As the polls were closing on election night, I was reminded of the words of a friend: “The right to vote,” she said, “gives us the power to take our future into our own hands.”
That friend is Rep. Karen Bass. At a moment when it has never been more urgent for Americans to make themselves heard, Bass will lift up the voices of millions as the new chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
It is nothing new for Bass to put service before self — taking on leadership roles that are focused on empowering people, and elevating perspectives that are too often unheard.
Understanding that power comes from the bottom up, she started and led the Community Coalition to nurture and inspire grassroots activism and make certain that residents of South Los Angeles had a stronger say in the future of their neighborhoods. And before being elected to Congress, she served as speaker of the California Assembly — cementing her place in history as the first black woman to ever lead a state legislature in the United States.
My wife, Amy, and I have been friends and worked with Bass since before either of us was elected to office. Today, she is still working tirelessly to create opportunities for people who have been historically excluded or overlooked: she is one of the strongest voices for strengthening local hire rules so that women and people of color have an equal shot at getting career-track jobs that are created by large-scale infrastructure projects in their communities; on protecting and uplifting children in the foster care system; and for strengthening our economic and cultural ties to nations on the African continent.
It has been a privilege to work alongside her as mayor — and when I went to Washington after Election Day, one of my first stops was Bass’ office on Capitol Hill. We discussed how we could work even more closely together on the issues that matter most to the people we represent. Among the several topics we discussed were infrastructure, local economic development,and African foreign policy.
That is an impactful partnership — because following the midterms, the Congressional Black Caucus will be the largest it has ever been, with more than 50 members for the first time since it was formed in 1971. Members of the caucus will chair five full committees and at least 28 subcommittees in the 116th Congress.
Those are remarkable achievements at a time when we are celebrating unprecedented diversity in government across the country: Ayanna Pressley became the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts; the people of Colorado made Jared Polis the first openly gay man to be elected governor in the U.S.; and Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas became the first Native American women elected to the House of Representatives.
That spirit of inclusion is what we have been working together to achieve for well over a decade in public service, guided by what Bass calls a belief that “every one of us deserves a fair shake — and a fair chance — at achieving our version of the American dream.”
That’s all any of us could ask. We need more leaders in Washington like Bass who are unafraid to stand up to bullies, defend families and protect our rights — and Angelenos should be proud that one of our own is helping to lead the charge.
Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs the first Thursday of every month in The Wave.
By Mayor Eric Garcetti