Rep. Cori Bush on supporting Black Lives Matter: ‘People were calling us terrorists. … We wanted to stop Black death at the hands of police’

Rep. Cori Bush, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist elected to Congress in November, remembers the hate-filled stares and the mental and physical abuse she and others endured from police officers while protesting in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014 and 2015. Today the freshman congresswoman uses the experiences and passion she had protesting the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. then to fight for Black lives in Congress now. “People were calling us terrorists for saying Black lives matter,” Bush, who is from St. Louis, told Yahoo News in a video interview this month. “No. We wanted to stop Black death at the hands of police.”

Video transcript

REP CORI BUSH: People were calling us terrorists saying Black Lives Matter. People were telling us, Oh get a job. You don't, you know, you don't have a job. You all are just trying to create noise basically. You just want to have something to complain about, is something that we heard a lot of. When all we wanted was to stop Black Death at the hands of police.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: I'm Marquise Francis, senior national reporter for Yahoo News, and I'm joined by Representative Cori Bush, the first black Congresswoman in Missouri's state history. Good afternoon, Congresswoman. And how are you feeling? Happy Black History Month.

REP CORI BUSH: Thank you, happy Black History Month.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: When I think about your evolution, pretty much along with it is the evolution of Black Lives Matter. And I know early on going back to 2014, you were out in the streets, and you were protesting. Can you just talk about the inception of Black Lives Matter and what it meant for you to be involved with it?

REP CORI BUSH: The first day that I went to a protest after the death of Michael Brown Jr in Ferguson, I didn't know, just like everybody else out there, we didn't know that we were working to build a movement. We weren't even trying to do it. We were out there to see justice happen and to show our anger and frustration at a system that would allow for this 18-year-old baby to die the way that he did and then to be villainized the way that he was being villainized in the media. And that happened in our community. This baby laid on the-- and I'm calling him a baby because he was 18. My children are older than that, and I still call them baby. He laid on the ground for 4 and 1/2 hours in the hot, St Louis sun in front of his community with people all around watching him. I felt like if I kept going back I will see justice. You know, like justice will happen as I'm going back, but I didn't get it today so let me go back tomorrow. I saw someone hurt today, so let me go back tomorrow to make sure that I can help somebody else on top of being out there for my job during the day.

But I remember one day I'm standing out on the street, and, you know, we're protesting and someone drove up in a vehicle and handed me a poster out of their car. It is said Black Lives Matter on it. They just pulled up and was just like, Here. And I'm like, OK, this is cool. Oh, Black Lives Matter. Oh, that's nice. I believe that. And I started holding it up in the air. And then we started seeing t-shirts. And then we started seeing the hashtag on social media. And for us that's how it happened. Now it's almost like a celebrity thing to be an activist. Back then, we weren't celebrities. Back then, it was a stain on you. We lost jobs. People lost their livelihood, lost their homes. So much happened to us out there wasn't about getting a name or a cent or fame or a title.

- Hands up. Don't shoot. Hands up. Don't shoot. Hands up. Don't shoot.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: Can you talk about that a little bit because, you know, Black Lives Matter was definitely a stain when it first started, right? A lot of white people have thought on social media were like, Black Lives Matter? All Lives Matter. That was their-- their first retort without understanding it. But flash forward to today after last summer, corporations, as you mentioned, all of a sudden, they're all tweeting, hashtagging, putting it on the side of their buildings.

And then, a couple of days ago, Black Lives Matter was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. So it was this just this wild evolution. And like I said at the top of this, you were sworn in, and now you're the first black Congresswoman from the state of Missouri, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist. Talk about that evolution and how that feels and when things that come to mind when you think about that.

REP CORI BUSH: The day that I step foot out there on the ground at that protest that I just spoke of, I didn't I had no clue that I would ever go into politics. I had said earlier in life that I would never go into politics. I had no desire. You know, when I was asked by an activist who has been murdered-- when he asked me to run for office initially I said, no. But then when I thought about it, how do we get the heart of the people that were out there on the ground more than 400 days, rain, sleet, hail, snow, hell no we won't go. Like, how do we get that heart? After they were beat up, beat unconscious, were arrested, and they had made it back out there to the street within a matter of days, sometimes hours? How do we get that heart, that love of the community into federal office? The only way to do it is to run.

On January the 6th, as we sat in our office when the-- this US Capitol-- when those doors were breached-- when that attempted coup-- that White supremacists attempted coup happened outside, my team and I were locked down in our office. My heart aches for my colleagues who felt like they were about to die. That's a very, very real thing. But me personally, I never felt like I was about to die or that I could die in this situation. What I felt like was, I'm ready, like this is what we've been doing out there on the ground. All of those days, you know how many times we were ambushed out of bushes, from behind buildings? And all of a sudden, we're being ambushed, whether it was by the police or some white supremacists. Where gunshots-- where people's cars and stuff were hit with bullets from white supremacists up on top of a hill. I'll never forget those days. I'll never forget what was actually happening to us that nobody knows about unless you were actually out there. Those things weren't actually reported. And so when that was happening, I'm thinking to myself, I'm ready. I'm ready. It was like, wear my boots and my bandana. Like, I tell you what, you hit these doors, we'll do our best to keep you out. But if you hit these doors and you breach these doors like I'm banging until the end. That was my thought process. Like you not just taking me out. I'm banging to the end because you took me right back to Ferguson and to the streets.

- They can try to shoot us down, but we're going to stand our ground. But we're going stand our ground.

MARQUISE FRANCIS: You know and obviously a lot of people in office who are with you, who agree with you, but there's also people who disagree with you. So what does that future look like as someone who didn't necessarily think that they were meant for politics. Now, you're in this position.

REP CORI BUSH: You know, it looks like every single waking minute that this is on my mind. It's on my mind, it's on all of my team members minds. Like, we are always thinking about how can we make, especially the lives of the people of Saint Louis and around this country-- that every single moment. And in order to do that, we have to look at it through a racial lens. We can't look at things as if there is no racism, that there is equity, equality in the land because we know it's not true.

Even though I understand that it is not on me or the black community or the brown community to dismantle white supremacy that our White community, that's their work. But because we are here, we're going to fight it tooth and nail and I'm not backing down. This Insurrection and all of this could have happened before I ever made it to Congress, but it didn't. It happened three days after I was sworn in. So it's our job. It's our job to do the work.

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