Cori Bush, a Democratic congressional candidate for Missouri’s first district, was in a negative place in her life — struggling to pay bills with her minimum-wage job, putting in 40-50 hour weeks and still worrying when her next meal would come — when she realized she had to do something for her community.
“All of those things really affected me. But I started to realize this is not just happening to me. So how can I be selfish and work for myself without thinking about others?” Cori Bush said at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit on Thursday evening. “It was like, I can’t just work on what’s happening in my house. What about someone else’s?”
This revelation crystallized further when protests emerged in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer. “I couldn’t turn my back,” Cori Bush told Sophia Bush, the actress and activist, at the summit. “I had to stay with my people.”
Her passion for and intimate knowledge with the problems facing her community eventually led Cori Bush to a 2018 run for a congressional seat — a race that was documented in Netflix’s “Knock Down the House.” Though Bush lost in the Democratic primary to incumbent Rep. William Lacy Clay, she is back on the campaign trail once more.
“There is this disconnect between government and the people being governed,” Sophia Bush, who hosts the “Work in Progress” podcast, said. “How have the lessons from your community highlighted to you what government is getting wrong for us?”
“I think when you’ve been away, even if you started out there in a place where you had certain struggles,” Bush said, “if you don’t stay connected with the people, if you don’t continue to engage the people and talk with the people, then you … lose all the little pieces about the issue [that matter].”
Bush then pointed to how being a survivor of sexual assault gave her a deeper understanding of the ways in which the system could be changed and improved.
“They tell you to go to the hospital and do the rape kit and … go to court, get the order protection on all of those pieces. But what they don’t tell you is what happens when you get there and they say, ‘You can’t get that order of protection,’ or when you get there and they say, ‘Oh, well, your kit won’t be looked at for six months.'”
“If nobody is speaking to it, somebody that has not experienced it can’t speak to it, necessarily, the same way that somebody who just experienced it can,” she continued, “because I know every little piece about how it works, and every little thing that stopped me. And so that’s why we have to go forward.”
Later in their conversation, the candidate and actress highlighted the inequities and outright discrimination faced by women of color who run for office.
“One thing that I did not anticipate [during the 2018 run] was having a whole conversation about my hips. People wanted to say I was not qualified for the seat because my hips are too big,” Cori Bush said, pointing to how people would tell her that she couldn’t wear a skirt or light-colored pants. “They spoke about how dark my skin is. I can’t be in the picture because my skin is too dark. My braids make me unprofessional. These are all the things that I had to deal with.”
When it comes to political donations, Cori Bush also noted how she saw donors would frequently give male candidates thousands of dollars while female candidates would get piecemeal $25 or $50 donations. “It’s not that we can’t do the job. It’s not that we’re the less qualified because, as a matter of fact, … we work a full-time job [running for office] on top of working a full-time job, go home and take care of the kids,” Cori Bush send, referring to second-shift work that women are frequently expected to perform at home.
“We’re doing all of it, on top of trying to live ourselves,” Cori Bush said. “And oftentimes the man just has to be the candidate.”
Sophia Bush also pointed to how candidates like Cori still couldn’t get verified by Twitter, while people like Jacob Wohl, a conspiracy theorist and conservative operative whom she said has spread numerous false smear campaigns, got a blue check. (Earlier this year, Twitter suspended Wohl after he made multiple fake accounts in attempt to manipulate the 2020 election.) But for Cori Bush, the Twitter verification is emblematic of how the media amplifies certain candidates over others.
“We have to not only expose it, but then talk about it and demand that they give us that voice,” the candidate said. “I know sometimes we want to make our own table and that’s great. The problem with always having our own table is that there is a table over there with a whole lot of power that we miss, and so we need to be at that table and we need to make our own as well.”
The Power Women Summit, hosted by TheWrap, takes place from Oct. 24-25 in Santa Monica’s Fairmont Miramar Hotel. Other featured speakers include Eva Longoria, Nicole Richie, Gigi Gorgeous, Rachel Zoe, Gina Torres, and Jenna Dewan, as well as leading executives from Viacom, AMC, Sony, Warner Bros, ICM Partners, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The event brings together 1,500 of the most influential women from the entertainment, media, and technology industries for two days of empowering conversations, networking, and mentorship.