In the midst of this pandemic, the race to the White House has begun and the whole world is watching given the results of the 2020 U.S. elections will have an economic and environmental impact on the rest of the world. The stakes at the moment could not be any higher – international trade, security partnerships, humanitarian funding, climate change, and how the global economy will rise after the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the key figures in this election is vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris, the running mate of Joe Biden under the Democratic Party. Let’s take a look at how she got in the race and what she has to offer.
Embracing her minority background
Kamala Devi Harris was born on October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California. Her biracial parents, an Indian-born mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a breast cancer researcher and civil rights advocate. Her Jamaican-born father, Donald Harris, is a retired Stanford University economics professor (who had little contact with his daughters after losing the custody battle in 1973).
Harris and her sister, Maya, were single-handedly raised by their mother after the divorce. In 2009, her mother Shymala died of colon cancer. The vice-presidential candidate says her mother continues to inspire her to this day. “Don’t sit around and complain about things, do something” is what her mother would often say to her and these words have driven Harris to serve the people and work to make their lives better. The politician now lives in Los Angeles and is married to American lawyer Doug Emhoff.
Harris recalls how her mother immersed them in the Indian heritage and taught her and Maya to adopt the black culture. As a natural consequence, she is vocal about embracing her minority background and she credits her mother for that. “She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as black girls and she was determined to make sure we would grow into confident, proud black women.” And with all her achievements and accomplishments, there’s little doubt that if her mother were alive today, she would be very proud of her daughter.
Making history (or more appropriately, Making herstory)
An alumnus of Howard University, Kamala Harris earned her law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law. She started her career as a public servant at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office where she concentrated on child sexual abuse cases. She worked her way up to become San Francisco’s first Black woman District Attorney where she notably created a program for first-time drug offenders to be given the opportunity to graduate from high school and get a job.
She pursued those who committed environmental crimes, especially crimes affecting poor communities of minority groups. In 2010, she was elected to become the first African-American-slash-Asian-American woman California Attorney General. She took charge of America’s second-largest Justice Department, overseeing almost 5,000 attorneys and employees. She made her mark for defending the rights of American families going against large companies and big-time corporations. During the mortgage crisis of 2011 and early 2012, Harris won a $20 billion settlement in favor of California homeowners whose homes were unfairly foreclosed by big banks. She also went after a predatory for-profit educational institution scamming low-income and vulnerable students and won a $1.1 billion settlement.
Harris also was also tough on transnational gangs involved in human trafficking, drug rings, and gun smuggling. She led the way to expose racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system and initiated training for police officers against implicit bias. In recent years, she has worked tirelessly to defend the state’s climate change laws, marriage equality bill, and the Affordable Care Act.
A highly accomplished progressive prosecutor, it is little wonder that Harris has become one of the most prominent members of the Democratic Party paving the way for her to make history again as the first Asian-American and only the second black woman senator in the United States. In the Senate, she has advocated for the welfare of middle-class families and defended the rights of immigrants and refugees. She has played instrumental roles in supporting legislation to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15, reforming the criminal justice system, and making higher education accessible to all Americans. Harris is a part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee where she keeps an eye on national security and the nation’s disaster risk reduction and management including the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The truth she holds
While the journey to get this far in her political career has been fraught with successes and hypocrisies, Harris’s journey is still truly remarkable. Initially intending to run for the presidency, Harris realised she may be better suited for the role of the vice president, advising on issues without leaning to the left or the right. Often labelled as a centrist, her voting record and policy stances on gun control, healthcare and climate change are anything but. In her bestselling autobiography, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, she says:
“Years from now, our children and our grandchildren will look up and lock eyes with us. They will ask us where we were when the stakes were so high. They will ask us what it was like. I don’t want us to just tell them how we felt. I want us to tell them what we did.”
Where words sometimes fail her, her personal history and performance give support to her clear stance on high-profile political issues particularly on racial justice, immigration, and climate change.
Giving voice to the minority
Kamala has worked to give voice to those in the margins. She is seen as a champion of racial justice; wanting to end mass incarceration which preys on preys on black and brown Americans. She espouses to change “decades of failed policies that created an unjust, unequal, and vastly expansive system that disproportionately harms communities of color and criminalises individuals just because they are poor.” She pledges to remove private prisons and advocates offering education and jobs to low-level offenders in place of ruthless prison sentences. She demands police accountability to injustices done against the minority.
Giving dreamers a home
The Californian senator joined protests against family separation and was one of the loudest voices who called for the resignation of the previous head of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen. Harris supports immigrants who want to build a life in the U.S. by decriminalizing border crossings and providing healthcare benefits to undocumented immigrants. She said she would expand Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and promised a path to citizenship for the 650,000 immigrants who went to the U.S. as children and were granted legal rights to live and work in the country under the Obama administration.
Giving our planet a fighting chance
Harris knows the urgency and gravity of climate change and acknowledges America, as one of the highest carbon emitting countries in the world, must play a leading role in the issue and take more action to mitigate its huge impact. Harris’s $10 trillion climate plan as part of the Green New Deal so that the US can transition to clean energy and have net-zero emissions in by the end of the decade. Harris wants to use America’s global position to influence other nations to use sustainable energy and make climate change the central focus of the nation’s international relationships. “We should play a leadership role in compelling international institutions to use their leverage to end subsidies for dirty fuel,” Harris said to the Council on Foreign Relations. But she also knows that for this to happen, she should start with her own nation. Harris, along with New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed a bill that would rate how the nation’s environmental laws would impact lower-income communities. She also wants the U.S. to rejoin the Paris climate agreement.
It is not just America’s future that’s at stake in this 2020 U.S. elections but rather, the entire world. It’s clear that Kamala Harris has the attitude, skills and necessary experience to do the job and her voting record proves she is highly progressive. That Harris comes from the Black and South Asian minority groups can only help Joe Biden and the Democrats’ chances of securing presidential victory in this year’s election.
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Cover image of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris speaking with attendees at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People hosted by the Center for the American Progress Action Fund and the SEIU at the Enclave in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Gage Skidmore.