What Binds Karen Bass to Joe Biden ... - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because she could be the next vice president.

By Pallabi Munsi

It’s been 14 years since Rep. Karen Bass lost both her daughter and son-in-law in a horrific car crash. But “you don’t ever get over it,” she says on the debut episode of The Carlos Watson Show, a new late-night-style talk show hosted by OZY co-founder and CEO Carlos Watson.

It’s a feeling she shares with Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president, whose own life was touched by tragedy when he lost his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car wreck. And as Biden weighs Bass as a possible vice presidential running mate, with the decision expected within days, he has in some ways a kindred spirit.

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In 1990, she founded the Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment in response to the crack cocaine epidemic that had devastated south Los Angeles in the ’80s.

“The most difficult part of it was, and it was the same with [Biden], is when those accidents happened, both of us were in public life,” Bass says. “So you don’t have an opportunity to grieve privately.”

And now, with Bass possibly being thrust into the most heightened public scrutiny of all? “Having gone through the shock of losing my daughter and son-in-law, nothing else can happen to me,” she says.

We have just been traumatized for three-and-a-half years, multiple times a day.

The chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Bass, 66, has built her political career on a lifetime of activism. At age 14, she was a precinct captain for Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. She’s been fighting for police reform in Los Angeles since 1973 — the same year George Floyd was born — and was in the trenches of the antiwar movement during Vietnam.

What led her to finally run for office was the Community Coalition, an organization she started to figure out how to deal with crime emanating from crack cocaine addiction. “I saw us criminalize a health issue … and wanted to figure out how to deal with crime in a way that didn’t result in mass incarceration.” She went to Sacramento and climbed to become America’s first Black female state House speaker, before taking over a Los Angeles congressional seat in 2011.

California Legislators Vote On State's Embattled Budget

California State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) smiles as they finalize a solution to the state’s budget problem July 24, 2009 in Sacramento, California. Governor Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders reached a budget deal Monday to close California’s $26 billion budget gap.

Source Max Whittaker/Getty

The Donald Trump era has presented new challenges. “At this moment in our country,” she says, “we have just been traumatized for three-and-a-half years, multiple times a day.”

Bass also cannot stop thinking of the “racial turmoil that he ferments every single day.” And it worries her that whenever Trump is down, “he finds somebody of color to kick.” 

How does she manage? Learning martial arts throughout her 20s, she says, has helped her navigate being a woman in politics with a sense of confidence and calm. Her life may soon get a lot more turbulent.

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