Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush announced on Tuesday he will not seek a 16th term in Washington, D.C., leaving behind a congressional seat the lifelong civil rights activist has held for nearly 30 years.
“After nearly three decades in Congress, I have been reassigned,” the Democrat said in a statement. “Let me make it clear that I am not retiring, I am returning. I’m returning home, returning to my church, returning to my family and grandchildren — but my calling to a life of service is stronger than ever. I am expanding my tent beyond the guardrails of Congress.”
Rush, 75, is a legendary figure in Chicago politics and in the push for Black rights. He co-founded the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and holds the distinction of being the only politician to have bested former President Barack Obama in an election — the 2000 Democratic primary to represent Rush’s long-held 1st Congressional District.
“By all rights, I should have been murdered on December 5, 1969, the day after the police assassinated [Black Panther leader] Fred Hampton. They came for me the next day, shot down my door, but — by the grace of God — my family and I were not home. Decades later, my life was spared again in my fight against cancer. I am not leaving the battlefield. I am going to be an activist as long as I’m here in the land of the living, and I will be making my voice heard in the public realm — from the pulpit, in the community, and in the halls of power.”
In 2012, Rush notably donned a hoodie on the House floor to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin, and was ushered off the floor for violating the dress code.
“Congressman Bobby Rush has been a champion of civil rights, who has devoted his entire life to the fight for racial justice,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement Tuesday. “When he retires at the end of his term, Congress, his constituents and the country will deeply miss his prayerful and powerful voice for justice in the House.”
Rush becomes the 24th House Democrat to announce their retirement from the chamber. Some plan to seek other offices; some, challenged by age, President Biden’s sagging job approval or new redistricting lines, will simply move on from politics.