Being the first of anything is never easy, and often humbling, but also an exciting opportunity to set the tone for the future. Such is the case for Cori Bush, the first candidate for Congress formally endorsed by Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats.
Bush is running in the Democratic Primary against long-time incumbent William Lacy Clay in Missouri’s 1st district in 2018. The backing of Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats has led to national attention for Bush, positioning herself as a legitimate contender in the upcoming Democratic primary.
She discussed the endorsement recently with Progressive Army: “Being the first candidate backed by Justice Democrats in the whole country has been an honor.”
Cori Bush, during our short conversation, relayed a wide variety of life experiences in our recent discussion on her candidacy. From being a mother, working through nursing school to becoming a civil rights leader in the State, Bush has had a variety of experiences that allows her to understand and naturally relate to the day-to-day struggles her future constituents face.
Though throughout her childhood her dad “worked really hard in politics” Bush says that she herself was “not much into politics growing up.”
Everything changed when Michael Brown was murdered. Bush felt compelled to take to the streets “crying out for justice and protested for over 400 days.” Beyond the injustices of Brown’s murder, Bush was dismayed by the lack of support from sitting politicians.
“Except for Sen Maria Chappelle Nadal & Sen Jamilah Nasheed who both spent some time out protesting in the streets it felt like no elected officials were out there fighting with us,” she said, “and they never engaged with us.”
Not the Time to Be Quiet and Silent
Some Democratic Party purists would have you believe that it is unthinkable to primary a Democratic incumbent. But when that incumbent, described by Bush as “quiet and silent”, doesn’t display any leadership in the face of grave injustices, it’s time for a change.
“We don’t need somebody that is quiet and silent,” Bush reiterated several times, making it clear that this is a driving force behind her activism, pushing her to become a voice that will speak up for the people of Missouri.
In a short time, Bush has become a leader in the state, able to build new alliances. One example is her work with The Truth Telling Project, a program designed to educate the public at large about racism and violence through first-hand accounts. Furthermore, Bush tells us, if someone is having a conference or event and they are having difficulty getting speakers or participants to commit, it has become known that if you invite Cori, she will come no matter who is hosting. Whether that group has views aligned with Bush or not, she does not pass up the opportunity to engage and build relationships.
Framing the Conversation
Above all, Bush tells Progressive Army that she is running because “a true progressive platform needs to be part of the conversation.”
The Brand New Congress Platform, found here, is an ambitious agenda that brings to the forefront everything many feel that Democrats and progressives ought to be fighting for — from tuition-free college, to an extensive infrastructure plan. Making these issues a part of the conversation makes Cori Bush a popular choice with progressives, and her candidacy provides a platform to show voters that there are policies that can address the many hardships Americans are facing, so long as we fight for them.
It’s all about the love. I’ve never felt more love when it comes to electoral politics than I feel when at an event in which the candidate is more known as a political activist than a politician. The air is simply electric.
Leslie Kaplan, from the novel, Depuis maintenant: Miss Nobody Knows, quoted in May ’68 and its Afterlives describes this feeling I’m alluding to:
Something ungraspable, something difficult to grasp, that there was during the strike and the occupation. Something in the midst of happening, something is happening: just that, the feeling of that….That something should come from outside, to meet you, to surprise you, to take you away, to raise you up, to undo you, it’s there, it’s now, we are beside it, we are with it, we feel the pressure and we create it, everything is happening, everything can happen, it’s the present, and the world empties itself and fills up again, and the walls pull back, they are transparent, and they pull back, they separate, they fade away, they leave room, and it’s now and now and now….Love can create this feeling, or art; it is rare to feel it in society….But during the strike we could touch it with our fingers, rub our hands across its back.
Cori Bush definitely brings love to her approach to politics. I asked her if she could speak to how the energy is different from her events as opposed to others. She described her events as “people partying, having a good time, crying, laughing, excitement. This kind of love doesn’t happen at other people’s events.”
The authenticity that comes across when you know the candidate has literally been in the streets fighting with you, advocating for you and being there for you is something you can’t replicate or fake. That feeling is very real and very strong and a big part of why I’m usually drawn to candidates who are also citizen activists.
Update: A complete quote was added in place of an earlier version regarding support from elected officials in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s murder.