Once a Community Organizer, Always a Community Organizer

In moments of turbulence and in times of crisis, the change that propels society forward has always come through the voice and works of the community. Guided by the timeless phrase: “Once a community organizer, always a community organizer,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Rep. Karen Bass held a virtual dialogue to discuss challenges of the past and how they overcame it, and how they are tracing steps forward to a more resilient future.

“I believe there has been no more important determinant than the care and concern of the communities under our charge. This work has been about dedicating oneself to discovering the truth and carrying out the work. I am reminded of the timeless phrase: “Once a community organizer, always a community organizer.” I am grateful to have had this conversation of community-based action and leadership with my friend and colleague, Karen Bass.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Rep. Bass have known each other for more than three decades and have equally long careers in public service and community organizing. Their conversation delved into not only the beginnings of their efforts to spur civic engagement, such as the 1992 riots and war on drugs, but also the beginnings of issues that communities face today, including mass incarceration. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Rep. Bass discussed the intersection of a global pandemic, economic crisis, and civil unrest resulting from systemic racism. As they looked back at their histories for comparisons and lessons learned, they also looked towards the present for ways communities can take action now, and to the future for hope and resilience.

When asked about today’s civil unrest in comparison to the 1992 riots, Rep. Bass had this to say: “I think that we are in a much better place now, than 30 years ago. If you fast forward to today, we have a much greater capacity in our community. We have a number of community-based organizations that either didn’t exist or were just being born right around that time. And so, I feel that we are in a much better place, but we still have so much more to do.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Rep. Karen Bass have a virtual conversation about leadership and community organizing.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ career in community organizing can be traced back to his leadership as Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, and Rep. Bass’ experience is rooted in her founding the Community Coalition. While they proceeded to exercise leadership at nearly every level of government, they continue to maintain a decades-long dialogue of community-based action.

Hosted via Facebook Live, community members from the Second District of Los Angeles County, California’s 37th Congressional District, and beyond were able to comment their questions and have their voices heard.  Viewers asked questions about the status of local projects and efforts, engaging youth of color in community-based political leadership, providing economic opportunities through the tech industry, and more.

“Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘Change does not roll on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.’ At a point in time the congresswoman and I would say, ‘A luta continua,’ to remind ourselves, that the struggle does continue. A decree that asks us to keep moving and keep working. Some people may call it work, but the Congresswoman and I call it commitment,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.