A progressive activist challenger Cori Bush and veteran of the racial justice protest movement, beat 20-year incumbent Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay in a Democratic primary on Tuesday, a beautiful victory for the party’s revolutionary left.
The US House seat, located in St. Louis, has been led by Clay and his father, former Rep. William Clay Sr., one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus, since 1969. Bush, who competed with Clay in 2018 and lost, was the first candidate to set in motion by Justice Democrats, the progressive group committed to overthrowing moderate Democratic congressional incumbents.
Cori Bush’s victory will send another round of trembling through the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill, where leadership has fought to stave off a new generation of combative progressives, who support “Medicare for All,” the Green New Deal and other economic and racial justice policies dismissed for years by the party establishment.
“We’ve been called radicals, terrorists, we’ve been dismissed as an impossible fringe movement — that’s what they called us,” Bush said in her victory speech. “But now, we are a multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational, mass movement united in demanding change, in demanding accountability, in demanding that our police, our government, our country recognize that Black lives do, indeed, matter.”
After falling short in 2018, Cori Bush, who became an activist leader in Ferguson back in 2014, raised more money in 2020 and gained from risen credibility and visibility with voters who witnessed the electoral successes of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley.
The primary occurred amid a national anti-racist uprising, following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota on Memorial Day, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has demanded an excessive deadly rise in communities of color.
“It is historic,” Bush told supporters after the race was called, “that this year, of all years, we’re sending a Black, working-class, single mother who’s been fighting for Black lives since Ferguson, all the way to the halls of Congress.”
In her second attempt to unseat Clay, who won in 2018 with 57% of the primary vote, Bush was supported by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Sunrise Movement a youth-led group that champions the Green New Deal and other leftist and progressive leaders, including Jamaal Bowman, who expelled Rep. Eliot Engel in New York during the state’s June primary. Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed Bush two years ago, did not participate in the 2020 contest.
“She is a true progressive who stands with working people and will take on the corporate elite of this country when she gets to Congress,” Sanders commented after the race was called. In the run-up to the primary, the Vermont senator had assisted her campaign to raise money and involved her on a Zoom call with his convention delegates.
In a comment after midnight, Cori Bush wrote, “Not me, US.” the slogan of Sanders’ two presidential campaigns.
Unlike Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman, Bush beat a Black lawmaker with a deep relationship to the community he, and his father, represented for 50 years. Clay had blamed Bush of being beholden to Justice Democrats, but he also searched common cause with progressives, most notably in co-sponsoring the Green New Deal resolution written by Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey.
Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash was part of the progressive leaders celebrating Bush’s upset victory, which got an uplift from the group’s activists in Missouri.
“Pundits and the establishment didn’t see this one coming, but the people of St. Louis did,” Prakash said in a statement early Wednesday morning. “She ran on Defund the Police, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for All and defeated a multi-generational political dynasty who got too close to corporate donors and too far from the needs of his district.”`