"The Forerunner" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
St. Louis congresswoman Cori Bush believes she was sent to Washington in 2020 to disrupt a political order that had long ago stopped working for people like herself. Before she became the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress this nurse, ordained pastor, and community organizer had once lived out of a car and raised two children as a single mother while working for minimum wage.
Bush writes about how she was readied for her current position by examining her life of countless setbacks, self-inflicted hurts, poor decisions, and being Black in a sharply divided America. She learned to live on food stamps and in temporary housing because of an uninsured medical condition, and was sexually violated three times by men she trusted.
The author had never pictured herself as a community organizer. Then, after she had just returned home from a date on a Saturday night in 2014 and was scrolling through Facebook, she saw a photo of Michael Brown lying in the street in front of Canfield Green Apartments in Ferguson. This was only minutes from her apartment so she hurriedly made her way to the scene of the shooting where she put her background in nursing and pastoral care to work on the front lines.
She cleaned and dressed the wounds of injured protesters and prayed with members of the community. As the demonstrations continued for months and months, her leadership skills surfaced and people noticed. Cori Bush soon became a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement and many began to encourage her to run for political office.
As a daughter of a former mayor of Northwoods in St. Louis County, Bush knew about the clout politicians muster, but she had also observed the challenges her father had faced and had vowed a political career was not for her. But the jolt of Michael Brown’s death and of seeing friends and neighbors repeatedly hurt during the Ferguson crisis, made her think “I can do more, I need to do more.” Kelli Bush, her sister, said seeing the pain people suffered as a result of the confrontations between demonstrators and police became “Cori’s breaking point” in her decision to run for office.
She also credits her determination to make a difference to growing up in the church. In Bible study at the First Freewill Baptist Church, she came across “the figure of the forerunner-- the person who blazes a clear path where there was none before.” A forerunner endures hardships and then strives to improve outcomes for others, she explains. She points to John the Baptist as an example of a forerunner.
First, she ran to unseat Senator Roy Blunt in 2016 and failed. Two years later she challenged 20-year incumbent Lacey Clay and failed again, by a narrow margin. When the murder of George Floyd happened in 2020—at the hands of another police officer—Bush stepped up to run in her home district again and this time she beat Lacey Clay.
Her congressional term began with the January 6th attack on the Capitol. While violent protests were new to most of the members of congress, the chaos was only a poignant reminder of the violence she had witnessed in Ferguson.
Congresswoman Bush faces reelection this fall. She has chronicled these difficult times of her life because “People need to see that authenticity and know that people they are sending to Congress can relate to their pain and struggles.” She has testified several times in Congress and has had conversations with President Biden to remind those who have never been homeless or without health insurance or victims of domestic and sexual violence what that is like.
This autobiography describes many appalling and brutal incidents suffered by Cori Bush—some are difficult to read about. This memoir gives a real account of living amidst the vitriol in our nation between races and political parties. On the positive side, the congresswoman's memoir conveys hope for the power and potential of a democracy functioning with people from all walks of life in significant political positions.
I found "The Forerunner" to be an enlightening commentary on the status of our country and an inside look at the functioning of the U.S. Congress.
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