Rep. Cori Bush Is What “Keeping It Real” Looks Like

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey y’all, it’s Brittany. So, I did it. I got the jab, the Fauci, the vacky, depending on who you ask. I got my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. The process, honestly was pretty seamless. The only side effects I really had were some arm soreness and some fatigue, but I did not hesitate to get vaccinated. I genuinely do understand the complicated feelings that a lot of people have about this medical system. I’ve experienced medical racism in my own life. But I knew that when it was my turn, I wanted to do what I believe is best for me, a Black woman with preexisting conditions. I also did it to be a good neighbor, and that’s why I’m going to keep wearing my mask and social distancing because we’re not going to get through this without looking out for one another. My mom and my husband and my in-laws are also on their way to being fully vaccinated. 

I’m feeling excited to see a glimmer of light at the end of this very long tunnel. But if I’m being honest, there was another feeling that crept up that I was not expecting. I’m really anxious y’all. I’m anxious about how an introvert like me is going to deal with having less alone time when this is all over. About life becoming an endless stream of plane rides again, or feeling the pressure to say “yes” to every social or work invitation, even when my tank is completely on E. How will I, somebody who has a terrible time saying “no,” maintain a healthy work life alignment when we return to normalcy? Honestly, I’m grateful that this is my problem, considering that so many people are not here today to worry about these things. I want to honor the life that I’ve been blessed to live because it is a blessing and I want to honor the lives of those we’ve lost. So that means I know it’s not healthy to force myself to work 18-hour days and stress out while attempting to live my so-called best life. I’m trying to keep in mind what Tricia Hersey told us a few episodes ago, that rest is my divine right and it is actually necessary to achieving our collective freedom. So here’s to learning to build a dream life instead of a dream job. Running ragged didn’t serve us well in the first place, so let’s imagine a better way of truly living together. We are UNDISTRACTED. 

On the show today, Representative Cori Bush. I’ll be talking to the St. Louis congresswoman about bringing her full, authentic self to Washington, D.C., and what it was like for her to personally experience that Capitol insurrection. 

Rep. Cori Bush At not one point did I feel like I was about to die or my staff would. But what I felt like was, “If you touch these doors and if you come in this place trying to get at my staff like we banging and we banging until the end.”

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up, but first, it’s your “UNtrending News”.   

First up, some absolutely horrific news coming out of Atlanta. You may have heard on Tuesday night eight people were shot to death at three massage parlors in the city. Six of the people who were killed were Asian. Two of them were white and all but one of them were women. The group Stop AAPI Hate is calling the killings an unspeakable tragedy. And in just the past year, the organization documented nearly thirty-eight hundred incidents of anti-Asian hate. And of course, we know that that number is likely even higher. On Monday, just one day before this deadly attack, Georgia Senator Michelle Au stood in front of the legislature and warned her fellow senators: 

State Sen. Michelle Au, MD Georgia should not consider itself immune from this epidemic, racism towards Asian-Americans. Recognize that we need help, we need protection, and we need people in power to stand up with us against hate. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Y’all. Enough is enough. How many times does Senator Au and others have to keep calling this out before action is taken? We are sending our love, our solidarity to the victims’ families and the entire Asian-American community. 

Now, some more uncomfortable news coming out of Georgia. Amid nationwide efforts to restrict voting there are now several new anti-voter bills that are being proposed in John Lewis’ home state. No surprise they’re coming after the historic turnout there by voters. Republican state legislators want to eliminate early in-person voting on Sundays and restrict drop boxes for mail in ballots among other measures, which, of course, would disproportionately hurt Black voters. So now these badass civil rights groups and organizers are pressuring large Georgia corporations like Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and Home Depot to oppose these repressive bills. Organizations like Black Voters Matter, the New Georgia Project Action Fund, and the Georgia NAACP are urging CEOs to speak out against and stop donating money to GOP legislators who are sponsoring these bills. Here’s what Nsé Ufot the CEO of New Georgia Project has to say. 

Nsé Ufot We are trying to draw a very bright line in this moment. Which side are you on? Are you on the side of freedom and democracy or are you on the side of these Republican lawmakers who are trying to make it more difficult to vote? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Y’all, I really can’t stand it when people talk up a storm, but only work up a breeze. We saw your BLM statements this summer, corporations. So now is the perfect time to show us you mean it. Put your platforms, your coins and your considerable political clout to good use and fight voter suppression. Unless and until you actively join the fight for democracy and against racism, there will be no business as usual. 

And finally, in better news, this year’s Oscar nominations were announced this week. And for once, they aren’t so ridiculously white and male. For the first time two, yes, two whole women are nominated in the best director category. Chloe Zhao for Nomadland and Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman. Chloe, a Chinese filmmaker, is also the first woman of color to get that best director nod. In fact, seventy women received seventy-six nominations in total, the most ever in one year, and Viola Davis got her fourth nomination. She’s now the most nominated Black woman in Oscar history. She’s up for best actress in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It’s pretty cool that nine of the twenty acting nominations went to people of color. And hopefully these history making headlines are a signal of positive change. The Academy invited more women and more people of color into its ranks following April Reign’s campaign Oscars So White a few years ago, but it still remains overwhelmingly white and male. And still, there are huge, huge structural issues. According to a new report from McKinsey, the film industry — get this — is one of the least diverse sectors in the entire country. More than 90 percent of film executives are white. 

This year’s Oscars were also far from perfect. I’m not the only one that thinks Regina King got robbed for not getting that best director nod for One Night in Miami. And I am team Regina King until I die. So this is part of the reason why I have a healthy digest of Black award shows too. And I always look forward to seeing how marginalized communities honor one another. We certainly don’t have to wait on mainstream culture to honor our own. 

Coming up, I’ll be talking to Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush about the real America, you know, the one that Black folks know, right after this short break. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And we’re back. In November my guest became the first Black woman from Missouri to ever be elected to Congress. That’s right. On her third run for elected office, Cori Bush finally made history. 

Rep. Cori Bush I’m here ready to serve you, but I’m serving you as you go with me. So it’s like I’m carrying you in my bag, taking you to committee. I’m carrying you in my bag, taking you to the floor. I’m carrying you in my bag, taking you to go vote because that’s what this is for. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Before getting into politics, the former nurse rose to prominence while marching in the streets of Ferguson in the protest against the police killing of Michael Brown. And just because the congresswoman now works in that illustrious Capitol building, that doesn’t mean that she’s left her activist roots behind. Cori Bush is keeping it all the way real. And I wanted to catch up with her. It had been a minute since we’d both been on the same ground in Ferguson. And as always, the representative brought her no-holds-barred self to the conversation. 

Congresswoman Cori Bush, my hometown congresswoman, it is so fantastic to talk to you.

Rep. Cori Bush You, too. Oh, my gosh.

Brittany Packnett CunninghamThere’s been a lot going on in your very first quarter. We recently had Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley on, our good sis. And like I said to her, I truly cannot even imagine how frightening and traumatic it must have been for y’all being attacked in the Capitol. So before we start, I just want to ask how you’re doing. 

Rep. Cori Bush Yeah, you know, I’m just pushing forward. I haven’t really stopped to really think about it. But I’ll say this, I feel like everything that we did starting back to Ferguson and before Ferguson prepared me for this moment. Because you were in mode, you know, you didn’t know at what moment rubber bullets would fly, real bullets would fly, tear gas, pepper spray. You just didn’t know. And so that’s what it felt like, Brittany. I felt like I was in fight mode and I was just ready. And not one point did I feel like I was about to die or my staff would. But what I felt like was, “If you touch these doors and if you come in this place trying to get at my staff like we banging and we banging until the end.” And I didn’t even mean, my staff, I was talking about me because we did it on the streets. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Absolutely. And in the days following, we heard that very common but frustrating refrain that this is not America. This is not the America we know. And you answered that in no uncertain terms when you penned an op-ed in The Washington Post titled “This is the America that Black People Know.” What were you wanting the larger public, mainstream America, white folks to really understand?

Rep. Cori Bush That that was a cop out. What America do you believe that we live in to act like racism doesn’t happen in this country and to act like they didn’t see all that happened during Ferguson and since Ferguson? Every single time we protested all over this country when some Black person lost their life unjustly at the hands of police every single time. If we go back to slavery, but even after slavery, Jim Crow, was that our imagination?

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Right.

Rep. Cori Bush You know, was the civil rights movement, was everything that happened with that, our imaginations? Were lynchings our imagination? And so to act like this is not America, that you can’t have a bunch of angry white people showing up to a place that came ready to hurt humans. And now all of a sudden, this isn’t America? Look, it was time to call it out. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Well, I’m so glad that you did, because you called it out better than it’s been called out before. And folks needed to understand that. The other thing you did in the aftermath of this Capitol insurrection, of this riot was to create a bill to expel those members who helped incite this riot. 

Rep. Cori Bush Yes. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Why is this so important? 

Rep. Cori Bush  You know, it was important because we have to hold our colleagues accountable. In this instance, we’re talking about our Republican colleagues. You know, they attempted to overturn the 2020 election and inside this insurrection against the US government, section three of the 14th Amendment is clear that no person who works in rebellion against the United States government can hold office, the office of the representative, senator or president. So, look, I’m leading more than 50 of my colleagues in this resolution, and we’re going to continue to work until we can get this done. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Amen. And you are affected by this personally. You had to move your office away from one of your colleagues due to safety concerns for you and your team, that person being, of course, Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene. I know that her staff is berating you, that she refuses to wear masks. And since then, she has now been bullying another colleague across the hall and hung an anti-transgender sign outside of her office, knowing that her colleague has a trans child. 

Rep. Cori Bush Right. It’s sad that you know, she has decided that she wants to be this person, seen as someone speaking on behalf of Donald Trump and all of his cronies instead of serving the people and all the people, because that’s what we signed up for. This job is being taken by some of my Republican colleagues, like they’re entitled to it, you know, versus it being an honor to serve the people. And the thing is, we moved our office because St. Louis deserves better. St. Louis deserves for us to be able to focus on St. Louis and what St. Louis needs. We’ve waited too long and it took too much for me to get here in this position, to then be all distracted by trying to make sure that my staff is okay, that they can function, that they are at peace while they’re at work, and that we don’t have to worry about someone walking past our office with guns, you know, and unmasked and all that. We didn’t — we didn’t need that. So we moved our office so that we can work for the people and so we got to call it out. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So let’s actually get into that work, because like you said that is what you were there to do and you’ve hit the ground running. You’ve been making your voice heard from day one, we are grateful for it. On top of advocating for more Coronavirus relief, what are some of your most urgent priorities right now? I know you’re working on environmental justice. You’re working on issues of racial justice. What’s at the top of your list? 

Rep. Cori Bush A couple of things that we’ve been able to do already, we sent a letter to the DOJ, the Department of Justice, regarding the disparate treatment of Black protesters. And we talked about white supremacist insurrection. And that is personal to me just to find out, like, “Hey, who’s paying attention to this and have you done anything about it before now?” So that’s something that we did. We’re urging President Biden — he says he opposes the death penalty. So we’re asking him to move beyond that and into action and to commute the sentences of the forty-nine people that are on federal death row right now. Because we do know Brittany that we’re talking about mostly Black and brown people. And research shows that one in twenty-five are actually innocent. Just completely reforming our criminal legal system, more investments in alternatives to policing, because, you know, I’m all about defunding the police as something that has to happen and then also environmental injustice. One thing that I want to do is also help people who look like us to see that when we talk about our environment, that it is something that we need to be paying attention to because the environment that we live in should not be a toxic and lethal one, which is what we live through with St. Louis. So looking at all of that is important. What’s going on with our air? Why are our Black children ten times as likely to go to the hospital for asthma than white children? Like all of those things. That’s something that we have to have our eyes on as well, because our health and safety have to be priority. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I am paying attention to all of that and especially looking forward to the DOJ’s response to your letter about how it treats Black protesters, because that is essential work. All of what you’re doing is essential work. You also sit on the House Judiciary Committee and in a recent hearing, you talked about your support for reparations for Black Americans. How do you explain the need for reparations to people who are just coming around to this concept? 

Rep. Cori Bush You know, I explain it by saying Black Americans would not be the first ones in this country to receive reparations. And so that is something that is due and not unheard of. And so I know that I’ve heard people say, well, even my Republican colleagues, “Well, I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. So why do I have to pay for it?” Well, you know what? Our ancestors did not ask to be brought to this country. They did not ask to be chained and put into slave ships. And for those that survived the Middle Passage, who were stripped on auction blocks from their family members and put into a place where they lost their culture, lost their families, lost their names, lost their — their language, they didn’t ask either, you know. But somebody had to pay for that and that payment comes now. And I know people may not like it, but some of that payment needs to come in the form of cash and then some of that payment we also should look at putting it in education. When I think about Illinois has a part of Chicago where they’ve already decided, like, “Hey, we’re going to use taxes for marijuana and we’re going to use that for reparations,” like be creative. Let’s get this thing done. We have to make amends. You have to pay for what you messed up and it’s not going away. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah.

Rep. Cori Bush You know, we want to be America the Beautiful.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham If you want to be America the Beautiful then do the right thing.

Rep. Cori Bush Do the right thing. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham It’s as simple as that. So, you know, we’re talking about the ancestors. And in so many ways you are a realization of what so many of them have fought for as you continue on in their stead. I actually want to talk a little bit about your background. You hit the streets during the Ferguson uprising alongside, you know, thousands of our other friends and colleagues and comrades. But you are also a registered nurse and a pastor at the time. You’ve been very clear about your background, that you’re a single mom, you’ve come from a working class background, and you’re a survivor of domestic violence. What made you want to bring all of that life experience and that activism background to the halls of Congress? 

Rep. Cori Bush So I never thought that I would ever run for office. I would say when I was younger that I wouldn’t — I used the word “never.” I would tell my dad that all the time because he’s been in politics for most of my life. But it wasn’t until just being out there on the streets of Ferguson, day in and day out for hours upon hours, watching our friends and our — our now family members watching them brutalized and hurt. And just talking with Mike Brown Jr’s family and just look and just the grief and how he was villainized and then watching our elected officials who were actually paid to represent us in most cases, just wondering like where are they? Because I felt like if they would show up and then tell the police to stop, you know, or show up and call the governor like things would change. But that never did happen. But we saw a lot of photo ops, you know, and a lot of articles about photo ops, and it was just strange to see that and to not see the work, but see the regular everyday people putting our lives on the line and our livelihoods. People lost jobs, people lost family members, you know people were physically hurt, physically assaulted. Some lost their lives. And so I was asked to run for office, Brittany, by an activist who has since been murdered. And in the beginning I said no. But then after being asked again by some local community leaders, I said yes, because I thought about how do we get the heart of the people that have been out here on these streets that continue to come out after assault, after arrest and all of that, all of the surveillance we’ve been under. How do we get that heart? The only way to do it is to run. And if something happens to my children, if my son or my daughter becomes the next hashtag and I could have done something to stop it and I didn’t do what I knew that I could I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, so I ran. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And you ran and you ran and you ran again until victory was yours, what made you decide to just dust yourself off and try again? Because I think a lot of people, a lot of people would have given up. 

Rep. Cori Bush Yeah, it was the mission because I didn’t run for my name or for myself, I ran for the people and for real change. And so the first time when I didn’t win, like three weeks later, I suffered a very violent sexual assault and didn’t think that I would ever run for office. I didn’t — look, I didn’t think I could do anything after that. But the mission thinking — and what I went through in that situation, trying to get justice, I was like, “Look, the only way to get us to get what we need is for somebody to run. So I didn’t complete the mission the first time. And does that mean the mission goes away?” You know, no, the mission didn’t go away. So I ran again, and because I didn’t win that time, but I saw how people were inspired and people — there was so much hope. I just felt like, look, let’s just try it again, because again, the mission is there. And if I stop, what do the people get? When I had Covid it, the people were like, “Oh, we need to get out of the race because you have Covid, you’re too sick, blah, blah, blah.” No, because when Covid is over with and Covid is temporary, what happens to the people after that? You know, so the people deserve better. So we ran. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I so appreciate your heart, and I don’t think there’s a single person on the planet who cannot tell not just how committed you are to the mission, but what your mission is. And you’re certainly a part of a class of politicians who are keeping it a buck in Washington and making sure that the people are always first. Now, we know that that doesn’t come without criticism, though. 

Rep. Cori Bush Yeah. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So is not just the Republicans that we’ve talked about. We also know that there are members of your own party. There are Democrats who have accused you of being too radical, for alienating people by saying things like “defund the Pentagon” or “defund the police.” How do you respond? 

Rep. Cori Bush You know, for me, I just keep the message, the message, because that’s how I got here. Even though some of it made people feel uncomfortable and they may not have understood why I’ve said what I’ve said or believe what I believe. But after they heard it enough and they — and I was able to really share my story, whether they agreed or not, there was a breaking. So I feel the same way about my Democratic colleagues. You know, I’m the representative that was chosen to serve this particular district. And you serve your district, you do what your district needs. But when we talk about defunding the police, you may not understand it the way that I understand it but St. Louis is yet again number one for police killings in the country year after year after year after year. But again, why is St. Louis still number one? And you want me to close my mouth about dealing with police violence and defunding the police? No, I’m not going to do that. And the thing is, I’m coming from a place of lived experience that I’m willing to talk about versus articles and pictures and videos and what somebody told me. But if someone wants to talk to me, Brittany, we’re going to talk and have those conversations. And sometimes people have gotten upset. “Oh, you talked to this person. This is not somebody — we don’t like this person. You sold out because you talked to this person.” Well, let me help you to know something. My job is to talk to people. How else will you change people if you won’t talk to them? Like, I’m not afraid to talk to them. And if you think that me talking to a police chief or talking to one of our — one of my colleagues is me selling out, then that’s why we in the position we are now. No one wants to talk to one because on the bullhorn I was talking to them.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah. I remember. 

Rep. Cori Bush You know. So now I got the power. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s right. So if you got some power, they definitely need to hear you. So you obviously have your critics, but you also have your fans, people like the Saturday Night Live comedian Leslie Jones, she loves you big time. She’s been posting videos of watching you on TV with her commentary. I actually want to take a quick listen:

Rep. Cori Bush That’s a bunch of bull crap again. 

Leslie Jones Oh, my God, who is this woman and why is she not the speaker of the floor? Seriously, I love her. She is the keep-it-real queen. This is what keep it real would look like if it was a person. Sister, I don’t care what we got to do, me and you are going to be friends. I’ve never been more serious in my life. I think that we are already friends. So hit me up. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So I have to ask you, are y’all home girls yet? 

Rep. Cori Bush Yes. That’s my homie, we text, we text each other, yes.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  I love that. That’s how we need to support each other. And lastly, the role that you’re playing as an unapologetic agitator and power builder, I’m really hoping that it will affect Congress in a positive way. So as you look to the future, what do you think will be possible for Congress in five, 10, even 20 years from now with this kind of forward looking agitation? 

Rep. Cori Bush Absolutely. I think that people will start to think about who they are and bring that even more to the forefront in Congress. I remember when I called former President Donald Trump the White Supremacist in Chief, and I had so many people reach out to me and they were, like “You said what I’ve been thinking for all of this time, but I just didn’t know how to like — or I didn’t want — I wasn’t sure if I could, like all of that. Also looking forward to those who are saying, “Look, if Cori can do it, I can do it.” I have the heart to just be for the people and not a heart for fame and all of that. So I’m going to run too, I’m going to run in my district, you know. So that’s what I’m looking forward to, is more of us, more Ayanna Pressleys, more Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, more Rashida Tlaibs, more Ilhan Omars, more Jamaal Bowmans. I’m looking for more of us to come in and do this work because it is so much work to do. People criticize us for like why didn’t you do this? You did this. Why do you do that? We’ve been here six and a half, seven weeks. You know, we can only do so much, but if you pay attention to who you’re voting for or not voting for, that would help us too. It’s not just about Congress, your state legislature, because if your state legislature could get right Congress will be different too. All of that plays a part, so that’s what I’m looking for, people paying attention either moving into this role or paying attention to what’s happening locally and helping to push legislation on local levels.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham  Well as your constituent I am so grateful that you ran and ran and ran again. And I’m grateful for the way that you’re representing us. Thank you so much, Congresswoman. 

Rep. Cori Bush Yo, you too sis. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Cori Bush is the US representative for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, my congresswoman. I’m from The Lou and I’m proud. 

Remember a few weeks ago when Ayanna Pressley reminded us that the squad is big and growing? Well Cori Bush is absolutely a part of that growth, and her excitement to see more people enter the arena of elected office is something I deeply share. We need as many Coris and Ayanas and Rashidas and Jamaals as we can possibly have, and we need them everywhere. I often say that we build teams, not saviors. This isn’t just about getting the work done. It’s about making sure that none of it ever falls to just a few people. Delegation is self care too, and when more people share the load, we can go further, faster and get a lot more done. So pay close attention to the 2022 races y’all and consider volunteering or even running for office yourself. Like the congresswoman said, there is still a lot of work to do and your part in it matters. The oppressive powers that be would rather you think of your contribution as too small to make a difference. I’m here to tell you we need you. 

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. 


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Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. Thanks for doing. And to all of our loved ones in the Asian-American Pacific Islander community, we see you, we stand with you and our anger will turn into action. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.