Rep. Karen Bass Takes Helm of Black Caucus
Growing up as the only girl among three brothers, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) learned about tough fights. The Los Angeles native earned a bachelor’s degree in health sciences from California State University, Dominguez Hills, in 1990 and went on to get her master’s in social work from the University of Southern California. Bass worked nearly a decade as a physician’s assistant, noting the health disparities and urban issues affecting Blacks.
Bass’ work is driven by her desire to mobilize for change and improvement. She studied the community activism of the Civil Rights Movement and vowed to make similar strides in her lifetime. Bass watched how gang violence and the crack cocaine epidemic crippled the Black community. She began working with the Community Coalition, a social justice organization in South Los Angeles that empowers residents to become involved in community change and addresses the root causes of injustice.
Former Rep. Diane Watson encouraged Bass to run for office. At the time, there were no Black women in the California State Assembly. In 2008, Bass made history as the first African-American woman to serve as speaker of any state assembly. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and headed to Washington. Today, Bass is chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which has a record 55 members. Five CBC members chair full House committees and 28 chair House subcommittees.
The Crisis spoke with Bass about the importance of the CBC at this time in history. The Crisis: Why did you want to be a politician? Karen Bass: I’ve been involved in politics really since I was in middle school. To me politics is a variety of different things. So running for an elected office came for me after I had been involved in the community for decades. I realized that I could go to the state legislature and address the same issues that I was addressing in the community. But the person that pushed me to run was Congresswoman Diane Watson. She called me up and told me there were no African-American women in the state legislature. That’s why I ran. Why is the Congressional Black Caucus important? The Congressional Black Caucus is known as “the conscience of the Congress.” We have 55 members now, out of 235 Democrats. We represent the issues that are critically important to the African-American community. But addressing issues that are important to the African-American community, really lifts up an entire sector of our country. The Caucus takes the lead on issues like criminal justice reform, education, student loans, health care and making sure that everybody has access. Can you talk about some of the rights and protections that African Americans and other minorities have lost under the Trump administration? Essentially, the assault on civil rights. Almost every cabinet secretary that he appointed, he gave them a mission of destroying and dismantling the agency that they are in charge of. And most of those agencies have civil rights areas. So if you’re talking about education, if you’re talking about the Environmental Protection Agency, if you’re talking about Health and Human Services, if you’re talking about the Department of Justice, it’s the elimination or the watering down of civil rights protections across the board. How will the CBC address voter suppression heading into the 2020 election? One of the No.1 issues of the Congressional Black Caucus is reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act. We have been all over voter suppression and voter ID laws. Comprehensive legislation around voting rights was introduced, but there’s much more that needs to be done.
— Nicki Mayo