Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on August 18, 2020, before Kamala Harris became the first female Vice President of the United States.
“We’re gonna get it done.” These were some of the first words spoken by Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris in her phenomenal half-hour interview with Errin Haines, Editor-at-Large for the 19th, during the 19th Represents Summit on Friday. Harris’s plans to “get it done” refer to the upcoming Presidential election, and her goal to join Joe Biden in leading the U.S. out of one of its worst crisis periods in history.
Haines began the interview by asking what it was like for Kamala Harris to be in competition with women she respected and worked with, other candidates who were running for President and were in the lead to be asked to fill Biden’s ticket for the Vice President spot.
“I don’t think any of us thought of ourselves as being in competition with each other,” she said. “It really was about a pride we all had that we were representing a picture of what the leadership of this country is and should be going forward.” True to form for a woman who knows her power, Harris referenced the “collective sense of pride” that all of the women Presidential candidates exhibited and remarked on how the group shows “the diversity of who we are as women.”
Choosing a Woman of Color
Haines then asked Harris whether she felt that Joe Biden needed to choose a woman of color as his running mate. Harris came back with a statement that amplified the power of male allies in this work, recognizing Biden’s courage and his ability to overcome huge barriers by bringing women of color into top leadership with his choice.
“Let’s sit back and think about this. Joe Biden had the audacity to choose a black woman to be his running mate. How incredible is that, and what a statement about Joe Biden, that he decided that he was going to do that thing that was about breaking one of the most substantial barriers that has existed in our country,” said Harris.
Haines asked what Harris saw as the risks that came along with Joe Biden’s choice of her for the Presidential ticket.
“It’s a statement about the vision that Joe Biden has about who we are as a nation and the future of our nation,” said Harris. “It is also about saying that this is an administration that is focused on the future of our culture, motivated by what can be, unburdened by what has been.”
Kamala Harris and the American Imagination
Haines asked about “what this does for the American imagination” to see someone like Kamala Harris being nominated to the Presidential ticket.
“I am not unique. There are a lot of people like me. I come from people,” said Harris. “What we know is that this is actually who we are and what we are, and it is a statement that is an affirmation about who we truly are.” Harris added that, “this in the face of the current occupant of the White House” who has “spent full time trying to sow hate and division in our country.”
“There is a clear contrast between the current inhabitant of the White House and the Biden-Harris ticket,” she continued, adding that the Biden-Harris ticket is about working families, childcare, good jobs, and access to health care — and that their ticket responds to what the American people really want in their leadership.
Asked about her meeting with Joe Biden to get the nomination, Harris spoke about the deep relationship she has had with Biden over many years, and also their shared policy agenda.
“We have talked about the importance of supporting the dignity of work and working people including organized labor and collective bargaining, and making sure no one is denied health care,” she added. “These are the things he and I talked about.”
Harris said the Biden-Harris policy agenda is “grounded in the values of hope, vision, and faith, and commitment, and hard work. It was an incredible conversation that we have continued to have. We’re here in Delaware now. We’ve been spending time together,” she said.
“The Biden-Harris agenda is a shared agenda,” she said. “Joe has a whole plan about the economy,” she said, that is based on “understanding the connection of creating jobs and bringing work and dignity to working families.”
One piece of that agenda is adopting the Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights, which Harris has been working on for several years, in order to “bring home health care to seniors, but also make sure that caregivers are being paid a livable and righteous wage.”
“Let’s be clear,” Harris added. “When talking about domestic workers, we are talking primarily about women of color. […] They too deserve support and dignity for the work they do.”
Harris said she and Biden also have a shared agenda about addressing the climate crisis. The plan involves “creating a million jobs” and growing the “infrastructure for renewable energies,” but also making sure that those jobs and plans are “inclusive of indigenous people and people of color.” She emphasized that their administration will be paying attention to racial and gender disparities as they are focusing on ways to “grow back our country.”
Haines asked about Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff. “We may hear from Doug more in the coming days,” said Haines, and then asked if Doug was feeling about “taking on the role of Second Man. Is he up for the job?”
“I married a man who is so supportive and encouraging of women period,” said Harris. “He is comfortable being behind the scenes or next to me or in front of me. He’s comfortable, he loves his family, he loves my cooking and he loves our country. He and Jill have an incredible relationship. They bonded when we were all running. I do believe that their relationship is a very special one that America is going to witness.”
Haines then asked Harris to reflect about how this moment in history, the 100th anniversary of the right for women to vote, intersects with her own historic candidacy.
“There’s a lot to celebrate, but there’s also unfinished business,” said Harris. She then focused her comments on herself as a “proud HBCU (Howard University) graduate.”
“I was looking at photos and listening to stories [at Howard],” said Harris, and spoke of how historical photographs show that in 1920, Howard women were demanding the right to vote alongside white women. “There are beautiful photos of women of color meeting with President Woodrow Wilson,” she added.
“Let’s be reminded of the ability of women at every stage to build coalitions, and fight together, but let’s also acknowledge the disparities that exist based on race,” she said.
Lessons Learned from the Democratic Primary
Haines asked about Harris’s experience as the “lone black woman in a very crowded Democratic primary,” wondering about how the race and gender components played out in her campaign.
Harris returned to her appreciation of the “courage and commitment” that Joe Biden has exhibited in choosing her as his running mate.
“I’m the only black woman in the US Senate, and only the second in the history of the Senate. So when we look at how far we have to go, we have a lot of work to do.”
But she emphasized that, “By Joe asking me, he has pushed forward something that might have taken decades, if you track the progress we have made so far.”
She added that the significance of her historical nomination is that it promises new leadership of our country guided by “an understanding by Joe, and our administration, to be conscious about the disparities,” as well as the “systemic racism” that exists in our country and to be active in doing things that will get us “closer to an equitable and fair society.”
“This is a statement about the fact that we’re not gonna just wait for someone to give us permission,” she added. “Sometimes we have to get out of our comfort zone to move things forward.”
How Will Harris Fight for Women?
Haines then asked Harris, “If you become the first female Vice President of this country, how will you fight for women?”
Harris returned to her earlier proclamation at the 2017 Women’s March. “Every issue is a woman’s issue, and women’s issues should be everyone’s issues.”
Harris reflected on how, over the course of her career, she has been the first woman in a position many times, and has often been asked how it feels to be the first woman in a job. She said she would respond by redirecting the conversation to issues that impact women’s lives, and in turn, everyone’s lives. “I’d say ‘I’m so glad you want to talk to me about the economy, or health care, or the climate crisis, or immigration.'”
“In a Biden-Harris administration, women are going to be a priority, understanding that women have lots of priorities and all of them need to be acknowledged,” she added.
“Let’s talk about the weight that women carry,” she added, referring to the fact that woman are often the primary caregivers for children and seniors in families, as well as full-time workers. “Affordable child care, that is a priority,” she said.
What Does This Mean for Other Women?
Haines asked Harris about the implications of her nomination to the Vice Presidency for other women. Harris discussed how she was raised by her mother to understand that while she may be the first to do many things, it was her duty to make sure she was not the last. “I feel a great personal responsibility that when we walk through those doors, we then widen the doors, […] and then each one pull one up.”
In 2020, Harris said, we are finally getting beyond “firsts” for women of color in leadership, but added, “we need many women in leadership positions.”
Should Harris Become VP, Who Will Fill Her Senate Seat? Black Women Potentials?
“There are 100 US senators, so this is a national issue,” said Harris. “We should all sit back and say how is it when you look at the history of our country, it is inexcusable that Women of Color don’t have full representation in Congress. There are so many talented Black women and Women of Color and they should be encouraged and supported.”
Bringing Out the Black Women’s Vote
“Black women pay attention to the issues,” said Harris, and are motivated to vote for the candidates who best articulate a reasonable way to address their priorities and needs. “When you have one ticket that can say the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ and another who has been full-time sowing hate and division in our country, those are the things that will motivate black women to vote.”
What Does ‘Battle for the Soul of America’ Mean to Harris?
“When we look at someone like the current occupant of the White House,” said Harris, “He has not been lifting folks up. […] We are about lifting folks up. These are the things that are at stake right now.”
“This is probably one of the most important elections of our lifetime,” said Harris, asking people are more likely to pick when the choices are “someone who lifts you up and gives you a sense of pride in your country, or someone who is just full-time beating people down.”
“If we don’t correct course,” she added, “the damage will be irreversible.”
Harris’s Concerns About Voter Suppression
Harris acknowledged that laws have recently been put in place “to keep people from voting.”
“Everyone has to remember and ask: why don’t they want us to vote? Why are they creating obstacles to us voting?” she asked.
“When we vote, things change. When we vote, things get better. We address the need of all people to be treated with dignity or respect.”
Harris encouraged Americans not to let anything stand between them and their right to vote. “We need to jump over those obstacles and make sure our votes are counted.”
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