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A new generation of Black progressives has been elected to Congress

Here’s what they want to do next.

Cori Bush speaking from an outdoor a podium with the Saint Louis arch in the background.
Activist Cori Bush, center, speaks during a news conference on August 5.
Jeff Roberson/AP

A new group of Black progressives has officially been elected to Congress.

It’s been a year defined in part by nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, unabashedly progressive Black candidates ran in — and won — races around the country. It’s another step toward meaningful representation for Black and brown constituents.

“We need more people in Congress for whom policy is personal. I was the only candidate talking about racial justice before the events of the past several weeks,” presumptive member of Congress Mondaire Jones (D-NY) told Vox this summer. “I’m grateful more people now are seeing it.”

Even before the general election on November 3, four progressives in Democratic districts were all but assured spots in the US House of Representatives: Cori Bush from Missouri along with Jones, Jamaal Bowman, and Ritchie Torres — all who will represent districts in New York City.

Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia is also advancing to a January runoff for one of the state’s US Senate seats.

Torres and Jones each won crowded open primaries in New York’s 15th and 17th Congressional Districts, respectively. They are making history; they’ll be the first Black openly gay members of Congress once they’re sworn in next year.

Bush and Bowman each defeated powerful, longtime members of Congress in stunning upsets earlier this year. Bowman soundly defeated powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel while Bush beat longtime Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., a powerful senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus who had been in office since 2000. Bush was inspired to run by the 2014 police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, something she remembered in her primary victory speech this summer.

“Almost six years ago to this day, Mike Brown was murdered,” Bush said in her primary election night speech. “Murdered by the police in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. I was maced and beaten by those same police officers in those same streets. Six months from now, as the first Black congresswoman in the entire history of the state of Missouri, I’ll be holding every single one of them accountable.”

Representation matters

The last year has laid bare long-standing racial inequalities in jobs, policing, and health care — in places from New York City to Ferguson, Missouri. Now that these candidates are officially on their way to Congress in a few months, they have big plans for how to tackle some of the country’s biggest challenges facing Black and brown Americans, like systemic racism.

Bowman, for one, told Vox in an interview this summer that he wants Congress to take up a “third-time’s-the-charm sort of approach to reconstruction.”

“We tried it after the Civil War, but it was stopped by Klansmen and white supremacists really targeting and terrorizing Black communities,” the middle school principal and presumptive member of Congress for New York’s 16th Congressional District told Vox. “We tried it again after the civil rights movement, but that was followed by mass incarceration.”

Bowman grew up in public housing in New York City and has spent the last 20 years as a public school educator and administrator in the Bronx, where he’s mentored many low-income students. He sees systemic racism in the everyday lives of many residents in his community: in inadequate school funding. in segregated school districts and neighborhoods, in crumbling public housing.

It’s that lived experience — and voters’ desire for representatives who understand it — that’s driving the wave of Black candidates to Congress. And this new class of progressives will only expand the power of the left to influence legislation. They’ll add to “the Squad,” the group of progressives in Congress that includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Rashida Tlaib (MI), Ilhan Omar (MN), and Ayanna Pressley (MA).

“I’ve been an educator for 20 years. I’m a working-class person,” Bowman told Vox. “The new generation is driven by the grassroots, is driven by the working class, and is driven by the needs of those in our district who have been at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder for far too long.”

Correction, November 4: A headline appearing in internet search results incorrectly included South Carolina Senate candidate Jaime Harrison as among those elected to Congress. Sen. Lindsey Graham won reelection in that race.