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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Kamala Harris officially accepts the Democratic vice presidential nomination and makes history

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

She’s the first Black woman and first South Asian American woman to be a VP nominee on a major-party ticket.

Sen. Kamala Harris has made history by becoming the first Black woman and the first South Asian American woman to accept a major-party nomination for the vice presidency, delivering a powerful set of remarks from Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday.

“I accept your nomination for vice president of the United States of America. I do so committed to the values [my mother] taught me,” she said on the third night of the Democratic National Convention. “And to a vision passed on through generations of Americans, one that Joe Biden shares, a vision of our nation as a beloved community where all are welcome no matter what we look like, no matter where we come from or who we love.”

Her nomination is a groundbreaking and emotional milestone for many Democrats, including those who see this choice as finally acknowledging the contributions Black women have made to the party. “This is a historic win for Black women, who have long been disenfranchised,” said LaTosha Brown, the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, in a statement.

A number of voters, too, say her nomination has made them feel seen in a way they haven’t been before. “I cried when I first heard it,” said Brittany Oliver, a women’s rights activist and communications director who backed Harris in the primary. “She’s paved the way for women like me.”

“I feel seen and heard,” Howard University political science professor Keneshia Grant previously told Vox.

“The importance of having someone in the White House who looks like you cannot be overstated,” author and television personality Padma Lakshmi recently wrote.

Some progressive voters, many of whom had raised concerns about Harris’s prosecutorial record in the past, say they’ve been more “conflicted” about her candidacy but emphasize that they’re optimistic about holding her and Biden accountable. “I’m torn in some ways. I think it’s important for representation,” says organizer Vanessa Keverenge. “I do think it’s tough because she ended up joining a system and perpetuating its harms.”

In her remarks on Wednesday, Harris laid out a broad vision for an administration that aims to address existing inequities and push back against the racist rhetoric and policies that have been advanced by the Trump administration.

“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,” she said.

If Joe Biden is elected to the presidency this fall, Harris would become the first woman to hold the role of VP. A daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, she was previously the first Black woman and South Asian American woman to become a California senator, the state’s attorney general, and San Francisco’s district attorney. Her acceptance of Democrats’ VP nomination marked yet another trailblazing moment this week.

Harris’s nomination is a major milestone

Harris’s nomination is a significant milestone — one that many Democratic voters have been pushing for in the wake of protests over racism and police brutality. Many Black leaders have also argued that the vice presidential pick should reflect the support Black voters have given the party.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, so let me just be plain: Black people, especially Black women, are the backbone of this party, and if we don’t show up, Democrats don’t get elected,” said Cozzie Watkins, a Democratic activist and nurse, during the North Carolina portion of Democrats’ Tuesday roll call.

Black women are among Democrats’ most influential lawmakers and the party’s most dedicated voters. In 2016, they overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton in the general election, and in 2017, they were credited with securing Doug Jones’s Senate victory during an incredibly close special election in Alabama.

At the time, the hashtag #BlackWomen trended on Twitter. “This is like making good on the hashtag,” says Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, an organization dedicated to electing more women of color.

Harris’s nomination is also the latest to build on the groundbreaking presidential runs of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for the Democratic nomination in 1972, and Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman elected to the Senate, who ran for president in 2004.

“Let’s all take a minute to acknowledge the significance of this moment,” said Brown in her statement. “This victory was shaped not just by this individual, but also by the hundreds and thousands of nameless Black women on whose shoulders she stands.”

Some Democrats are conflicted about the decision — but hope to push for accountability

Harris has faced questions about choices she made in the more than two decades she spent as a prosecutor, district attorney, and state attorney general in California, including her stance on independent investigations of police killings. Some Democrats say they have had more mixed feelings about her nomination as a result.

“Women of color, particularly progressives, might feel torn. Perhaps even closeted excitement,” writes human rights attorney and organizer Derecka Purnell. “Her one-liners were unforgettable. Until we remembered that she honed those argumentative skills in court as a prosecutor, including during fights to uphold wrongful convictions.”

Several Democrats spoke to the significance of more representation on the ticket, but also hoped to see more engagement between a Harris-Biden administration and activists down the line. “There was a moment of pride whenever she was running initially,” says Serena Gibbs, who like Harris identifies as half-Black and half-Indian; she says she feels more lukewarm now, in part, because of Harris’s criminal justice efforts as a prosecutor.

As Vox’s German Lopez has reported, Harris’s record as a prosecutor was filled with contradictions:

She pushed for programs that helped people find jobs instead of putting them in prison, but also fought to keep people in prison even after they were proved innocent. She refused to pursue the death penalty against a man who killed a police officer, but also defended California’s death penalty system in court. She implemented training programs to address police officers’ racial biases, but also resisted calls to get her office to investigate certain police shootings.

Yalini Dream, a performer and activist, said she’d like to see more consideration of proposals that defund law enforcement and emphasized that while she felt representation was important, she also looked for more than “a very superficial understanding of representation based on identity and not on the issues that really matter to people.”

By and large, voters and organizers emphasized that accountability is vital — with many focused on getting Trump out of the White House and pushing Biden and Harris on policies including police reform and a Green New Deal.

“She’s done some things that are commendable, but there’s also valid critiques,” says Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, of Harris. “There’s also the emotional response — there is an emotional connection to the symbolism of a Black woman being named the vice presidential candidate of a major party. I’m also from Oakland. I also went to Howard. I’m a member of that sorority, so there’s pride in that.”

Harris’s nomination sends a hopeful signal about the party’s commitment to representation

Democrats are also hopeful that Harris’s nomination continues to send a strong message about the importance of Black women, and women of color broadly, to the party.

“After 2016, in which Hillary Clinton chose a white running mate, Kamala Harris being on the ballot is a signal that the Democratic Party can no longer do that, that there’s a recognition from people who have been in party politics that women of color cannot be ignored or taken for granted without risking a 2016, because we’re the margin of victory as voters,” says Allison. “We’ve opened up a space and possibility.”

This year, a record-breaking number of Black, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Native American women have filed to run for the House, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. And Harris’s nomination as one of the names at the top of the ticket could well spur more women to do so, while increasingly normalizing greater representation in these leadership roles.

Voters are also looking to her and Biden to continue prioritizing Black women in the policies they focus on; Oliver cited Harris’s work on maternal mortality legislation as one example of such efforts.

“It was back in November that she did a debate and talked about the importance of Black women,” says Oliver. “She used her platform to uplift Black women. That is exactly what the Democratic Party needs to hear.”


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