By Lizzy Heurich and the Persisterhood Staff
TP presents a new series: Woman of the Week (WOW). WOW will honor a kick-ass woman who is excelling in her line of work, in her personal life, or elsewhere. A WOW can also just be a lady who is keeping it real. Although WOW should be every week (ya know, because of the name), don’t hate us when it probably isn’t. The Persisters are also trying to be kick-ass women in our fields of work and personal lives, so you know, sometimes life gets too busy. On Wednesdays where we don’t have a WOW profile, check us out on Twitter, where we may point you to a non-TP article about a cool chick.
This is probably not a surprise, but here at The Persisterhood, we have mad respect for strong female politicians standing up for progressive politics. One such woman has made an impression on the national stage in a matter months. Kamala Harris, the junior Senator from California, is someone everyone needs to take notice of. There have been many complaints of the short bench of the Democratic Party, but with up-and-comers like Kamala, we may be in better shape than we originally thought. We heart KH, and after this spotlight on her, we hope you do, too (if you don’t already).
Background and Early Career
Kamala is a native Californian; she was born in Oakland and later lived in Berkeley. Kamala comes from a very distinguished family. Her mother, who came to the U.S. from India a few years before Kamala was born, was a doctor who specialized in breast cancer research, and her father (Kamala’s grandfather) was an Indian diplomat. That’s just her mom’s side of the family. Kamala’s dad, who is of Jamaican descent, was an economics professor at Stanford University, but retired in 1998 to help develop economic policies that promote social equity. Oh, don’t forget her lawyer sister, her former Associate AG of the U.S. brother-in-law, and her lawyer niece. I remember a period of time in my family when we all had to bring a current event to the dinner conversation once a week, so I can’t even imagine what the Harris household was like.
Even though Kamala attended grade school in California in the 1970s, she had this to say about her early education experience, “Almost two decades after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, I was part of only the second class to integrate the Berkeley, CA, public schools.” This student who helped to integrate schools would continue on to break glass ceilings for women, people of color, and women of color.
Kamala continued her education by attending high school in Quebec, where she moved with her mother (for a job) after her parent’s divorce. Kamala went on to attend Howard University for undergrad and the University of California, Hastings College of Law for law school (just in case you couldn’t tell by the name). In fact, Harris failed the bar her first time around. To all our friends who are studying for the bar now, look what can happen if you fail it!
KH’s law career began in California as a Deputy DA, where she served for eight years. She continued on to work in the San Francisco DA’s office. After a few years in various roles and after being named one of the top 100 lawyers in California by the LA Daily Journal, Kamala was elected as San Francisco District Attorney in 2003 and reelected in 2007. During her time as DA, she focused on lowering recidivism rates, prosecuting hate crimes against the LGBT+ community (specifically hate crimes against high school students), decreasing the backlog on murder cases, and more. Oh, she also found the time to write a book that was published in 2009 called Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer.
In 2010, Kamala handily won the primary for California Attorney General. She racked up many endorsements, including the then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and many organizations. The general election, where she faced Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley, was a much tighter race. Kamala beat out Cooley by less than a point, and she made history by becoming the first African-American, Indian American, and woman elected as California AG. Kamala won reelection in 2014 by a much wider margin of nearly 15 points.
During her time as California AG, she made a diverse set of issues her priority. Some issues were due to the current events of the time, such as her work on the fallout of the 2008 mortgage fiasco. According to her Senate website, Kamala created the “nation’s most comprehensive anti-foreclosure protections.” Kamala also fought for the rights of consumers and students (both those in grade school and those duped by for-profit institutions). Again, according to her Senate website, she worked to prosecute “transnational gangs exploiting women and children and trafficking in guns and drugs and led comprehensive studies on the impacts of transnational criminal organizations and human trafficking in California.” In fact, this last issue is still important to Kamala as a senator. Last month she said the following at an event, “Let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions. We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations and dealing with human trafficking — not in going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.” Kamala is not messing around.
Notable Stuff Since Kamala’s Senate Election
In 2017, Kamala was elected to serve as a Senator for the state of California. And since she was sworn in, she’s been awfully busy. Kamala has sponsored two bills (one to expand the John Muir National Historic Site to include donated land, the other to clarify the rights of persons detained at ports of entry or detention facilities overseen by U.S. Customs and Border Protection or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and successfully passed a resolution condemning hate crimes and other forms of racism, religious or ethnic discrimination, and animus targeting minorities. She has also co-sponsored 61 bills and resolutions.
We crossed our fingers that Kamala would turn out to be a strong advocate for progressive rights. And boy, has she lived up to our expectations. During the height of the crisis surrounding Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban, Kamala received texts from lawyers at airports around California whose clients were prevented from entering the country, even though a judge had stayed the executive order. So she picked up the phone and called John Kelly, the Secretary of Homeland Security, at his home and demanded that he order those people to be let into the country. Protocol be damned. Something was wrong with our country *cough Trump cough* and she was going to alleviate the fallout by any means possible.
Unsurprisingly, Kamala has also supported a $15 minimum wage, opposed the [shitburger of a bill known as the] AHCA, spoken out against the FCC’s vote to repeal net neutrality, condemned Trump’s executive order threatening national monuments, and joined a bipartisan group of senators supporting the creation of a commission to review the criminal justice system and propose reforms. Kamala is already building up her foreign affairs experience — which she needs, because she’s a member of both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — taking a trip in April to Iraq and Jordan to meet with service members fighting ISIS in the region and to visit refugee camps flooded with displaced Syrian citizens.
Most recently, Kamala has been active in protesting Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement. There is no doubt that she understands what is at stake in the long run. Kamala argues that we have an obligation as a global leader — and as the planet’s second-largest polluter — to “combat this threat to public health and safety here at home, and abroad.” She has called on the American people to pressure local officials to reduce pollution and otherwise address climate change. “If the White House is going to stand in the way of real progress,” she says, “then we have to create it ourselves.” On that note, if you want to sign her petition encouraging local and state governments to commit to following the Paris Climate Agreement, you can do so here.
There are many things we admire about Kamala besides her policy proposals and positions:
- Two-thirds of Kamala’s staffers are people of color, and over half are women.
- Kamala and Sherrod Brown made a bet on the NBA Finals. Kamala picked the Warriors; Sherrod picked the Cavs. At stake were state-brewed beers, delivered to the winner’s office in Washington.
- Kamala gave an amazing interview on Pod Save America and she swore. We millennials enjoy this candor.
- Kamala’s Spotify playlist is on point. So. Many. Jams.
- Kamala officiated the first legally recognized wedding for a gay couple in California after the SCOTUS ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry, which essentially ruled Prop 8 as invalid. The couple that was wed were the plaintiffs in the case. Love is love, y’all.
Kamala is one senator you’re going to want to keep your eye on, not just because she’s a progressive tiger but because she may end up running for president in 2020. Following the hearings a few weeks ago, Politico ran an article touting her “aggressive questioning” and noting that she has continued to earn respect from progressives over the last few months. We expect to see more great things from Kamala in the future.
You go girl.
*References and further reading available upon request*
Featured photo credit: Los Angeles Times