“There will be people who say to you, ‘You are out of your lane’. They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be. But don’t you let that burden you.”
Kamala Harris. We’ve heard the name for months now, and we all know that she is an American politician and now Vice President-elect of the United States. But who really is she?
Kamala Devi Harris was born on October 20th, 1964, in Oakland, California to Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris. Her mother, Shyamala, emigrated from India to study at the University of California, Berkeley. She eventually went on to receive a PhD and became a renowned breast cancer researcher. Her father, Donald, emigrated from British Jamaica also to study at UC Berkeley. He went on to receive a PhD and became a Professor of Economics at the prestigious Stanford University.
Growing up, Harris’s parents made sure she was always in touch with her heritage, attending an African American church in Oakland as well as a Hindu temple. Starting in childhood and throughout her adulthood, she has remained close to her family in India and Jamaica, frequently stating that she has been strongly influenced by her maternal grandfather, an Indian civil servant with progressive views on democracy and women’s rights. Harris’s parents divorced when she was 7 and she moved with her mother and sister to Quebec, where she stayed until she went on to University.
In 1982, Harris began at the historically black Howard University in Washington DC, where the very early stages of her career began. She interned for California senator Alan Cranston, chaired the economics society, led the debate team, and graduated with a degree in Political Science and Economics. From there, she went on to law school at University of California where she served as the President of the Black Law Students Association. In 1990, she officially became a lawyer.
Harris began her career as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, CA. In 2002, she ran for District Attorney of San Francisco with a pledge to never seek the death penalty and to prosecute three-strike offenders only in cases of violent felonies. She ran a forceful campaign and won 56% of the vote, becoming the first person of colour elected as the District Attorney of San Francisco.
In 2008, Harris announced that she would be running for California Attorney General. She was endorsed by both California senators, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the mayor of LA. She was nominated in 2010, making her the first African American, the first South Asian American and the first woman to be elected into this position. In this position, she worked to hold corporations accountable and to protect the state’s most vulnerable populations.
In 2017, Harris was sworn in as Senator for California, the second African American Woman and the first South Asian American senator in history. She currently serves on a number of committees including the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence. A few of her accomplishments have been winning a $25-billion settlement for California homeowners hit by the foreclosure crisis, defending California’s landmark climate change law, helping to win marriage equality for all Californians, and prosecuting transnational gangs that have trafficked in guns, drugs, and human beings.
In 2019, Kamala began her campaign for the presidency. At the end of 2019, she dropped out of the race, only to then be announced as Joe Biden’s running mate in August of 2020. On November 7th, she was declared the 46th Vice President-elect, being the first woman, first African American, and the first Asian American to hold that position.
Kamala’s mission throughout all of her appointments has been to fight for the rights of all people. As a senator, she has “introduced and cosponsored legislation to raise wages for working people, reform our broken criminal justice system, make healthcare a right for all Americans, address the epidemic of substance abuse, support veterans and military families, and expand access to childcare for working parents.” Throughout her whole career, she has been paving the way for women, African American women, and South Asian American women in politics and she continues to break down those barriers every day.
“I’m thinking about [my mother] and about the generations of women – Black women, Asian, white, Latina, and Native American women throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight. Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty, and justice for all, including the Black women, who are too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy. What a testament it is to Joe’s character that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country and select a woman as his Vice President. But while I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” Kamala’s victory speech