, a local resident told Bush just how hard it would be to unseat Clay. “You know, it’s not even a thought for most of the folks that I know that vote,” the unnamed resident said. “Election time comes around. ‘Okay. Clay.’ That’s one of the few ones — nobody even bothers looking at anything else.”
After the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, she joined Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, not far from her home.
Brown was an 18-year-old Black man killed by white officer Darren Wilson, whose killing gave the Black Lives Matter movement a national profile.
“I was not trying to become an activist, I didn’t set out to do that,” she told Lear in “Knocking Down The House.”
As police and protesters met in often chaotic scenes that became a worldwide news story about racial bias and excessive policing, she said: “It looked like a battleground at home.”
A qualified nurse, she set out to provide medical aid at the protests, and kept returning because the justice she wanted to see wouldn’t come, she told Lears. She told the Guardian that she spent 400 days protesting, wore out two pairs of shoes, and was assaulted by police.
Cori Bush leads a march during a protest against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in St. Louis, Missouri, June 12, 2020
Bush his part of a wave of progressive challengers which first drew attention in 2018, when “The Squad” burst onto the political scene.
Bush was promoted by Justice Democrats, a federally-registered PAC which helped existing Squad members to office: Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar.
Her stance as a progressive woman of color, her association with Ocasio-Cortes, and her efforts to get elected through Justice Democrats has inevitably led media outlets — from The Guardian to Newsweek — to label her the newest member of The Squad.
Bush’s successful third attempt inches the progressive wing of the party further into prominence. As Justice Democrats say on their website: “The Squad is growing.”
Bush’s progressive positions include support for a $15 minimum wage, a $2,000-a-month universal basic income, Medicare for All, and defunding the police, she told The Guardian.
She is not a natural supporter of Joe Biden, per The Guardian, but she said it was important to unseat President Donald Trump even if she and the president-elect differ on matters like Medicare for All.
She said in her victory speech Tuesday night that her positions come from experience: she has been uninsured, abused, a struggling single parent, and a COVID-19 patient.
“I’m still that person,” she said. “I’m proud to stand before you today knowing it was this person with these experiences that moved the voters of St Louis to do something historic.”
But Bush appears to consistently wield something even more fundamental than progressive goals.
A message she took on her 2018 campaign trail, that endured through her Tuesday acceptance speech, is a focus on her community.
One scene in Lears’ documentary sees her out and about in 2018, canvassing for potential support. “This shouldn’t be about one person being a king, being like ‘kiss my ring,’ she said, to nods of approval from her listeners. “It’s not about that. Because we don’t get help that way. It’s got to be about us.'”
In her victory speech, the same sentiment came up. “I’m serving you as you go with me,” she said, standing in front of a giant Black Lives Matter flag.
She continued: “So it’s like I’m carrying you in my bag, taking you to committee. I’m carrying you in my bag, taking you to the floor. I’m carrying you in my bag, taking you to go vote because that’s what this is for.”
Bush did not respond to Business Insider’s request for an interview.