Kamala Harris and the Power of Women

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Let’s face it: it’s been a rough few years in politics. Grueling, actually.

But–somewhat paradoxically–it’s been a good few years for women. Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss to Donald Trump and Trump’s gleeful stomping of core American principles and norms quickly energized democratic and progressive women to take to the streets, to organize, and to run. The 2018 midterms swept hundreds of women into political offices across the country. For the first time in history, women make up nearly a quarter of the members of the US Congress.  

And now we have Kamala.

Kamala Harris, 55, has led something of a charmed political life since first seeking election as the San Francisco District Attorney in 2004. Six years later, she was equally successful in her bid for California’s Attorney General. In both cases, she was the first woman and the first person of color to hold those offices.

There was little question she would win the US Senate seat vacated by Barbara Boxer in 2016, and she arrived at just the right moment to employ her sharp prosecutorial skills against Trump nominees and officials, spinning out a seemingly endless stream of viral moments for social media in the process.

Even her brief presidential campaign can’t be viewed as a failure. During her six months on the trail, she introduced herself to millions of Americans as a poised and prepared debater with a warm and charismatic persona. She raised her profile, which is about all you can hope for as a relative unknown in a pack of two dozen other candidates.

So, it was not a huge surprise when Joe Biden selected her as a running mate. Pundits had put her at the top of the “veepstakes” since she ended her campaign in early December. And Biden had already committed himself to choosing a woman, and possibly a woman of color, for the ticket. She was, in many ways, the obvious choice.

But that doesn’t make it any less historic.

Harris has an amazing biography for voters looking to get away from the standard-issue white male politician. Born in Civil Rights-era Oakland, California to two immigrant graduate students, Shyamala Gopalan of India and Donald Harris of Jamaica, she grew up attending protests and activist meetings. She was raised in a Black community but remained close to her Indian family and heritage.

After law school, she decided she could make more impact working inside the system and became a prosecutor. Throughout her legal career, she fought for the rights of victims, especially women and children, but also built diversion programs to give non-violent criminals a chance to reform. She’s not a radical firebrand, but she looks for ways to challenge the status quo. She’s a center-left politician running in a center-left party.

Since the announcement, it’s clear the choice of Harris has resonated with women all over the country, particularly African-American women who had long wanted some tangible evidence that democrats value their stalwart support of the party. Politically speaking, little says “I value you” quite like putting one of your own a heartbeat away from the presidency.

The choice has also been met with excitement by Indian-American women. South Asians are a growing voting bloc in the United States, but so far have relatively little representation. (“DIWALI AT THE WHITE HOUSE ABOUT TO BE LIT,” tweeted one woman after Harris was announced.)

I was thirteen-years-old the last time I watched a democratic woman accept the nomination for vice president. I still remember tearing up with joy when Geraldine Ferarro gave her speech. “There are no doors we cannot unlock. We will place no limits on achievement,” she said. “If we can do this, we can do anything.” 

Spoiler alert: we could not do “this.”

I’ve become somewhat jaded about women on the presidential ticket over these last thirty-six years, and even more so after Clinton’s razor-thin 2016 loss. American women have come a long way in the last century, but there’s still a deep, unconscious skepticism about putting them at the heart of political power. 

Still, despite myself, I have to admit that I feel a glimmer of hope over the potential of the  Biden-Harris ticket. This may be the time, and this absolutely could be the woman. And if we can do “this” this time — if we can break that psychological barrier at last —  in just four years and five months, we might even be celebrating the inauguration of President Kamala Harris, the first female president in United States history.      

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