Fan fest for ‘Woman of Color’: Indian-American Kamala Harris

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) accepts the Democratic vice presidential nomination during an acceptance speech delivered for the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WILMINGTON, Del. – Kamala Harris, the Black daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, on Wednesday Aug. 19, 2020, became the first woman of color to accept the nomination for vice president from a major political party.

The senator from California signaled that she plans to help lead the attack against President Donald Trump in the coming months, as is typical for a running mate, while also trying to connect voters to the Democratic ticket.

“We’re at an inflection point,” Harris said. “The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It’s a lot. And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more.”

Harris, 55, stepped into her place in history on the third night of the Democratic Party’s mostly virtual convention – joined not by the sort of raucous partisan crowd that would have erupted for such a moment in ordinary times, but instead standing on a small stage in Wilmington, accompanied only by aides and a smattering of reporters who had been tested for the novel coronavirus before being granted entry.

The man who tapped her for the ticket, presidential nominee Joe Biden, who lives a few miles away, will speak from the same stage Thursday night.

The comments came in what was intended as an uplifting and emotional paean to female leadership, liberal crusades and the character of the former vice president.

“Right now, we have a president who turns our tragedies into political weapons,” Harris said. “Joe will be a president who turns our challenges into purpose.”

Outlining her own optimistic view of the country, Harris said she is “committed” to “a vision of our nation as a beloved community – where all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love.”

“In the streets of Oakland and Berkeley. I got a stroller’s-eye view of people getting into what the great John Lewis called ‘good trouble,’ ” Harris said of her upbringing, citing the recently deceased civil rights leader and Georgia congressman. She also spoke of her career as a prosecutor. “I know a predator when I see one,” she said, a line that she had used in her presidential campaign against Trump, though she did not connect it to him Wednesday.

Harris leaned heavily into her life story – citing her pride in her mixed-race background. She spoke of her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who she said had immigrated to the United States with a dream of curing cancer but died in 2009. Harris also spoke of her own family, her husband, whom she married in 2014, and his two children who she said call her “Momala.”

Harris said her mother raised her and her sister “to be proud, strong Black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage. She taught us to put family first- the family you’re born into and the family you choose.” In a reference to her Indian heritage seized on by many Indian Americans online, Harris used a Tamil expression in speaking of “my uncles, my aunts – my chitthis.”

Speaking before Harris, former president Barack Obama delivered a sharp reproach of his successor’s behavior as the nation’s leader. It echoed a similar excoriation by Michelle Obama, the former first lady, two days earlier. As had his wife, the former president cast Trump as a man incapable of rising to the office he won in 2016.

“For close to four years now, he has shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends,” Obama said from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama continued. “And the consequences of that failure are severe.”

In its emphasis on women and minorities, Wednesday’s program reflected a major effort by Democrats to showcase diversity in the country and the multiracial coalition they hope will lift Biden, a 77-year-old White man, to the White House amid a moment of racial reckoning.

Convention organizers packed the evening’s speaking roster with the Democratic Party’s history-making leaders. In addition to Obama, the nation’s first Black president, the lineup included New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham, the first Democratic Hispanic woman elected as a governor; Hillary Clinton, the first woman to top the ticket of a major party and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the first woman to lead the House of Representatives.

Only one non-Hispanic White man, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was given a prominent slot Wednesday in the main two-hour convention broadcast. He co-hosted a segment interviewing struggling small-business owners.

Clinton, who won nearly 3 million more votes than Trump but lost in the electoral college when he flipped three traditionally Democratic states, sought to channel any remorse among 2016 voters.

“For four years, people have told me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was. I wish I could go back and do it over.’ Or worst, ‘I should have voted,’ ” Clinton said. “Look, this can’t be another ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ election.”

“Vote, for honest elections, so we, not a foreign adversary, choose our president,” Clinton said, in an allusion to Russia’s efforts to benefit Trump.

“Vote like our lives and livelihoods are on the line, because they are,” she added.

Trump, who tweeted all-caps rejoinders at Obama during the convention, also lambasted his predecessor at a White House news conference Wednesday, crediting both him and Biden for his election as president four years ago.

“Look at how bad he was, how ineffective a president he was,” Trump said of Obama. “The reason I’m here is because of President Obama and Joe Biden, because if they did a good job, I wouldn’t be here.”

Trump also tweeted at Obama and Clinton: “Welcome back, Barack and Crooked Hillary. See you on the field of battle!”

Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, traveled to Wisconsin, which was to host the Democratic convention before the pandemic forced it to be held virtually. There, he mocked Democrats for declining to campaign on the ground.

“Joe Biden and the Democratic Party have been overtaken by the radical left, and their agenda would take this country in a dramatically different direction, on an inexorable path toward socialism and decline,” Pence said in Darien, Wis.

Earlier in the day, Biden, speaking to a virtual meeting of the Wisconsin delegation on Wednesday, questioned Trump’s ability to do the job, throwing back at Trump his constant assertions that Biden is not up to the rigors of the presidency.

“When it comes to the pandemic, after months of failure, he just gave up,” Biden said of Trump. “You know, I used to think it was because of his personality, but I just don’t think he can intellectually handle it. I don’t think he’s competent enough to know what to do. He just waved the white flag.”

Biden also released a statement Wednesday condemning Trump’s calls for a boycott of Goodyear Tires, after an image circulated online suggesting the company banned employees from wearing Trump campaign hats but not from promoting the Black Lives Matter movement. A company statement said that all employees were asked “not to engage in political campaigning of any kind in the workplace – for any candidate, party or political organization.”

“Goodyear employs thousands of American workers, including in Ohio where it is headquartered,” Biden responded in a statement. “To President Trump, those workers and their jobs aren’t a source of pride, just collateral damage in yet another one of his political attacks.”

The evening’s speaking format also focused on policy areas that animate Democrats and are particularly popular among women, including curtailing climate change, increasing gun regulations, making the economy fairer and combating domestic abuse. Tuesday’s program included segments on health care and national security.

Former Arizona congresswoman and activist Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically injured during a 2011 mass shooting, lauded the gun-control movement.

“I struggled to speak,” she said of her recovery. “But I have not lost my voice.

Emma González, a survivor of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and one of the organizers of the 2018 March for Our Lives protests, also spoke in a prerecorded address.

“Gun violence isn’t just going to stop until there is a force fighting harder against it,” she said in a video voice-over of memorials at mass shooting sites.

During the portion of the night that dealt with immigration, an 11-year-old, Estela Juarez, an American citizen, read a letter to President Trump describing the pain of her mother’s deportation back to Mexico, leaving her and her father in the United States.

“We need a president who will bring people together, not tear them apart,” she said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., the last viable female candidate to drop out of the 2020 presidential primary contest and a competitor for the vice-presidential slot, also spoke Wednesday from an early childhood center in Springfield, Mass., where she offered her wonky approval of Biden.

“I love a good plan,” Warren said. “And Joe Biden has some really good plans.”

Biden, whose nomination for president was officially secured Tuesday night, announced during a debate in March that he would select a woman to be his running mate, a declaration that almost immediately prompted allies, including a group of powerful Black women to start pushing for a spot for one of their own on the Democratic ticket. Several Black women were finalists for the job, to which Harris, also a former presidential contestant, was named last week.

Harris is the fourth woman to win a place on a major-party ticket, after then-Democratic Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, D-N.Y., in 1984, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican, in 2008 – both as vice-presidential running mates – and Clinton. Harris’s ascension comes a century after women were extended the right to vote and 55 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which removed many balloting hurdles for Black Americans.

“This is the first time in months that I’ve felt this good,” said Donna Brazile, a former interim DNC chair who was among the Black leaders who spearheaded the push for a Black woman, and who also backed Harris.

Of the four candidates on the two major party tickets this fall, Harris has the highest positive rating among Americans: 52 percent favorable and 38 percent unfavorable, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted after her selection last week. Biden is closest to her, with a slightly positive favorability rating, 50 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable.

Civil rights leaders and others active in the Black and Asian American communities said they were electrified by Biden’s pick and hoped it would spur greater turnout in November.

“We’re all glued to the TV,” said Glenda Baskin Glover, head of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, of which Harris is a member. She said the country’s main Black sororities and fraternities, known as the “divine nine,” have begun jointly strategizing in an effort to motivate their members to vote.

Glover, who is also the president of Tennessee State University, a historically Black school, said her students are already inspired. “They see themselves as being able to rise higher and higher,” Glover said

Three family members officially nominated Harris to the role by giving brief remarks Wednesday before her speech. They included her sister and longtime adviser, Maya Harris, who also worked as a top aide on Clinton’s 2016 bid, Maya’s daughter, Meena, and Harris’s stepdaughter Ella Emhoff.

The trio highlighted the blended nature of Harris’s family, which makes her background unusual for a vice president but, organizers hope, relatable to the many Americans whose own families are nontraditional. If Harris is elected, her husband, Doug Emhoff, would be the nation’s first “Second Gentleman.”

Emhoff, a lawyer in the Los Angeles office of DLA Piper, is taking a leave of absence from his firm, where he has worked for an array of powerful clients. During Harris’s address to cap off the night, Emhoff stood in the wings, one of the few people allowed near her.

Harris spoke extensively about the harm of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly its disproportionate impact on people of color.

“This virus it has no eyes, and yet it knows exactly how we see each other and how we treat each other. And let’s be clear, there is no vaccine for racism,” she said.

She segued to mention Black victims of violence. “We’ve got to do the work for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for the lives of too many others to name for our children and for all of us,” she said. “We’ve got to do the work to fulfill that promise of equal justice under law. Because here’s the thing: None of us are free until all of us are free.”

When her speech ended, she turned and waved to a large screen that displayed feeds of supporters applauding from 30 homes. Biden came on stage to congratulate her, but they maintained a distance and did not embrace.

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