On 11 August, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden made history by nominating Kamala Harris as his running mate. A California Senator and his former opponent for the presidential nomination, Harris is only the third woman who has been nominated as vice-president (following Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin’s nomination as Republican candidate in 2008) and the first ever woman of colour, making her groundbreaking in American political history. Heralded by many as a political icon but criticised by others for her links to law enforcement and her centrism, Harris has had an incredible political career that may only just be getting started.
In her memoir The Truths We Hold, Harris wrote: “America has a deep dark history of people using the power of the prosecutor as an instrument of injustice”. However, it seems that such inequality was rife throughout and after her tenure as both District Attorney and Attorney General. For all her commitments to progressivism in law enforcement and prosecutorial work, there appears to have been little progress made on the institutional racism so deeply embedded within the criminal justice system. Support for and a reluctance to engage critically with the police force and aspects of the legal system seem to have limited the progress that Harris was able to make.
Her legal career was, however, not without several notable achievements. Harris focused much of her attention on the rehabilitation of convicted criminals and the reduction of reoffending rates, culminating in the creation of the ‘Back on Track’ scheme. This programme focused on helping young, low-level offenders to reintegrate into society as smoothly as possible, supporting them in education and work in order to keep them out of prison. She also helped to fight for and uphold the right to equal marriage for all, putting it at the centre of her campaign for Attorney General in 2010, a time when it was still not a constitutional right and remained illegal in many states.
Outside of the achievements and controversies during her time as both District Attorney and Attorney General, Harris can be credited with making history in both California and the USA. Her occupancy of these public offices broke boundaries and no doubt helped pave the way for Black women and women of colour in law and law enforcement; areas which desperately need to become more representative of the US population.
Many critics of her earlier legal work have recognised and praised her changing philosophy
When the Judiciary Committee interviewed one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Harris praised her “courage” in coming forward and performing her “civic duty”. She went on to say: “I want to thank you for your courage and I believe you…I think many Americans across this country believe you.” These moments were also posted and reposted across the internet and formed the background of wider admiration for Dr. Blasey Ford’s bravery and strength.
It seems that Harris and Biden’s public disagreements are in reality a genuine strength of the Democratic ticket
In addition to identifying as a Black American woman, Harris has also expressed her pride in her Indian identity as the daughter of an Indian immigrant and a member of the relatively small but increasing population of Indian-Americans currently estimated to number around four million. Her landmark nomination to be on the Democratic presidential ticket has been heralded by some as reflecting the growing importance, visibility and involvement of South Asians and Indians in US politics. Indian-Americans across the country welcomed the news, with M R Rangaswami, the founder of Indiaspora, describing it as an “electric moment…Indian-Americans are now truly a mainstream community in the national fabric.” As well as breaking down barriers for Black Americans and Black women, it is likely that Harris’ nomination and increased political prominence will also add to the perceived political significance of the Indian-American community.
It is hoped, by more progressive factions in the party, that Harris will be able to hold Biden to account – just as she did in the televised debates – and push him to take a more forward-looking stance on issues that he has traditionally been more conservative on throughout his long political career. Biden himself has been blasted for his centrism, as well as very concerning allegations of sexual misconduct. Harris chided him for the allegations of his past behaviour, saying of the women who made accusations: “I believe them”. In doing so, Harris has made it clear that her nomination cannot be used to legitimise Biden, make him more acceptable or excuse his past misconduct when it comes to his behaviour towards a number of women.
To say that Kamala Harris was a politician free of controversy and problematic opinions would be a lie, but the Harris-Biden ticket represents a real chance to remove internationally renowned homophobe, sexist and racist Donald Trump from office. In a bizarre repeat of his 2011 accusation against then-president Barack Obama, Trump’s recent racist attacks on Harris questioning whether she is legally eligible to run for vice-president highlight how afraid he is of her candidacy. The prospect of a Biden presidency quite rightly raises doubts, but a Harris vice-presidency – in spite of doubts over her own views and philosophies – truly would make history. As a Black American, as an Indian-American, as a mixed-race American, as a woman; a Harris vice-presidency would be completely groundbreaking in a polity still dominated by elderly white men.
Her importance in a prospective Biden victory is undeniable
The feature image shows Kamala Harris at a fundraiser in Iowa. She wears a white blouse and sits in front of a red background. Other people are visible behind her and she looks up, smiling. Photograph by Gage Skidmore, used under the Creative Commons License
The first in-text photograph shows Kamala Harris being sworn in as a US senator by Joe Biden, the vice-president at the time. Harris stands on the left, wearing a grey and white mottled suit. She faces Biden, whilse raising her right hand and resting her other on a Bible. In the centre of Biden and Harris is Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff. He wears a black suit and holds the brown bible. Biden is stood on the right, also wearing a black suit, and holding copy of the oath of office. Photograph by the United States Senate
The next photograph is Kamala Harris’ official Attorney General photograph. It shows her wearing a black jacket over a white top, as she smiles into the camera. Photograph by the Attorney General’s Office
The third photograph shows Kamala Harris at a Back on Track graduation ceremony in 2009. It is taken in a darkened room, but shows Harris sitting in the middle of a group of young people. All wear black suits and one holds a certificate, whilst others are holding flowers. Three young people sit either side of Harris, while the rest stand. Photograph by 4johnny5 from San Francisco, USA, used under the Creative Commons License
The photograph shows Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff at San Francisco Pride in 2015. Harris and Emhoff are sitting in a vehicle, as they move through the busy streets during the procession. Harris wears a white dress and waves at the crowd, whilst Emhoff wears blue jeans, a black jacket and a shirt and smiles. Photograph by Thomas Hawk, used under the Creative Commons License
The next photograph shows Joe Biden speaking at a podium at an event in Iowa. He wears a black jacket and stands in front of a US flag as he talks into a microphone. Photograph by Gage Sikdmore, used under the Creative Commons License
The final image shows Kamala Harris surrounded by a group of her supporters. Harris wears a white top and light trousers and smiles as she walks of to the left. The supporters around her are clapping. Some of them wear yellow tops and hold blue signs, which read ‘Kamala Harris for the people’ in red and yellow lettering. Photographs by Gage Skidmore, used under the Creative Commons License