- Democratic Member of Congress
- Member of the Progressive Caucus
- In 1968, went AWOL from the U.S. Army
- Co-founder of the Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party
- In 1969, served six months in jail for an illegal weapons conviction
- Advocates reparations for African Americans
Bobby Rush is a Democratic Member of Congress who represents the First District of Illinois, which includes roughly half of Chicago's South Side. Nearly two-thirds of the residents of this district are African American, as is Rush.
Rush was born in November 1946 in Albany, Georgia but grew up on Chicago's North Side, where his mother was a Republican precinct captain. While serving in the U.S. Army from 1963-1968, Rush became involved with the radical Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1968 he went AWOL from the military and co-founded the gangster-ridden Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party (BPP), renowned for intimidating local business people into making "donations" to Panther "charities." One BPP member recruited by Rush was Fred Hampton, who was killed in a December 4, 1969 police raid on Panther headquarters.
In 1969 Rush served six months in jail for an illegal-weapons conviction. In 1971 his comrades were still describing him as the "Deputy Minister of Defense" for the BPP's Illinois chapter. In 1992 the socialist magazine In These Times would praise Rush, who was, by then, a fledgling congressional candidate, as someone who "has continued to support progressive policies and has never disavowed his Panther past."
Rush worked as a medical clinic director during the early 1970s, and as an insurance agent in the late 70s and early 80s. In 1983 he was elected a Chicago City Alderman, and the following year he became a Second Ward Committeeman.
In 1992 Rush ran in the Democratic congressional primary against a union-backed U.S. congressman mired in a corruption scandal. Rush narrowly won and has held that House of Representatives seat ever since.
A member of both the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Rush is among the strongest congressional supporters of reparations for the descendants of African-American slaves. "The future of race relations will be determined by reparations for slavery," Rush once told a congressional hearing.
Rush is also among the staunchest congressional supporters of gun control. He has proposed legislation that would regulate the sale and purchase of bullets. "Ultimately, I would like to see the manufacture and possession of handguns banned," said Rush, "…that's the endgame."
In 1999 Rush's 29-year-old son Huey Rich was shot and killed. "My son's death was a senseless death," he told supporters the following day at Jesse's Jackson's Operation PUSH headquarters. "We've got to rid our communities of guns."
That same year, Rush ran for mayor of Chicago but was defeated by the incumbent Richard M. Daley. Thus Rush retained his seat in Congress.
Rush's most noteworthy congressional race took place in 2000, when he defeated then-state senator Barack Obama in the Democratic Primary. During the campaign, Rush said: "Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it."
In 2000 Rush proposed a government study to explore whether decriminalizing illicit drugs might help to reduce the violent "turf battle over drugs" pursued by gangs in many American cities. Two years later, his own nephew was arrested and charged with murder in a case involving a South Side drug deal.
Though Rush is a close friend of both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, he supported Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential Primaries, and later in the general election.
After Obama won the White House in November 2008, Rush stated that an African American should be appointed to fill Obama's newly vacated seat in the U.S. Senate. "With the resignation of President-elect Obama," said Rush, "we now have no African American in the United States Senate, and we believe it will be a national disgrace to not have this seat filled by one of the many capable African American Illinois politicians."
In April 2009, Rush was part of a delegation of seven CBC members who traveled to Havana to meet with former Cuban president Fidel Castro. After the meeting, Rush and his cohorts praised Castro as a warm and hospitable host, and called for an end to America's longstanding ban on travel to Cuba. Rush said of his conversation with Castro, "It was almost like listening to an old friend…. In my household I told Castro he is known as the ultimate survivor."
During his legislative career, Rush has voted:
- against the development of a national missile defense system;
- against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001;
- against the post-9/11 anti-terrorism measure known as the Patriot Act;
- against allowing the U.S. government to use electronic surveillance to investigate suspected terrorist operatives;
- against a bill permitting the government to combat potential terrorist threats by monitoring foreign electronic communications which are routed through the United States;
- against an October 2002 joint resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq;
- against the establishment of military commissions to try enemy combatants captured in the war on terror;
- in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and by a preordained date;
- against President Bush's 2007 decision to deploy some 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers in an effort to quell the violent insurgents in Iraq;
- in favor of a proposal to expedite the transfer of all prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention center;
- against requiring hospitals to report (to the federal government) illegal aliens who receive emergency medical treatment;
- against the Real ID Act, which proposed to set minimal security requirements for state driver licenses and identification cards;
- against separate proposals calling for the construction of some 700 miles of fencing to prevent illegal immigration along America's southern border;
- against a proposal to grant state and local officials the authority to investigate, identify, and arrest illegal immigrants;
- against major tax cut proposals in September 1998, February 2000, March 2000, July 2000, May 2001, May 2003, October 2004, and May 2006;
- against separate welfare reform bills designed to move people off the welfare rolls and into paying jobs;
- in favor of prohibiting oil and gas exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); and
- against a proposal to fund offshore oil exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf.