Celebrating the ascendency of Kamala Harris to the vice presidency
The election of Kamala Harris as Vice President represents an historic shattering of both race and gender ceilings in America. | John Locher/AP

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has made history as the first African and Indian American and as the first woman elected to that office in the history of the United States.

There are those on both the right and the left who downplay the significance of her victory by zeroing in on some particulars of her political past at the expense of the strong positives in her record and the meaning of her election.

Nothing should get in the way of the real reasons to celebrate the election of an individual who personifies the leadership of Black women in the fight to preserve democracy and the election of a person who, as a senator, had perhaps the strongest pro-worker record in that august body.

Harris is not a perfect politician. She, like many figures that work within mainstream politics for years, has a layered history of positives and negatives. Her years as District Attorney of San Francisco and her tenure as Attorney General of California can be described as marked with contradictions as she tried to find her place in the restrictive political terrain.

She championed a truancy law that would be used to criminalize parents, usually of color, for their children missing school, a law for which she has since shown public remorse.

As Vox noted, Harris was ahead of her time regarding California’s harsh “three strikes” law. The law said that someone who committed a third felony could go to prison for 25 years to life, even for nonviolent crimes. Harris required that her San Francisco D.A. office only charged for a third strike if the felony was a serious violent crime.

When she was California A.G. her office fought to release fewer prisoners, even after the Supreme Court found that overcrowding in California prisons caused unconstitutional punishment. Yet, also as A.G., she directly implemented and expanded her “re-entry” program called “Back on Track” that aimed to keep low-level young offenders out of jail. No one is denying that Harris’s record as San Francisco D.A. and California A.G. reflects these contrasting positions.

Describing herself as a “top cop,” did herself no favors in the fight she would face to gain support from progressives and those further left on the political spectrum. Going by only her record before she became a senator could have some wonder whether Harris was capable of holding government officials accountable, and implementing transformative change in the criminal justice system.

Yet, in recent years, we’ve had consistent backing by Harris of policies that place rights of the people over abusive law enforcement and the establishment.

Harris came into the Senate during the start of Donald Trump’s presidency. She would emerge as a main figure in the political resistance to his administration and its abuse of power.

She is a co-sponsor of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer Medicare for All bill. Harris is the lead Senate author on legislation, championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, that would require the scoring of environmental regulations to see their effects on frontline communities, who often are the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.

She has been a supporter of reparations for Black Americans. In the wake of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders by police, Harris joined Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, Sen. Cory Booker, and others in introducing the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. This bill includes measures to increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct, eliminate discriminatory policing practices, and establish a framework to prohibit racial profiling at the federal, state, and local levels.

Throwing disparaging, dismissive, and limiting comments at Harris, comments such as “cop,” as though they summarize her entire career, doesn’t take into account her multi-faceted history in politics and her current role as a leader for progressive change.

She may be far from leading any sort of revolution, but she shouldn’t be painted as an enemy of change, either.

Harris is the daughter of immigrants and was raised within the civil rights movement. For her entire career, she has had to exist within a white male-dominated terrain as often the only Black woman around in any position of power.

She is part of a growing movement of Black women who are taking center stage in the political arena rather than playing only supportive roles to white politicians. This movement, including her role in it, was a key factor in the “blue wave” that swept the country during the 2018 midterm elections.

Harris rightly acknowledged as much in her acceptance speech, pointing to the fact that Black women are the backbone of democracy in the United States.

The importance of Harris championing Black women in this way must not be underestimated.

Black women are 13.8% of the U.S. population of women, yet they are 60% (three times more likely) to be in prison than their white counterparts. Thirty-three percent of the girls who are detained and committed in juvenile justice systems are Black. These numbers reflect the criminalization of the most vulnerable and exploited women in our society.

Yet, 90% of this same demographic showed up in support of the Biden-Harris ticket, and plenty of that 90% was galvanized by the idea that a Black woman, who has spoken to their issues, would be in the White House.

We’ve seen that when Black women are empowered, progress and change happen, and that’s beneficial for working people as a whole. This is exemplified in their high voter turnout and their participation in organized labor.

Harris being put into the White House represents what can be achieved when one of the strongest yet vulnerable demographics in the U.S. makes itself seen and heard.  It goes beyond symbolism as her insistence on combating systemic racism has the potential to address issues in an intersectional way – unseen before on the national political stage.

In a time of civil unrest, this is needed now more than ever. Harris’s record shows us that working people have space to push her and Biden even further towards progressive change.

All of this is cause for celebration because it is part of a winning strategy towards a better tomorrow.

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Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.