Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-professed Democratic socialist and advocate of universal healthcare and free higher education for all, defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in her New York City Democratic congressional primary last month. Her remarkable upset win made national headlines and hinted at a possible shift in the Democratic Party toward more progressive candidates.
Now, she is on the campaign trail far from New York, hoping to aid other candidates in mirroring her primary success. On Saturday, July 21, Ocasio-Cortez came to St. Louis to stump for Florissant resident and congressional candidate Cori Bush, who is running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO) in the Democratic primary on August 7. DeMarco K. Davidson and Joshua Shipp also are on the ballot.
“What I’m asking for you to do is to support my sister Cori Bush,” Ocasio-Cortez told the hundreds who came to the Ready Room to support Bush’s congressional run. “Support her because she supports improved and expanded Medicare for all. Support her, because she believes in tuition free college. Support her because she believes in criminal justice reform and ending the war on drugs. Support her because she believes in a green New Deal to save our climate and our planet for our future.”
She and Ocasio-Cortez are two of a kind. They are both part of the Brand New Congress/Justice Democrats group. Both are also political outsiders who hope to reshape the face of their party. Bush previously ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016, garnering 13 percent of the Democratic primary vote.
Nancy Pelosi, house minority leader, has repeatedly characterized the Ocasio-Cortez win in the Bronx as an anomaly, saying, “They made a choice in one district,” and that her brand of grassroots politics would not be able to thrive outside of a place like New York’s 14th District.
“It is so important what we did,’” said Ocasio-Cortez. “We just came off of this win in New York, but people were trying to say, ‘It’s just one place.’ But we know that the movement for working people, the movement for economic, social and racial justice knows no zip code, and we’re going to take that fight everywhere. We’re not just going to take that where it’s safe.”
Bush, a nurse, pastor and activist from St. Louis, is setting out to prove Pelosi wrong on August 7. She is fighting to defeat Clay, who has never lost an election. He follows in the footsteps of his father, William “Bill” Clay, who held his seat from 1969 until Lacy succeeded him in 2001.
In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Clay seemed unconcerned about an electoral upset like Crowley experienced.
“I campaign vigorously, and I bring my list of accomplishments, achievements, my level of service to this community,” Clay said. “And then [I] share that with the voters going into an election. And then, they make the call.”
Some have questioned Bush’s decision to run in a district that is already solidly blue. Bush, however, believes that as a nurse, a protestor both in Ferguson and during the Jason Stockley verdict unrest, and a community member, she will be able to bring something to the table that Clay does not have.
“Today, she is fighting for a seat that many people would say, ‘Her opponent, he’s okay, he’s just okay,’” Adam Kustra of Mobilize Missouri said during Saturday’s rally. “But you know what? Just okay is not okay anymore.”
The speakers at the rally came from all walks of life. LGBT activist Stephen Houldsworth and drag queen Maxi Glamour kicked off the festivities, and were followed by disability activists, members of the Hispanic Federation of St. Louis, Asian-American political activists, union organizers, and prominent Ferguson protest movement leaders.
What both Ocasio-Cortez and Bush are banking on is their grassroots appeal, and their ability to advocate for others, as neither of them has previously held political office. But state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. (D-St. Louis) said at the rally that a lack of experience in office doesn’t necessarily mean candidates like Bush lack experience representing and advocating for others.
“When you fight in the streets each and every day for the people, when you fight for criminal justice reform, when you fight for higher education and free education, when you fight for Medicare for all, when you fight for black lives, when you fight for LGBTQ lives, when you fight for our immigrant population, when you fight — that’s enough representing for me!” said Franks.
Franks has already done what Bush hopes to do by expanding his activism from the protest community into elected office.
On April 23, Bush’s car was hit by a driver who ran a red light, and she suffered severe back and neck injuries. Since then, she been able to do very little but stay in bed. Her life has been “turned upside down,” she said, because she cannot work as a nurse while injured.
She had to be carried into her son’s high school graduation ceremony. Some people probably thought she should pull her name out of the election, Bush told The St. Louis American in a recent interview.
“I’m a one-income household,” Bush told the American. “I couldn’t pay my rent. I couldn’t pay my bills. I have two children to take care of. And I have health insurance that still was costing a lot of money. I was still able to see the things that our community goes through. That’s why I have to go.”
Saturday was a long day of campaigning with Ocasio-Cortez, and Bush was visibly in pain at some points. However, she knows her pain is temporary, she said but the pain of her community is not.
“I’m standing here, in pain,” Bush said at the rally. “I’m standing here with a jacked-up neck and a jacked-up back and a jacked-up pelvis, but I’m standing here. They haven’t been able to push me back or shut me up or sit me down yet. Because you’re worth it. We won’t back down.”
Oppressed Larry O’Toole
St. Louis Deputy Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole - who served as interim chief during a national search to replace Sam Dotson – has filed a racial discrimination suit for his being passed over for top cop in favor of John Hayden. This finally answers an enduring mystery of city government – namely, that Charles Bryson remains director of the city’s Civil Rights Enforcement Agency.
Then-Mayor Francis G. Slay dumped Bryson there after briefly elevating him to director of Public Safety so a black man would be seen on TV demoting the city’s first black fire chief, Sherman George. George was resisting making promotions from a list based on a test that he opposed and that heavily favored white firefighters in test scores. At the time, Slay’s chief of staff Jeff Rainford was still talking to The American, which would not last long, and he told the paper that the white firefighters who took the test and did well had rights, too. Dumping Bryson in Civil Rights Enforcement after he whacked Chief George always seemed like a racist joke, but after a series of white police officials have sued the city for racial discrimination, it’s clear what Bryson is supposed to be doing: enforcing the civil rights of white people.
In other news, O’Toole also is suing the city and all of its residents over possession of the night, claiming that he owns the night.