January 20, 2022

Cori Bush Calls Out White Supremacy, Lays out Vision for the Future of Black Voters

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Voter Suppression and Continuing Threats to Democracy, Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01) remarked on the dangers of leaving Black voter suppression unaddressed and the ways in which silencing voters of color poses an existential threat to our democracy. 

The hearing’s purpose was to examine racial discrimination in the redistricting process, as well as changes to methods of election or election administration, and their negative impact on minority voters’ ability to elect representatives of their choice at the federal, state, and local level.

The Congresswoman directed her questions to Wade Henderson, Interim President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR), and Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). 

To watch the Congresswoman’s full exchange, click here.

A full transcript of her questioning and exchange with the witness is available below.

Congresswoman Cori: St. Louis and I thank you, Chairman Cohen, for convening this important hearing. 

We are all in the midst of a moral crisis, and we know that last night, the nation watched as the United States Senate failed to advance legislation that would protect our fundamental and constitutional right to vote. And for what?

Because of fear. White Fear. 

Because of power. White power. 

Fear that if and when we empower Black people, that will somehow disempower white people. 

That if we empower Brown people, the brown community, that will somehow disempower white people. 

White people, especially white wealthy people, have long exercised control over our democracy because the mere idea of Black folks possessing even an ounce of political power is viewed as a threat to the status quo. So to those apathetic white folks who have yet to welcome love and welcome anti-racism into your hearts, my question for you is this: what are you afraid of? 

Are you afraid that we will end redlining? Are you afraid that we will deliver universal healthcare? Are you afraid that we will end police violence? That we will end the racial and gender wealth gaps? That we will provide safe housing for every single member of our unhoused community? That we will end our forever wars? Are you afraid that we will end mass criminalization? Are you afraid that we will dismantle the comfy white supremacy that many benefit from?

Because that’s the world I want to live in, and that’s the world we should ALL want to live in. 

W.E.B Du Bois once wrote: “If there was one thing South Carolina feared more than bad Negro government. It was good Negro government.” And perhaps this here is the fear – fear that we will build the kind of political power that is just, that is equitable, and that will lead to transformative policy change. 

Mr. Henderson, can you please explain how current voting rights challenges, if left unaddressed, are not only a danger to the participation of Black communities, but also a danger to the overall health of our democracy?

Wade Henderson: Thank you, Congresswoman Bush, for your question, and you are absolutely right. African American voters, historically, have been the canary in the mine. Their treatment as a group has helped establish the standard by which we evaluate voting rights on behalf of all of our citizens. Obviously a recognition that other groups have experienced discrimination is important. I think Tom Saenz and others have established the effect of discrimination on Latino voters. We’ve seen the same with Asisan American and Native American voters. And subgroups like individuals with disabilities, and older Americans, often face challenges. 

However, the use of racial considerations in trying to decide who is entitled to vote has created a pernicious system that indeed, as now being assembled, does reflect what I think is a Jim Crow 2.0. I know Mr. Nobile disagrees with that characterization, but I think there is ample justification for the use of that term, and it is not hyperbolic. 

On my own sense, democracy is very much in peril right now. I think we have seen that in very significant ways. And I think the failure to enhance protections for all voters, as has been noted previously, will undercut the power of American democracy to survive the challenges we face today.   

Congresswoman Cori: Thank you so much, Mr. Henderson, and thank you for all of your work. And yes, this here Black woman would characterize it as a Jim Crow 2.0.  

Ms. Ifill, the Legal Defense Fund has done significant work to end prison-based gerrymandering which counts those who are incarcerated as residents of districts where they are incarcerated, and not in districts where they are actually from, all the while denying many of these community members a voice and a vote. This, in turn, distorts the census count and voting districts. What harms does prison gerrymandering pose to Black voters?

Sherrilyn Ifill: Thank you so much Congresswoman Bush, this is the place where voting discrimination intertwines with the longstanding discrimination in our criminal justice system that results in Black and Latino Americans being disproportionately represented in prisons across the country. Prisons are often located in rural, majority white areas. They very often are places where employment opportunities exist for correctional officers — particularly for white correctional officers and when those who are incarcerated — disproportionately Black and Brown — are counted as part of those rural districts where they are not residents then that means that all of the collateral consequences of counting them there flow as well, and that includes funding, plans around development and business and jobs and so on and so forth. When in fact they should be counted in their home communities because most people who are in prison will go home. We know that when we count in census and we do our districting it lasts for 10 years. But most people will be home before then, and it essentially means that resources that should be allocated to communities of color in places like where I’m sitting right now, Baltimore City, are instead allocated to places that are rural and that are majority white. 

Congresswoman Cori: Yes, thank you so much.

We can no longer appeal to the moral conscience of white moderates, as Dr. King warned. We now know that our fight is an existential one. It demands that we ask ourselves fundamental questions about what we stand for as a country - do we stand for white supremacy or anti-racism? Do we stand for a politics of fear or a politics of opportunity? That is what is at stake.

Thank you so much and I yield back. 


Congresswoman Cori Bush sits on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, serves as the Progressive Caucus Deputy Whip, and proudly represents St. Louis as a politivist in the halls of the United States Congress.