On August 11, Democratic Party’s nominee for the US Presidential election. Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as his running mate for vice president. Her selection preceded a lot of noises from within democratic party’s grass-root workers and progressive leaders to choose a woman of colour for the VP position. This was taken as a show of support for the progressive causes for which Joe Biden nd Democratic Party stand with full force.
Here’s a look at the life and policies of Kamala Harris, who could be the first woman to occupy the position of Vice President of the USA.
Kamala Harris was born to immigrant parents who came to the USA as students in the 1960s and stayed on to fulfil their dreams. Her Father came from Jamaica in 1961 to pursue economics from UC Berkeley, while her mother came from India in 1958 to pursue research in endocrinology and breast cancer, also from UC Berkeley. They met and married during the social protest movement in the 1960s but got separated while Kamala was only seven years old. Her mother never remarried and took great care of Kamala and her sister Maya.
Kamala’s mother belonged to one of the highest social classes, the Tamil Brahmin but raised both of her daughters as Black American. She kept her contact with the family back in Chennai (earlier known as Madras), India, which continued with Kamala as well.
Kamala spent much of her childhood in Montreal, Quebec, Canada after her parents divorce. After graduating high school she attended Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a well-known Black sorority. She married Douglas Emhoff, an attorney, in 2014. Her sister is currently a lawyer, an MSNBC political analyst, and has worked with Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
She was the district attorney general of San Francisco and attorney general of California, and was the first Black woman to hold those positions. She went into the profession apparently because she wanted to change the law enforcement system from the inside. Over the years she has repeatedly referred to herself as a “top cop,” though she also prefers “progressive prosecutor.” She became a member of the Senate and has been running for President since 2016.
Her stance on several policies has changed over the years. During her prosecutor years she occupied a classic centrist stance: she supported some reforms to the criminal justice system, which was unique in an era of “tough on crime” policies (that often had racist undertones), but at the same time she tried to keep favour with police officers and unions— perhaps due to her nature as a prosecutor, and was often silent on bills which might have be seen as too polarised towards one end of the spectrum.
Her more well-acclaimed decisions came in the form of programs such as anti-bias training, Open Justice and Back on Track. Open Justice is an online portal that makes various criminal justice data, such as deaths and injuries in police custody, available to the public. Back on Track was about a year long program aimed at young and first-time low-level offenders, offering to waive jail time if they went to school, got a job, and other such goals.
It might be worth noting that a lot of Harris’ actions focus on what can be done after an arrest is made and before incarceration, which inherently means that reducing police brutality and reforming prisons have not yet been great strengths of hers. Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, civil rights activists have looked up to Harris, a Black woman in a position of power, to lead the change in terms of legislature, but have come out with mixed results. Most of them feel that Harris strives for some reform but never gets too bold, and essentially ends up upholding the status quo.
For instance, around 2015, she made body-worn cameras mandatory for all of the small percentage of special agents employed by the attorney general, but did not support a bill to make them mandatory for all police officers in California, stating that she opposed a “one-size-fits-all approach.” Some of her other decisions while she was a prosecutor have been questioned in recent debates, such as her anti-truancy law, and the evolution of her opinion on marijuana.
Harris has spoken out in support of Kashmiris under Indian occupation after the revocation of article 370. Biden has been critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act. However, she has also described the India-US relationship as “unbreakable”, and even tweeted a welcome message for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his visit to India in June 2017.
Biden’s choice of Harris as his running mate for vice president is considered by her supporters as symbolic and historic due to her identity as a Black Asian-American and the representation she brings to a powerful stage. Her critics however, have been skeptical due to her career as someone who worked very closely with law enforcement.
Harris, like any other politician, has a checkered past which deserves scrutiny. Those who are rooting for or against her deserve to know about the different aspects of her political, social and other policy positions which helped evolve into the politician she is today and the direction in which she is expected to move in the future. This will be essential for her to appeal to a wider population and add to the votes for Joe Biden in the November 2020 Presidential poll.