Congresswoman Karen Bass shares how young people can change the US at Scripps Presents

A composite image of two women speaking on a Zoom call.
Rep. Karen Bass, CA-37 and Scripps College politics professor Vanessa Tyson appeared on a Scripps Presents Zoom webinar to discuss the recent election and US politics more generally. (Courtesy: Scripps Presents)

Just weeks after the U.S. presidential election, people all over the world are waiting to see how the country will adjust to the new administration. The public is adapting to the governmental shift, but a less-explored concern is how those inside government are feeling. However, for the 5C community, some questions and concerns were answered at a Scripps Presents event last week.

Along with Scripps College politics professor Vanessa Tyson, Rep. Karen Bass, CA-37, appeared on a Zoom webinar to give some insight into the current moment as well as to speak about what comes after this recent election. 

Before answering any of Tyson’s questions, Bass made a point of stating that she began her work in trying to change the world as a grassroots community organizer, and she initially had no intention of running for office.

“One of the things that I really enjoy about being in office is applying the same strategies and tactics that you do in the community in a legislative context,” Bass said. 

Bass explained this connection by sharing her process as a policymaker. 

“That’s a fundamental principle of community organizing,” Bass said. “You bring those who are most affected to the table and work with them. Not for them. With them.”

One example that Bass highlighted was criminal justice reform, which is an issue that she feels is frequently misrepresented and misunderstood. As Bass explained, the movement largely focuses on men in the criminal justice system, leaving out other crucial groups, such as women and children. With that disparity in mind, Bass has been intentional with her research for her policy work around this issue. 

“Well, I haven’t been incarcerated,” Bass said. “So I went around the country, and I talked to women who have been incarcerated … and from their input, we develop legislation.” 

From there, Bass explained the culture among elected officials to the audience, especially what she experiences when trying to get colleagues to support her legislation.  

“Elected office is a very individualistic culture,” Bass said. “And I just love disrupting culture.” 

Following a discussion of gender disparity in relation to COVID-19, Tyson transitioned the conversation by bringing up the increase in trauma that Americans have faced due to the pandemic. Focusing specifically on mental health, Tyson asked Bass what her dream mental health legislation would look like, but was interrupted by a comment from Bass. 

“Let me just tell you that we’ve been traumatized because of COVID, but we’ve been traumatized for four years because of this man in the White House,” Bass said. 

Bass went on to speak about the impact that COVID-19 has had on the United States, which she believes is especially due to the mishandling of the virus at the federal level. She explained the relevance of governmental impact with the example of the Affordable Care Act. Knowing that she was speaking to a mostly college-aged audience, Bass focused on how the passing of the Affordable Care Act allowed people under the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ healthcare plan.

Building on Bass’s focus on young people, Tyson then spoke about the record number of young people that voted in this last election. She specifically pointed out the large number of young people who came out to vote during the pandemic and supported President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. 

“Do you think that offers some insight into the future?” Tyson asked.

“Well, first of all, the future always depends on young people,” Bass said. “I do believe that every social movement in history has always been led by young people. Young people delivered this election.” 

With that being said, Bass was quick to remind the audience that voting is the bare minimum of what citizens can do to make change in this country. She feels that the problem with American culture is that Americans don’t see politics as our responsibility; after they vote, they don’t continue to work with politicians and stay engaged. 

“You need to be active and involved, and you need to hold elected officials accountable,” Bass said. 

Toward the end of the event, Tyson asked Bass a few pre-written questions from Scripps students. When answering one of the students’ questions, Bass spoke about hyperpartisanship in the Senate, and emphasized with her Republican colleagues, saying she felt they are forcibly tied to Trump if they want to be re-elected. Bass feels that Democrats need to take control of the House, Senate and White House not only to progress with a Democratic agenda but also to allow the Republican Party to recover. 

The final question for Bass was about her concerns as a member of Congress with regard to the incoming administration. Bass used her answer as an opportunity to stress the importance of the upcoming Senate runoff elections in Georgia, and she reminded the audience that they have the ability to get involved in those races. 

“The success of the Biden-Harris administration rests with January 5th’s Senate election,” Bass said. “If we do not take the majority in the Senate, then President Biden’s and Vice President Harris’s hands are going to be tied.” 

Bass made her final point clear to the audience as she explained a potential misconception about the U.S. government. She observed that some Democrats think that there is nothing to worry about since Biden will be in the White House, but stated that the success of an administration depends on which party is in control of the Senate.

“If you don’t control the Senate, you can’t govern,” Bass said. “So let’s help them be successful.” 

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