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What Grassroots Movements Can Do

Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) camp outside the U.S. Capitol on July 31, 2021 to demand congressional action to extend a soon-to-expire eviction moratorium. (Photo: Rep. Cori Bush/Twitter)

No one thought this would work. But it did.

This week, the limitless power of people was on full display from the steps of the US House of Representatives.

When Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined me on the top of that marble staircase last Friday night, the doors to the chamber locked behind us, we sat shocked in disbelief. We could not comprehend how Congress had left for August recess after failing to pass legislation to extend the eviction moratorium. My adrenaline was pumping, I felt like I needed to take off running until we found a solution. It was a familiar feeling — one rooted in trauma. I've been evicted three times in my life — once following a violent domestic assault in which a former partner left me for dead.

I've lived out of my car for months with my two babies. I've seen my belongings in trash bags along my backseat. I know what that notice on the door means. Cold from the elements or wondering where I could find a bathroom, I've wondered who was speaking up in DC for people in my situation. I never knew who had the resources to make this situation end. Now that I was in Congress myself, a member of one of the three branches of our government in a position to act, I knew we couldn't leave.

With a camping chair in one arm and my phone in the other, I invited my colleagues to return to DC and join me on the stairs of our chamber.

With a camping chair in one arm and my phone in the other, I invited my colleagues to return to DC and join me on the stairs of our chamber. At first it was just me and my staff. Then my sisters in service, community members, friends and colleagues turned out in a show of force I could never have foreseen.

By Tuesday, we had welcomed dozens of House and Senate colleagues, moderate and progressive, in pouring summer rain, cold of the night, and intense midday heat, all in the service of a single message: keeping people in their homes as the eviction moratorium lapsed.

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For the first two days, we sat upright—barred from laying down, per Capitol grounds regulations—and used every platform and organizing tool we could to get the word out and keep the pressure on. As the week went on, we became barred from even sitting in chairs. No one thought this would work. We were junior House members, activists, neighbors, and people passing by, engaged in a movement we couldn't yet comprehend. Yet, in just five days, our movement pulled out a victory from the most powerful office in our country. The Biden administration announced a new eviction freeze that would help Americans in places experiencing high spread of Covid-19 cases, which is the majority of counties in the US, through October 3.

When I walked away from the steps Wednesday morning and sat down on my flight home to St. Louis, it finally hit me: we did it.

I thought of the nearly 8,700 households in my St. Louis district that were already on the eviction docket as the moratorium expired. Those households, many with children, will now be able to rest safely in their homes, while the remaining $43.5 billion in emergency rental assistance is distributed by states and localities.

I thought of the movement working to save Black lives, which we galvanized on the streets of Ferguson in 2014. We spent 400 days protesting and showed the world what is possible when you show up for what is right and do not leave until change is made. We made our voices heard at the highest levels of our government.

I thought of the regular, everyday people who showed up, stayed up, and helped fuel this powerful movement. Our votes, our voices and our volition will never again be taken for granted.


After an election year in which Black, brown, Indigenous, queer, and other marginalized Americans organized and turned out in record numbers to deliver the presidency to Joe Biden — only to see voting rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, immigrant rights, police reform, and so much more get blocked in the Senate by the filibuster — our victory has deepened my belief that change is not only possible, but achievable.

Now that we have again demonstrated what grassroots movements are capable of, there is no limit to what we can do. The change that we have been marching, organizing, and pushing for is within reach. We just have to take it.

Cori Bush