From Homelessness to Congress, Cori Bush’s Journey

Cori Bush BELatina Latinx
Photo Credit IG @coribush

Last Wednesday, Cori Bush became the Democratic candidate to represent Missouri in Congress after defeating 10-term incumbent Lacy Clay 49%-46%.

If elected, Bush will be the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in Missouri.

“They counted us out,” she said, according to CBS News. “I’m just the protester; I’m just the activist with no name, no title, and no real money. That’s all they said that I was. But St Louis showed up today.”

Cori was born and raised in St. Louis, where she attended local public schools. She sought to pursue her higher education at Harris-Stowe State University for a year, before earning a graduate degree in nursing from the Lutheran School.

Her work as a church organizer led her to establish the Kingdom Embassy International church in St. Louis, a house of faith whose mission is “to help bring unity to families, communities, and the nation through biblical principle keys.”

According to the BBC, Bush had to quit her job at a preschool when she fell ill while pregnant with her second child in 2001. She and her then-husband were evicted from their home, and – along with their baby and young son – were homeless for several months, living out of their car. The pair eventually divorced.

Since then, Bush has earned a degree in nursing and became a pastor, before also becoming a racial justice activist.

It was the protests in Ferguson in August 2014 that would lead him to actively pursue a career in politics.

After the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, the patience of the African-American community in Missouri and nationwide ran out, triggering not only violent demonstrations and riots in the streets but a movement of activism and struggle that continues to this day.

Bush worked as a triage nurse and organizer at the time and was even assaulted by police during the events. 

The depth of inequality exposed during the Ferguson protests led him to seek a way to bring about change from the discussion tables.

“My message is the same. It’s the times that have changed,” says Bush in an interview with the Prospect. “I’ve been true to myself since Ferguson … I didn’t change, and with me not changing people were able to record ahold of this message, this message of equity and equality for our community and ending all of these racist practices in our communities.”

This premise was her campaign base for the 2016 Missouri Senate election, where she lost the Democratic primary to Secretary of State Jason Kander.

In 2018, she tried again, against incumbent Democratic Representative Lacy Clay for the First Congressional District. Although she had the support and euphoria of the so-called “Blue Wave” that put Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her Squad in the spotlight, Bush lost to Clay, collecting 36.9% of the vote.

Beating Clay was not only difficult but deeply symbolic.

The incumbent had been in power for decades, following his father’s footsteps, who was a district representative for 32 years before him. Convincing voters of what a first-year congresswoman of color could do against a 30-year history was a tall order.

However, the country is not the same after 2018. 

“People are seeing that it’s not this impossible thing. And it’s not a one-off. Which is kind of what people tried to say last time,” Bush continued. “People are seeing that Congress can actually affect regular everyday people on the ground here in St. Louis.”

With the backing of Justice Democrats and following the models of grassroots political campaigns like Sanders and Warren, Bush has finally won her case.