‘It was just unconscionable’: Cori Bush on her fight to extend the eviction moratorium

w ^hen Cori Bush decided to camp out on the steps of the US Capitol for four days to protest against the end of the eviction moratorium, people insinuated her behavior was unbecoming of a congresswoman.

“Shameless and embarrassing,” was what Matt Walsh, 这 self-described “theocratic fascist” radio host called it. Ben Shapiro called the protest “stupid,” meanwhile, Bush’s local paper, the St Louis Post Dispatch, wrote that her “righteous-sounding aspirations” did not “seem to take into account political reality.”

The Democratic freshman’s behavior was certainly unconventional. Donning sweats, a T-shirt and a bright orange sleeping bag, she camped out in heat and rain with little food to campaign against ending the moratorium, which had temporarily put measures in place to prevent people from being evicted during the pandemic.

During a phone interview, Bush admits to feeling out of sorts during the four-day protest. “It was taxing on my body and my mind,“ 她说, speaking of the difficult weather conditions and sleeping on a camping chair while handling never-ending requests from the media. “I was physically just exhausted.” Still, Bush pushed on, eating junk food in the rain with no place to dry off, taking interview after interview wrapped in a soggy sleeping bag.

Her resolve was partly centered in disbelief. Bush, who has experienced homeless herself – she at times slept in her car with her two children before she was elected to office – couldn’t fathom that as the end of the moratorium approached, Congress was about to leave for a long summer recess, 离开 as many as 11 million people at risk of homelessness or being pushed into communal facilities as the Delta variant ravages the US.

Bush’s personal history sometimes made her protest harder, as she was reminded of the difficult times she’d been through while camping out. “It was triggering and traumatizing,“ 她说. “It just reminded me of where I come from. That part, it was rough. I just remembered being back in that place where all you can do is to try to get warm and stay warm.”

But it also steadied her resolve. “I feel like the urgency that needed to be there in that moment was not there. Up to 11 million people could have been forced out of their home. It was just unconscionable for me,“ 她说.

Some believed Bush’s tactics to be futile, considering the leadership of the Democratic party seemed to agree with extending the moratorium in principle, but felt they did not have the authority or the legal backing to do so. President Joe Biden – who also supposedly wanted to extend the eviction moratorium – nonetheless said his hands were tied. Scholars had told him a renewed moratorium was “not likely to pass constitutional muster,” 他说, acknowledging a legal quandary, after the supreme court ruling had blocked an extension of the initial moratorium. Nancy Pelosi lobbied the president without success.

Then on Tuesday, Biden announced the moratorium would be extended through 3 October in the states experiencing a “substantial” spread of the coronavirus – covering about 80% of American states and 90% of the US population. Biden acknowledged the extension would probably be challenged in court, but argued that protecting people in the meantime was essential.

“At a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we’re getting that $45bn out to people who are in fact behind in the rent and don’t have the money,” Biden said.

Bush acknowledges her approach was unconventional – which is why she believes it worked.

“If following the exact same road and doing the exact same things that Congress has done for so long – if those things worked, we would not have had this situation on Friday. So we needed to do something different,” she said over the phone.

Bush was tapping into a skill set she had honed extensively over the past few years: activism. After the police killing of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown in 2014, Bush spent 400 days on the streets campaigning.

That her background separates her from most politicians is something Bush uses to her advantage, although opponents still use it to dismiss her. When she began her second campaign against the Democratic incumbent, William Lacy Clay Jr, who had held the office for 30 years before Bush ousted him, he sent out a mailer trying to smear Bush for her patchy employment history and eviction notices.

When I ask her about the mailer, she doesn’t mince her words. “How do we as lawmakers – who signed up to be the representative of a district, full of people – how do we then turn around and belittle or denigrate the very people we’re supposed to be working for?.”

Choosing this path was to his detriment. Bush says people turned up at her office after that, outraged at the implication that her background made her unqualified to represent them. “People were running into our office… saying that, if he felt like that made me a bad person for being in that position, that meant [they were bad people].”

I ask her what she believes that represents. “We have a lot of work to do,“ 她说. “Until we have more people seated in Congress who understand some of the struggles and burdens that everyday people in our communities face. 直到 [政治家] are able to really understand, empathize and speak … about all of the nuances to poverty,“ 她说.

然后, she repeats, exasperated. “We have a lot of work to do.”