The first two weeks of Cori Bush’s freshman week in Congress couldn’t have been more turbulent. Three days after the Missouri representative was sworn in, the Capitol was stormed by white supremacists looking to overturn the election. She gave her first criticisms of the Biden administration, saw her Twitter following grow by 185,000 and, last but not least, voted to impeach the president. And she did all of it without a paycheck, as one of the very few representatives that was neither a millionaire nor a career politician before joining the House of Representatives.
The Guardian caught up with her to discuss her first fortnight in the House.
Being sworn in was … Surreal. Seeing my name on the nameplate outside the door, getting my voting card and member pin, and having much of my family by my side meant so much to me. We took our seat; we opened our office, we cast our votes on the House floor. I wish all of St Louis could have been with me; it’s such an incredible honor to serve the community I’ve always loved.
Being mistaken for Breonna Taylor was … Disappointing. We had just arrived to the auditorium, people were getting settled, walking around and introducing themselves. I was wearing a Breonna Taylor mask. Someone walked up to me and said “Hello Breonna,” and it stunned me. I paused, thinking, did I hear them correctly? I turned my head to make sure no one else was standing there. And then it happened again, and again, and again.
That told me a lot. [The Republican party] dismissed the Black Lives Matter protests publicly, and yet [these representatives] didn’t even understand why we were protesting. Shouldn’t they be paying attention to what’s happening around the country?
Being in the Capitol when white supremacists stormed it was … What I was trained for. I come from the movement – we’ve faced tanks, police dogs, teargas, rubber bullets, you name it. We came here to fight for the people of St Louis, and we were not going to be intimidated by these insurrectionists. We locked ourselves in the office and got to work.
Calling to expel the Republicans who tried to overturn the election was … something I never thought would be my first piece of legislation. This is a sad moment in our nation’s history, but it calls for us to act urgently in defense of democracy. Section 3 of the 14th amendment is clear: no person who works in rebellion against the United States government can hold the office of representative, senator or president. I’m proud to lead my colleagues in holding them accountable.
Having the moment for celebration after the historic Democratic win in Georgia snatched away was … Unsurprising. Black joy, Black excellence, Black success – it is so often met with white violence. It’s a tradition that goes back to the foundation of our country. This is part of why we say we must legislate in defense of Black lives. It’s why I stood on the House floor, before voting to impeach this president, and called him out for what he is: the white supremacist-in-chief.
Being part of “the Squad” is … Helpful. They offer advice, I ask them what some might call stupid questions, but I am able to talk to them as my sisters. They have really helped my transition.
My policy will be shaped by … Those who have to choose between life-saving prescriptions and groceries; the people who are working three jobs and still can’t make ends meet; the sex workers, and those who have never been given the opportunity or resources to thrive. For decades, legislators have focused on helping the wealthy and well-connected. I’m focused on serving those who have been given the least because that is what the government is supposed to do.
A summary of week one:
Outfits thrifted: Many, but can you tell?
High point: the thousands of small interactions I’ve had with people in my district. To make their lives better is my greatest privilege and honor.
Low point: To be locked in my office with my team and not know what was happening and whether we all would be safe. We all deserve to be able to feel safe in our homes, in our communities and in our places of work.
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Getting my first paycheck has … Still not happened. There’s a reason why most people who run for Congress are wealthy – it’s expensive. It means working all day, every day without a paycheck, without health insurance. Or running a campaign and having a second full-time job. How are working people supposed to do that? I’m a single mom and I’ve been unhoused. I know what it’s like to struggle, but most people in Congress don’t. We have to make it easier for regular, working people to run and to serve.
Moving to DC was … Hard, during the pandemic, without any money. But I have some furniture now. I have finally moved off the air mattress!
Getting booed during a speech about white supremacy was … Proof they heard me. They showed their true colors. They booed a Black woman talking about ending, dismantling, rooting out white supremacy. And they said no! They said no on live TV. That’s exactly what America needed to see: even after an insurrection that could have killed lawmakers, that killed innocent people, they still were like “we want to hold on to white supremacy”.
What does it mean when they boo the Black congresswoman denouncing white supremacy?
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) January 13, 2021
The policy I will keep being vocal about is … A universal basic income. I’ve called for $2,000 monthly survival checks and last month the House voted to send a one-time payment of $2,000 for families. I think we need to recognize that poverty is a policy choice and it is my intention to keep fighting until economic prosperity can be shared by everyone.
The US can only heal through … Accountability. After four years of the Trump administration, where we’ve seen communities devastated and the moral fabric of our country torn to shreds – we need justice for all we have been forced to endure. I’m going to fight to make sure every person has access to healthcare, housing and education – we can’t compromise on those things because we’re talking about whether or not someone can live.
A summary of week two:
High point: Leslie Jones giving commentary about a TV interview I did. She was so passionate, saying go ahead sister! I carry that with me, that people are right here and not even affiliated with politics, saying, “We got you.”
Presidents impeached: 1 (but for the second time).
Days off: You’re kidding, right?