You Know She Knows Social and Political Solidarity
After reading the recent Ed-Op piece, "Help Karen Bass Find Her Way," it became obvious to me that the authors of the commentary don’t know Karen Bass. They know about Karen Bass. They cite affiliations of Karen Bass and they reference partial acknowledgments of Karen Bass (without much depth or specificity). This is a frequent problem with so-called “activists” who are not from L.A., and don’t have the institutional memory of the historical activism that has shaped recent L.A. landscape. Plainly put, they don’t know whose shoulders they stand on. Karen Bass has never lost her way. She is the way.
Karen Bass showed us that multi-racial, multi-party and multi-party politics can work in an effective manner, to bring about substantive change in the lives of poor, underserved and marginalized people in a way that serves the greater good of Los Angeles. Never has there been a true community activist that has gone “from the streets to suites” like Karen Bass. Not in Los Angeles.
Karen Bass showed us that multi-racial, multi-party and multi-party politics can work in an effective manner.
Karen Bass walked the corners and alleys of L.A. in a way that led her to the halls of the State House and Congress. Her advocacy has never been truer in bringing forth policies that impacted foster youth, the uninsured, the deconstruction of the prison industrial complex, and how this nation conducts business and diplomacy with African nations. And she led the charge to take the Presidency out of the hands of white male patriarchy for the first time in this nation’s history.
That’s the Karen Bass I know. I walked and worked with Karen Bass in the streets in 1992. I built an office building, in 1995, on the corner of 8th Avenue and Vernon—the sight of a former liquor store that Karen Bass shut down. I walked and worked with Karen Bass in the California Assembly. I walked and worked with Karen Bass in Congress. In February 2020, she called a national Emergency Town Hall on the State of Black People, and 3,000 showed up…on 48 hours notice. That’s street cred. That’s political credibility. That’s social standing. That’s professional credibility. Anything Karen Bass calls for, has immediate credibility. If you don’t know who Karen Bass is, you better ask somebody before you even think that she, somehow, has lost her way.
We can’t say the same for everybody…particularly, in this movement that has been the impetus for the resurgence of white nationalism in this country. What is “Black Lives Matters?” Depends on who you ask…and what the various spokespeople are espousing on any given day. And, of course, who's been paid (or not paid). Karen Bass has been consistent since the mid-1980s about doing what is in the interest of the common good, by refusing to compromise on anything that compromises the most vulnerable—regardless of race, class or creed. It’s what led her to the founding of the city’s pre-imminent multi-racial social advocacy, public service NGO—Community Coalition. Her work was so noted, and effective, that she was drafted to run for public office, against her wishes.
She’s worked with the likes of Richard Riordan, Arnold Schrwarzenegger, and Mitch McConnell, the forces of social and political regression that sought to gut our communities of much needed funding and resources. She held the wall every time, earning a reputation of standing up for the poor and disenfranchised while earning the respect of her Republican colleagues.
Karen Bass is not a “flash in the pan” liberal. She is a Progressive, but a pragmatist. She has always been vocal on police abuse and misconduct, but also a stalwart for safe communities. The quandaries the Black and Brown communities face, she’s dealt with them on every level. She’s no “one trick pony.” Karen Bass came home to run for Mayor because of the city’s homelessness crisis, crumbling economy, yes, public safety issues, which include jail overcrowding, prosecutorial neglect, and racial profiling of Black and brown communities. Police shootings are a part of that, but not the whole of it. She is smart enough not to react to the dog whistling that is taking place—on both sides.
She knows her opponents are dog whistling “law and order” and “public safety” platforms with the recent uptick in violent crime—which by the way, is a partial result of the recent release of non-violent offenders and federal mandate to reduce overcrowded jails. It’s an unintended consequence of anti-redemptive social order correction with no policy solutions to address that reality. Without supportive services, recidivist behavior persists. She even said at a recent meeting, “We can’t let them use this moment to enact policies to lock up our communities and put all our young people back in jail." She’s quite woke on that.
The “anti-police” noise, calling for defunding and disbanding police forces, have no solutions either. They have even fewer solutions since the in-fighting and bickering over their monetary windfalls after the George Floyd killing. But their reactionary activism has also contributed to the problem, by ousting a reform-minded sheriff for the one we have now—who is as regressive and anti-redemptive as they come. By electing a District Attorney, now facing his own recall, who was run out of San Francisco and who made a bunch of empty promises he either couldn’t keep or had to rescind, forcing the City Council’s past President to make a promise on cutting the police budget that led to his demise when he ran for County Supervisor. Oh, and by the way, the Council not only put the money back into the City’s police budget, they increased it by 20%. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a practical solution. The noise was just that.
Now they want to walk Karen Bass out on that same ledge…and the Pro-Police and Oligarch forces are salivating at the mouth. As the only candidate who has nearly a third of the city’s support—when all other candidates are in single digits, they’re trying to bait her out to the fringe under the guise that she’s not progressive if she doesn’t embrace their provocative, unproven stance on police defunding. Policing is a problem in Los Angeles—but it’s not the problem. One-issue advocates don’t see that though. There’s more than one chord to play here. Homelessness, housing, and living wage joblessness are the problems. Keeping “the have nots” from “the haves” is a structural problem that has landed in the lap of the police, because nobody else has answers. They’re beating that same drum that hasn’t born fruit yet…
Not gonna happen.
If anybody watched the recent Mayoral debate, it was clear that Karen Bass was not trying to “out Caruso-Caruso” or “out Buscaino-Buscaino" on the "more police" question. Her solution was one-fifth of what they proposed. The rest of the resources would go into prevention, deterrence, and training. Bass’ solution was pragmatic and sensical. And to even suggest that she is a “panderer” is ridiculous. That, in itself, drew me to the conclusion that they don’t know Karen Bass. She brings forth solutions where folks said there were no solutions. Karen Bass finds solutions. Why? Because she talks to people. Not at people.
And she will do it again. Because she knows Los Angeles. She knows it at its worse, and she knows it at its best. She has the institutional memory. She has worked the ideological divide. And knows how to bring us together. And she is not afraid to speak and address the harshness of today’s racial realities.
Karen Bass is a modern day Sojourner Truth. I know Karen Bass. She is not the rhetorician of voices we have come to know and despise, claiming they speak for our community—while only knowing a faction of our community, in calling for un-thought-out premises without viable next step solutions.
Karen Bass doesn’t have to be shown the way back home. She never left. You don’t know what you don’t know. And clearly some don’t know the difference of knowing about Karen Bass and knowing Karen Bass.
Some people need help in getting to know the Karen Bass that we know. Her works speak for her.
Anthony Asadullah Samad
Executive Director, Dymally Institute