Bass was elected in 2004 to represent California's 47th Assembly District which includes parts of Westwood, West L.A., Culver City, Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, Hyde Park, Crenshaw and Mid-City. She is the former Executive Director of the Community Coalition, a South LA-based grassroots community organization, which she founded in 1990, to change public policy and improve the quality of life in South Los Angeles.
In a 2005 interview with the LA Business Journal Bass described her influences:
Q: You call yourself an activist. How did that happen?In Cal State LA's Women's Magazine LOUDMOUTH Bass described her Educational Justice roots in policy-making and grassroots leadership development just before she joined the state Assembly in 2004 :
A: I grew up in South Central L.A. during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam era, so being an activist was second nature. In fact, there was a whole group of people who grew up in L.A. when I did who have now moved on to public office, union leadership and the non-profit world. There was Antonio Villaraigosa (city councilman), Gil Cedillo and Gloria Romero(state senators), Mark Ridley-Thomas (assemblyman), Anthony Thigpenn (president of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education), Julie Butcher and Maria Elena Durazo (union local presidents). We all knew each other when we were in our 20s and early 30s and have worked together for the last 25 years to build coalitions.
What public-policy efforts have you worked on in the past,Read the Full Interview!
and what policy do you hope to work on in Sacramento?
Before I get up there I’m going to have to focus, because there are really a lot of areas of public policy that I’m interested in and that I have a background in. Education reform is one of them. One of the first things I did when I started the Community Coalition is form a youth arm of the coalition. That was really designed after how I was raised as a teenager.
I was active in high school in the anti-war effort and in the electoral arena, and there were always adults around me who helped nurture my activism and also kept me out of trouble. And so that’s what we did with a group of teenagers, because I believe that teenagers absolutely have the capacity to understand and interact in public policy and that if you give kids the opportunity to lead in that way, then they won’t lead in a negative way. In my opinion, gang leaders — gang involvement is negative leadership, but it is leadership. And it is organization. And so the question is, Can you get kids to organize in a constructive way? And being an activist fits in with adolescent rebellion anyway because you’re rebelling, and if you channel that in a proper way, then you really win on several fronts.
You win academically because you really do have to study to be an activist, and you win personally because you gain a lot of confidence and positive skills, and you win in the community because you’re getting involved in positive change. Anumber of the young people that we’ve recruited over the years actually stayed with us throughout their whole adolescence and they’re who I’m handing the organization over to, because they’ve grown up now. Fourteen years later, they’re in their late 20s now, and they’re running things.
So, education reform is an issue area that I’d be involved in.
Foster care is another area. Criminal justice is huge. As I mentioned, when I started the coalition, its origins were a response to the war on drugs. Every issue I just named is related to the drug issue. If you don’t make it in our society, you know, you either participate in the legal economy or you participate in the illegal economy. Certainly the major employer in the illegal economy is the drug industry on one level or another, and when they get pushed out of school, kids are left to the illegal economy.
All of these issues are interconnected. What I have to do in this period is a very serious analysis of Sacramento to see where I can be most effective. I’m in the process of doing that now.