Bass On Activism And The Legislature
This Los Angeles magazine interview with Karen Bass is really illuminating about her life and her early activism, which she says started in middle school during the civil rights movement. Bass, a student organizer, antiwar activist and advocate for the poor in South LA, has a deep connection to the grassroots world outside Sacramento. And yet she is boxed in by circumstance and the minority rule in California to do things that directly conflict with her personal interests. This is a fascinating passage:
Why did you start the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment in South L.A.?
In the ’80s, crack cocaine took off as an epidemic, and I became obsessed by it. It was the first time that a drug impacted across class lines in the African American community, and it was also the first time in history a drug trend impacted both genders equally. It was really beginning to reshape the landscape in the inner city. I wanted to find a way to address the drug problem that did not involve massive incarceration—that could get at the root causes—and at the same time I wanted to build an organization that would help create, recruit, and train a next generation of activists. We’ve been around for 19 years.
Does the coalition show up at your office to protest what you’re doing in the legislature?
Absolutely. They’re organizing a protest right now. They are nice enough to call me up and tell me when they’re going to be protesting.
Would you be out there with them if the job didn’t preclude it?
No question. One thing that’s a little funny, if you don’t mind me going off the record—OK, I’ll say it on the record. I would have been protesting, but even when I was making these decisions, I was still in contact with the groups that protest to tell them to continue, because I understand better than ever how important those protests are. So it is quite interesting to be in a position like this.
There's a very good reason why Bass' current position feels unnatural, beyond just the inside v. outside dynamic. It's because she thought she was going from a position of weakness, as an outside activist, to a position of strength, as a legislative leader. However, the truth was the opposite. At least as an activist she was free to advocate and maybe make substantive gains. As a leader in this legislature, she cannot. By rule. Because the minority holds sway.
Anyway, I found it to be a very interesting article.