Rep. Cori Bush, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist elected to Congress in November, remembers the hate-filled stares and the mental and physical abuse she and others endured from police officers while protesting in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 and 2015. But she also says she was villainized by many in the community simply for standing up for Black lives after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr., a Black teen, by a white police officer.
“People were calling us terrorists for saying Black Lives Matter,” Bush, who is from St. Louis, told Yahoo News in a video interview this month. “People were telling us, ‘Oh, get a job. … You just want to have something to complain about.’ … No. We wanted to stop Black death at the hands of police.”
On Jan. 3, Bush took her oath of office and became the first Black congresswoman in Missouri’s 200-year history as a state. It was her third run since the death of Brown, and she credits the protests in Ferguson with helping her realize her goal of bringing her activist passion to the halls of Congress.
Bush, 44, represents a new wave of progressive politicians in Congress, along with freshman congressman Jamaal Bowman and other more seasoned members of “the Squad,” who don’t shy away from the passionate rhetoric often heard at street marches in the communities they represent.
During the Brown protests in 2014, Bush was working as a registered nurse and pastor in St. Louis when she started demonstrating in Ferguson. With each successive day that she protested in the streets, she says, she hoped justice would be served.
“I felt like if I kept going back, I would see justice,” Bush said. “[I kept thinking,] I didn’t get it today, so let me go back tomorrow.”
It was out in the streets while protesting for Brown in late 2014 that Bush was introduced to the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
“I remember one day I’m standing out on the street and we’re protesting and someone drove up in a vehicle and handed me a poster out of their car, and it said ‘Black Lives Matter’ on it,” Bush recalled.
“They just pulled up, like, ‘Here!’ I’m like, OK, this is cool,” she said. “Oh, Black lives matter. I believe that. … And I started holding it up in the air, and then we started seeing T-shirts, and then we started seeing the hashtag on social media, and for us, that’s how it happened.”
Bush’s father, Errol, is an alderman and a former mayor of Northwoods, a small city in St. Louis County. Growing up, she watched him run for office every couple of years and initially told herself she had no interest in following his footsteps. But after Ferguson, something changed.
“When I was asked by an activist, who has since been murdered, to run for office, initially I said no,” Bush recalled. “But then when I thought about it, how did we get the heart of the people that were out there on the ground for more than 400 days in rain, sleet, hail, snow, hell no, we won’t go? How do we get that heart after they were beat up, beat unconscious, arrested and then made it back out there to the street? How…