The Squad is only getting stronger
Cori Bush used to be homeless – now she’s on her way to the House of Representatives.
On Tuesday the nurse, pastor and Black Lives Matters activist defeated the powerful long-term incumbent William Lacy Clay, a centrist, in Missouri’s Democratic primary election. As Bush’s district is heavily Democratic, the progressive activist is almost guaranteed to win in November, and will become the first black woman to represent Missouri in Congress.
When Bush won a very strange thing happened to me: I felt a glimmer of hope. It has been hard to feel hopeful about politics lately. The pandemic has accelerated already unconscionable inequality: billionaires have seen their wealth surge while the poor get poorer. The inequality we’re seeing now, of course, is nothing compared with the hell that the climate crisis will unleash. And yet the Democratic establishment doesn’t seem to see the urgency of the moment. They keep telling progressives to calm down and carry on with business as usual; that incrementalism rather than bold ideas are the way forward. That you must water down your progressive views if you want to connect with the American voter.
Bush refused to do that. She refused to water down her views on defunding the police; she refused to cater to corporate interests; and she refused to be cowed by underhand attacks. When Clay criticized Bush for being sympathetic towards the non-violent Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to pressure Israel to comply with international law, she did not back down. “Cori Bush has always been sympathetic to the BDS movement, and she stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people, just as they have stood in solidarity with Black Americans fighting for their own lives,” her campaign said days before the election.
Clay, who is part of a half-century political dynasty, levelled a number of disgusting personal attacks against Bush. His campaign circulated a mailer stating that Bush had failed to pay taxes four times, been evicted three times and had her nursing license suspended. But Bush’s personal history is exactly why we need her in politics. We need politicians who understand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck and get caught up in a cycle of predatory loans. We need politicians who understand what it’s like to get into debt working for a nursing degree only to then have your license suspended because you couldn’t afford to pay state taxes. (Bush’s nursing license was restored after she made her necessary payments.) We need politicians who understand the urgency of the moment and are fighting for people’s lives, not corporate interests.
“Tonight, Missouri’s first has decided that an incremental approach isn’t going to work any longer,” Bush declared at a victory party. “We decided that we the people have the answers, and we will lead from the frontlines.”
Bush’s victory wasn’t the only win American progressives have had lately. In July Jamaal Bowman, a former teacher, ousted 16-term Eliot Engel, a committed centrist, in New York. And this week congresswoman Rashida Tlaib beat her centrist opponent by a landslide, in what was supposed to be a close primary. “Headlines said I was the most vulnerable member of the Squad,” Tlaib tweeted. “My community responded last night and said our Squad is big. It includes all who believe we must show up for each other and prioritize people over profits. It’s here to stay, and it’s only getting bigger.”
For far too long centrists have sneeringly considered leftwing voices part of a bothersome fringe rather than a growing movement. Nancy Pelosi, for example, has dismissed the progressive congresswomen known as the Squad as “like, five people”. But, as is becoming increasingly clear, it’s a lot more than five people. “Progressives are on the move”, Bernie Sanders tweeted on Wednesday. “Don’t let anyone fool you … we are transforming American politics. The political revolution is gaining more and more support.” Let’s hope the establishment is paying attention.
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