>> A trailblazing congresswoman on how she overcame trauma this week on "Firing Line."
>> We're standing up for Black lives, and we'll be standing up Black lives.
We're out here in Jeff City, Missouri, right now at our state's Capitol, protesting.
>> It was activism and her involvement in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri... >> No justice!
>> No peace!
>> ...that inspired Cori Bush to run for office.
>> Change has come to this district.
>> After she was elected in 2020, the first Black woman to represent Missouri, Democrat Cori Bush joined the group of young progressive politicians known as the Squad.
>> Our bodies!
>> Our choice!
>> Getting arrested outside of the Supreme Court, and sleeping on the U.S. Capitol steps to protest evictions.
Now, she is opening up about the painful details of her traumatic past: sexual assaults, domestic abuse, and losing her home as a young mother.
>> Even if you have a traumatic past, even if you've had struggles, even if you've had hardships, you can still do great things.
>> With the midterm elections just a month away and the progressive policy agenda at stake, what does Cori Bush say now?
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> Representative Cori Bush, welcome to "Firing Line."
>> Thank you.
>> You are representing the first congressional district of Missouri in your first term in Congress.
>> You were the first Black congresswoman to be elected from your state.
>> You are an ordained pastor.
>> You are a registered nurse.
And you are the first Black Lives Matter organizer to be elected to the United States Congress.
>> Yes, all of that.
>> You have also written your first memoir -- "The Forerunner: A Story of Pain and Perseverance in America."
I was deeply moved by your book.
And I think everyone who decides to form an opinion about Cori Bush needs to do so after reading this book and understanding your experiences.
>> Why did you decide to do this?
>> You know, once I shared my -- I started sharing my story just like in church groups or community events.
And just years ago, people would come up to me and say, "Thank you for sharing."
Like, "That helped me."
And I started to see just by sharing my story that other people would be helped.
It was like, this is what people need to know, that even if you have a traumatic past, even if you've had struggles, even if you've had hardships, that you can still do great things, that those things shouldn't stop you or hold you back.
And society can't dictate that.
>> You talk about hardships.
I mean, the hardships include domestic violence.
>> Being unhoused.
And you write about these really honestly and sort of bearing that vulnerability.
You were first raped on a church trip just after you graduated from high school.
And you were also raped much later at the age of 40 after your first run for Senate.
>> And you write about the comparison of these two experiences in your book.
You say... >> For 20 years, I believed it was my fault, that, well, maybe if your shorts weren't so short that he would not have assumed that that's what you wanted.
Maybe if you, you know, if your shirt wasn't so short, if you didn't walk the way that you were walking, maybe if you, you know, if you spoke to him differently, you didn't laugh at his jokes.
And so I blamed myself for that.
And so when it happened at 40, when I felt like, "hey, I'm, you know, like, that things are different in my life now, I have my head on, you know, much straighter, you know, like, I love myself," you know, all of those things, because I didn't love myself the same back then.
So I'm like, "I love myself now."
>> You were 17.
And I was so -- It knocked me down that, like, what did I do this time?
>> What message, by sharing these stories and these experiences, do you want to send to others who are struggling with sexual assault?
First of all, it's not your fault.
It's not your fault.
It's never going to be your fault.
Put the ownership of the accountability on the other person.
>> Well, you're in Washington now, and there are members of both sides of the aisle, women, who have been abused, who have been raped, who have experienced sexual assaults, who have come forward, like you, with their stories, at a national level.
And I'm wondering what you feel could be done in Washington to ensure justice for victims like you.
>> You know, Washington is a tough one because getting politicians to really see and speak to sexual assault, to speak to the possibility that someone they know to be a perpetrator, that those times when they made lewd jokes, inappropriate jokes or touches to someone, that those things may be a problem.
I think that that is the issue, when we see that, you know, we have a former president who had allegations against him, multiple allegations, that he became the president of the United States.
We have -- I had someone running against me in my last primary who had multiple allegations of sexual assault.
And that person was allowed to run, and was also endorsed by my predecessor.
>> Are you saying that you're not at all optimistic that something can be done at the federal level?
>> No, I'm optimistic that it can be done, but we are in a place where we have to keep saying, "Believe her, believe her."
Like, "We need you to believe."
Things can be done and there are bills in place that just have not passed both houses.
And getting the focus is kind of -- is really difficult.
So that's part of the reason why I made sure to include that in this book.
>> So what you're saying is the way to get it done in Washington is for you, for people to tell their stories.
>> People telling their stories, because also people telling their stories, there comes pressure from their constituents to then like, "Hey, I have a story too, Congressmember, would you do something about it?
You're my representative."
>> This week marks 100 days since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in the Dobbs decision.
You were first raped at the age of 17, and you chose to terminate that pregnancy.
What was June 24th like for you?
>> It was... June 24th was a rough day.
So, coincidentally, I was at the same abortion clinic, taking a tour and was in the room.
We were meeting with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, talking about what would happen in Missouri and how we could get resources to people should that decision come down.
And while we were sitting there, the decision was announced.
>> SCOTUS overturns... >> And I couldn't hold back the tears because I know what having the option to make that decision on my own, what that did for me, how it saved me.
And to have that snatched from so many... As the tears were falling, I was thinking about those that would not be able to access services.
Within just a few hours, Missouri became the first state to enact that trigger ban law.
And so then we were letting people know, if you have an appointment tomorrow, we need you to go to Illinois.
If you have an appointment tomorrow, we need you to go get on a waiting list because you can't come here.
Just that quick.
Someone who had been waiting for two weeks, someone who had toiled over that decision, it was snatched from them.
>> One of the things that really struck me in the part of your book where you talk about the experience you had with abortion is how nuanced your view is.
Because this is a complicated topic.
And you talk about how the fact that it's complicated showed up in your own life.
>> You became pregnant two years later when you were 19 and you chose to have an abortion.
You went to an abortion clinic.
At this time you were enrolled in university.
And you got to the clinic and had second thoughts.
>> Walk me through what happened.
>> So, I was thinking back to the first abortion.
"Okay, you've done this before.
You know the rooms.
You know what it looks like.
You know what it feels like in this place.
You know what to expect."
So I thought I was ready.
And I went in.
I was helped up onto the table by the nurse.
And I lay there and I started to think, well, one, I didn't tell the father that that was about to happen.
And I just -- I just felt like I needed more time.
So I said, "No, you know what?
I'm not ready."
And the nurse just, you know, wouldn't listen to me.
And I said, "No, I'm not ready."
And as I'm saying, "no," they continued to pull the instruments and, you know, get everything ready.
And it was just like, "No, calm down," you know, "No, you're going to be okay."
>> So you were telling them that you didn't want to move forward?
>> And they were ignoring it.
>> Oh, they absolutely ignored me, even to the point of, you know, like, "Calm down," as if I was the problem.
And so I didn't really know -- Like, I didn't understand at that point where, like, where I had a voice, like who listens to me.
And so I remember laying there looking to see if there was someone else in the room that would listen to me.
And they ended up putting -- During this time, they put the instrument inside me and started the instrument.
>> [ Gasps ] >> So it was -- And I'm saying "No."
But it was too late because you couldn't stop once it's started.
>> Why do you think they didn't listen to you?
>> The same as other times where I haven't been listened to by a provider or medical staff.
You know, I was a young Black woman.
I felt like it was, "Oh, well, we know better.
You don't know what you need.
You don't understand.
We know better."
>> You wrote in the book... >> Yes.
>> Why do you feel it's so important to highlight how complicated this issue is?
>> You know, we need people to still be able to access services.
You know, we don't -- if we have a bad experience getting help from a provider for a toothache, we don't stop going to see -- you know, to get the help.
Well, it's the same way.
You know, if you need the services, you need the treatment, get that.
But we can walk and chew gum.
So we also understand that we have to address the medical discrimination that we see because -- I talk about it multiple times in the book -- about, you know, my voice as a Black girl or Black woman being disrespected in the medical field and, you know, providers not believing my pain.
>> When the Court overturned Roe v. Wade, you called the Court... And you called for court expansion, in order to restore the Court's legitimacy.
The flip side of the argument, of course, is that Biden could expand the Court and appoint a couple justices, but the composition of the Court can change over time, right?
So there might be a backlash.
>> Is a short-term solution really the way to address the imbalance that you feel now?
>> I feel right now because of where we are, because right now we're looking at a national ban on abortion if we don't hold the House, if we don't expand the U.S. Senate, because right now we're looking at a national ban on contraception, a national -- a possible national ban maybe on marriage equality.
So, do we go back there without throwing everything we can, you know, at the wall to say, "Hey, we got to stop this from happening"?
>> You're a pastor.
>> You write about healing through faith.
At one point, you came across a woman with "several visible tumors on her torso."
Tell me what happened.
>> So, at that time I, along with a group of friends, we would go out on the street and just meet with people and pray with people and offer them food.
This lady came to us and she had these tumors.
I mean, she wanted us to, like, feel them.
And I just remember I put my hand on her.
And my hand just began to move and the lumps that were there were no longer there.
And she was so happy and she, like, went on about her day.
And I never saw her again.
>> So you think the tumors disappeared?
>> I do.
And this woman was unhoused.
She's someone who, you know, had been sleeping in the shelters and sleeping on the street.
If I can speak a prayer and I can believe what I believe and you believe that this will help you, then why not offer that to people?
Because I know prayer has helped me.
>> As a trained nurse, you're a member of the medical community.
How do you think about those spiritual healings versus medical healings?
>> Yeah, spiritual healing is, it's a part of what you believe, you know.
And the medical healing is, it's a similar thing.
Because I still -- I'm going to believe that this treatment that this doctor is giving me is going to help me in my situation.
And so as the nurse, I am following the doctor's instructions and giving them whatever the doctor says that they should have.
And also, for those patients that will say, "Would you also pray with me?," I would pray with them.
And so it's the same thing that I would do on the street.
>> What do you say to people who are likely to disbelieve that story?
>> You know, they are not the woman that had the tumors.
After the death of Michael Brown Jr. at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the trajectory of your life changed.
>> Eventually, after that experience, you decided to run for office.
You joined the protesters and you emerged as one of the leaders in a leaderless movement for Frontline Ferguson.
How did that happen?
>> I didn't set out for all of that to happen.
There was no playbook.
I just kept showing up.
I kept doing what I felt in my heart, even on the really, really rough days, the days that I said, "You know what?
You know, tired of people -- seeing people beaten by police.
Tired of just so much.
Tired of the hurt and the pain and not feeling like we were gaining much.
But every time I tried to, I would say, "Okay, I'm not coming back tomorrow."
I was so compelled to come back because I felt on the inside of me that I needed to be there regardless of how hard it was because being uncomfortable does not mean that you're not in the right place.
You know, being uncomfortable just means you're being stretched.
And oftentimes you find your growth, you find your path, your purpose, even through that pain.
>> You lamented that President Obama never came to Ferguson.
>> Yeah, that was hurtful.
>> Because, you know -- and I won't speak for all of the protesters.
I know some of our conversations, but for me, it was hurtful because I was like, "This is the Black president."
You know, he sees what's happening.
He sees us being tear-gassed and the rubber bullets.
He sees all of this going on.
And then he didn't come.
>> President Obama went to speak on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.
>> And you and some of the Frontline Ferguson individuals you organized with traveled to that event... >> Yes.
>> ...and made yourselves heard by protesting when President Obama spoke.
What did you want him to hear?
>> That some of us have been bloodied and beaten and arrested just because we're trying to make sure that we're doing the work to save Black lives.
We just want you to come and talk to us.
We want to tell you from our mouths what's actually happening, because what was going out in the media was not what was happening on the ground.
>> How do you assess the Black Lives Matter movement now?
>> I think that the fact that we put this label on it, the "Black Lives Matter movement," we have not achieved what we set out -- what we set out to achieve.
But part of that is because people are so hung up on "Black Lives Matter," you know, that the work to fix the problem can't happen.
I think about in 2021, one year after all the protests, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others, millions of people took to the streets.
The following year, in 2021, the police killed more people than they had the previous years since police killings started to be recorded.
They killed more people.
There were only 15 days in that year where the police did not kill someone.
And so as a movement, we're continuing to push and fight, but we have all of this resistance because people are so tied up on the name.
>> As you know, after George Floyd was murdered, there was a real sense of hope that legislatively something could be done.
Tim Scott, the Black -- the only Black Republican in the United States Senate, supported a police-reform bill.
And he even talks about how he'd been stopped 22 times for being Black.
You know, is he someone that you would be willing to, while you have very different political experiences, work with?
I'm willing to work with anyone that is about actually listening and landing in a place of meaningful reform.
I just want to work with people that will help save my folks, you know, so that's the thing.
That's the key.
And I'm not about symbolism.
I'm not about something that will look like we did something but people are still losing their lives.
>> For years, you've been a staunch proponent of what people call "defund the police."
But I know that you have said it's not necessarily calling for law enforcement budgets to be eliminated.
You talk a lot about redirecting funds to social service programs to help stop crime before it happens.
You have a bill, the People's Response Act... >> Yes.
>> ...that aims to do exactly that.
My question for you is, how do you convince Americans, many of whom are concerned about violent crime and rising murder rates, to shift their mind-set about what public safety and law enforcement should look like?
>> You know, we didn't just start to increase police budgets.
This has been happening for a long time.
The budgets go up, up, up and up.
Crime has gone up, up, up and up.
And we keep putting more money into policing.
But we still have people who are living on the street who need help.
We have a opioid epidemic.
Like, when do we address that?
When do we address that?
When do we put more money into mental health?
Instead of buying these militarized weapons, MRAPs, instead of that, why can't we take those dollars and help our -- and put that money into our social safety net?
And when I say, you know, when I say defund the police, it won't stop you from calling 911 and someone showing up if you need assistance.
It will happen the exact same way.
We want to make sure that those calls are answered, but appropriately because you don't go to the gas station to get your tooth fixed.
So why are we sending police on calls that they are not skilled or equipped to handle?
Why not have police work on the calls that they are skilled and equipped to handle and have the mental-health experts take care of the other calls, the calls that are for a mental-health crisis?
That's what we're talking about.
That's taking care of the community.
>> So I think the question is how do you get people to think differently about it?
>> I think as Democrats, we have to do a better job at getting that message out, what it really looks like but also -- because this is the other thing that people will say to me.
>> Do you think it is clear?
Has it been getting out?
>> It has not been getting out because people have spent so much time saying "defund is wrong."
But they'll say this to me: "Cori, just say 'reallocate.'
Cori, just say 'move.'
Cori just say, you know, 'divest.'"
Well, it's the same thing.
>> There is recent polling, national polling, that shows declining support for decreasing police budgets, particularly among Black Americans.
And I want to know why you think that is.
>> Because rhetoric has gone out that -- >> So you think all of this has been mischaracterized?
>> Well, it's been mischaracterized, but it's also been weaponized to make people fear what happens if you don't -- if we don't keep adding all of this money to policing.
So, the thing is, throwing money at it doesn't solve the problem.
You have to address the root causes.
>> You recall in your book about growing up with a portrait of Reverend Jesse Jackson hung in the hallway of your childhood home.
Reverend Jackson's campaigns for president inspired your father to volunteer as an usher in the 1988 DNC, In 1971, before he ever ran for president, Reverend Jackson was on this program with William F. Buckley, Jr. Look at what he said.
>> At this point, I'm more caught up in moving toward solutions to our economic crisis than I am in arguing about who best states our pain.
In one sense, it doesn't make sense to try to attach a value judgment to the pain.
As I see it, the problem for us is essentially economic.
And if the problem is economic, then the solution is economic.
And to that extent, we need to begin to start looking at economic alternatives as opposed to organizational alternatives.
>> I think you're quite right, and I've been saying that quite fervently for 10 years.
>> Have we made any progress?
Is that still true?
>> It's still true.
It's still true.
>> It's your experience.
>> Yeah, absolutely.
We have not closed the racial wealth gap.
We have not closed the gender pay gap.
We don't have a living wage.
Yeah, so we have not fixed the problem.
>> Representative Cori Bush, I'm very grateful that you came to "Firing Line."
There is much more I'd like to talk to you about, and I hope that you'll come back.
>> Thank you.
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... Corporate funding is provided by... ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ >> You're watching PBS.