The Power of Seeing A Young Black Woman Organizer Win Her Election

August 25, 2020

Cori Bush

It was a tradition in my middle school for every student to vote on and then receive a class superlative. Among the most coveted of superlatives was “Most Likely to Become President,” and, in sixth grade, I won the title. 

I was thrilled. I thought of myself as a hard worker and a natural leader. But I still doubted I would ever see myself, or someone who looked like me, in a role like that. Even though that was the same year Barack Obama became the first Black president, I had only learned about white, male leaders in civics and history classes — and those are the same types of people I continued to see in positions of power. The government majors at my college, all the students who were involved with campus politics, were mostly white, and mostly men. It didn’t feel like a space where I’d be welcomed with open arms, and I never saw myself getting involved.

After I graduated from college, I stumbled into organizing online via peer-to-peer texting with Open Progress. I had never heard of digital organizing before, but I felt fueled by training volunteers and fighting for policy issues like pensions, social security, and the expansion of healthcare for all. That was my first taste of what it’s like to mobilize people to vote for candidates who protect the working class and other issues of human and workers’ rights.

Although I had just caught a bug for politics, I still couldn’t ignore that so relatively few Black women and women of color have realized their potential within politics. So when I read about Cori Bush, an activist running for Congress in Missouri, I couldn’t help but let go of a breath I didn’t know I was holding. She is an organizer and Black Lives Matter activist who has been on the ground, working in her community for years, in addition to having experience as a nurse. When she has spoken with reporters, she has often emphasized how that organizing experience shapes her approach to politics. 

When Bush talked about how she plans to approach Congress with plans and policies once she’s in office, she told Crooked Media that, “it may not happen overnight, but we’ll stay diligent,” and that she’s “so used to organizing and pushing things that people don’t want to hear.”

Bush has drawn on her personal backstory a number of times during her campaign to prove that she’s dedicated first and foremost to her community. She’s been a low-wage worker, unhoused, and is a survivor of sexual assault. Bush didn’t run for office in spite of the struggles she faced, but because of them. She understands what being in a marginalized group feels like, and being represented by a politician who does makes folks feel like they have a stake and say in holding their elected officials accountable to the promises they’ve made.

Cori Bush won her primary on August 4 in an upset against long-term Congressman William Lacy Clay. When I look at Cori Bush, I don’t simply see the woman who may become the first Black Congresswoman in Missouri history, but someone who undoubtedly had to carve out a space for herself amidst political and non-political spaces, while simultaneously battling against the many forms of oppression Black women face on a daily basis. In politics, Black women often are tasked with being champions for the Black community, carrying emotional labor from white co-workers, and the burnout from the average campaign/advocacy workload of 60+ hour weeks.

That is to say, when I look at Cori Bush, I see myself. I see the struggle women of color, and Black women specifically, constantly endure — in politics and beyond. Organizers like myself always have and always will invest in our communities and work on creating sustainable and equitable change to improve lives, but to make real change, we ultimately need to redefine who our politicians are and what they look like. The faces and complexions of the people who are in positions of political power must reflect the communities they represent, and actively earn the trust and respect of the constituents that put them there. 

For years I’ve been inundated with white-washed history that doesn’t tell the full story. Now, women of color are running for office at an all time high, and we’re more incentivized than ever to stop letting people tell our stories for us. So while the news cycle fills me with dread more often than not, I cherish the headlines that proclaim another woman of color has won an election. I will allow myself to feel the exhilaration and joy that comes from seeing Black women take the world by storm like this, simply because we’ve more than earned it.