Shortly after Kamala Harris was announced as Joe Biden’s choice for his Vice Presidential running mate, a panel of black women were asked, “How do you feel right now?” “I feel heard” was the simple yet profound response of one of them. As is well-known to those who follow the polls, black women voters are the backbone of the Democratic party. In the primary election, black women in South Carolina delivered the Presidential nomination to Joe Biden. Yet all too often black women have felt that their votes were taken for granted.
Instead of focusing on the needs and priorities of black women and their communities, all too often the Democratic Party’s strategy has been to reach out to other groups—for example working class white men or white suburban women. To feel heard at this moment means to be taken seriously as a political actor and as a person. Right now, the fact that a black woman was selected is what matters most. There were other qualified women and out of all of them. a black woman, Kamala Harris was chosen. And because of this, black women feel heard. It’s about time. Period.
It is hard to describe Kamala Harris, a woman of many talents, but the press seems to have settled on describing her as “the safe centrist choice.” Yet the watchdog group GovTrack.us ranked Kamala Harris slightly above Bernie Sanders as the most progressive member of the Senate, situating her to the left of Joe Biden and most members of her party.
During the summer of 2018, I was impressed by Harris’s “epic takedown of Brett Kavanaugh,” and as the primaries began, I again admired her acute intelligence, unflappable poise, and grace as she asked difficult questions and addressed the issues. Yet I was also aware that members of the progressive left found her too hard on crime in her early years as District Attorney of San Francisco, leading to the unnecessary, unjust incarceration black men.
At the same time, I learned that my heroine in Congress, Barbara Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against both Iraq wars, was one of the first to endorse Kamala Harris. I suspected that Barbara Lee knew something about Harris’s record that was not being reported by her critics. Indeed she did.
As longtime public defender in San Francisco Niki Solis writes:
As a public defender for 24 years, I examined, critiqued and battled Harris when she was the San Francisco district attorney. And more often than not, Harris and I were on opposite sides.
Having had this experience, I feel compelled to speak on Harris’ record while she was a district attorney. Simply put, Harris was the most progressive prosecutor in the state. This is not an anecdotal opinion. It is based on facts.
As San Francisco DA, Harris refused to seek the death penalty — even on a case where a very respected police officer was tragically killed. Marijuana sales cases were routinely reduced to misdemeanors. And marijuana possession cases were not even on the court’s docket. They were simply not charged. Unless there was a large grow case, or a unique circumstance, this was the reform-minded approach then-DA Harris’ office took. The accusations about marijuana prosecutions being harsh during her tenure are absurd. The reality was quite the opposite.
Sen. Harris’ progressive approach did not end with marijuana prosecutions or lack thereof. She co-founded the Coalition to End the Exploitation of Kids. She then spearheaded a task force combating the human trafficking of girls. … She stopped prosecuting young girls for prostitution — acknowledging that they were victims who needed treatment for trauma and not criminals who needed to be incarcerated.
Harris also formalized a court for young adults charged with felonies that resulted in them avoiding a conviction and getting a second chance. She brought in a stalwart progressive community organizer by hiring Lateefah Simon to lead that initiative, a diversionary program called Back on Track that set nonviolent offenders on a path to a new job and helped them rebuild within their communities. Back on Track still exists today and has been a pathway for many young adults to avoid the ravages of a felony conviction or incarceration.
Note that Solis calls Harris “the most progressive prosecutor in the state.” I quote at length because this information is not widely known.
In conclusion, however, let me share the video of Barbara Lee’s response to Kamala Harris’s selection as Vice Presidential nominee, for this is black women’s hour. As always, “Barbara Lee speaks for me.”
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who lives in Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.
Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.