Closing The Gap

Meet Cori Bush, the Black Lives Matter activist who just defeated a veteran Missouri congressman

Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush gives her victory speech at her campaign office on August 4, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri. Bush, an activist backed by the progressive group Justice Democrats, defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) in Tuesday's primary election to become the first black woman elected to represent the state of Missouri in congress.
Michael B. Thomas | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist and community leader, defeated longtime Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. in Tuesday's Democratic primary in Missouri. If elected to the House in November, Bush, who is running to lead Missouri's first district which includes the St. Louis area, will be the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress. 

Bush's victory Tuesday night comes after her unsuccessful 2018 attempt to unseat Clay, who has represented the district since 2001. Prior to Clay's election, his father, William Lacy Clay Sr., Missouri's first Black representative in Congress, held the position for 32 years before retiring. 

"They counted us out," Bush told supporters Tuesday night after her win, reports the Associated Press. "They called me — 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."

Missouri Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush gives her victory speech at her campaign office on August 4, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri. Bush, an activist backed by the progressive group Justice Democrats, defeated 10-term incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) in Tuesday's primary election to become the first black woman elected to represent the state of Missouri in congress.
Michael B. Thomas | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Bush, who is a mom, nurse and pastor, has always been actively involved in her community, but she told Essence.com that her community activism turned political following the 2014 death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer. 

"Thinking about my son who was 14 at the time, and my daughter who was 13, if I didn't stand up, could one of them be the next hashtag?" Bush said she wondered. "And I thought about our congressperson… He was out there, I remember, one time for a photo op when we protested more than 400 days."

Bush, who remained on the front lines of the Ferguson protests, says that talking to other residents about the fight for justice propelled her to do more to help her community. 

"Since 2014, I've fought for justice in our communities, and I'm ready to bring the fight from protest to politics," she says on her website. "We are living through a history-making moment. When we face unprecedented challenges, we must respond with bold solutions and fearless leadership."

A once-homeless mom who lived out of her car with her kids, Bush says she understands the everyday struggle that people in her community go through and she wants to bring the change that's needed in Congress to help.

"I fight for [progressive] values just because it's right," she told Essence, while saying that she believes Congressman Clay is "only progressive when he's pushed." She adds, "I always think that 'I am the people I serve.' I did not coin the phrase, but I always say that because I have lived low-wage. I've been unhoused, living out of a car with two children. I have lived uninsured… I'm a victim of violent crime. I'm a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence. So I've been through so many things that have happened here in this community that haven't really been addressed by our congressperson even though he's been in that seat for 20 years."

In Congress, Bush says she plans to increase the minimum wage in her district to $15 an hour, push for free public college and trade school, fight for criminal justice reform and fight for the Green New Deal, which is a legislation package that aims to address issues around climate change and economic inequality. Bush, whose victory came on the same night that Missouri voters voted to expand Medicaid eligibility, says she also plans to continue the fight for Medicare for all. 

The 44-year-old, who has spoken openly about her support and leadership within the Black Lives Matter movement, says that though her campaign against Congressman Clay wasn't a success in 2018, she had a strong feeling that this year would be different. 

"With Ferguson, it was really the start of saying 'Black Lives Matter' and getting people to understand what that's like," she says, while explaining that this year she thinks more people understand why the fight for Black Lives Matter is needed and why greater change is needed in Congress. 

Following her Tuesday night victory, Bush received several congratulatory tweets and messages from supporters and other political leaders including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and former educator turned politician Jamaal Bowman, who defeated Rep. Eliot Engel in New York during the state's primary in June.

Twitter

Twitter

Correction: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the circumstances of Michael Brown's death. 

CNBC Make It is NOW STREAMING on Peacock. Find our original programming in the Channels section.

Don't miss: She went to prison for a crime she says she didn't commit. Now Keeda Haynes is running for Congress

VIDEO3:4403:44
Meet Danielle Geathers, MIT's first Black woman student body president
make it

Stay in the loop

Sign Up

About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

CNBC.COM