Kamala Harris has broken many barriers as the first woman of color to become the Vice President-elect of the US. Her journey to becoming the second most powerful politician in the US has been long and begins with her childhood in Berkeley.
Although she was born in Oakland, Harris lived in Berkeley until the age of 12. She completed elementary school at Thousand Oaks, starting kindergarten one year after the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) began a full integration of grade schools. In her book, The Truths We Hold, she explored the impact of going to a diverse school from a young age and discussed growing up in the Berkeley community.
At Thousand Oaks Elementary School, a mural was recently created depicting Harris among other female leaders, including Malala Yousafzai and Serena Williams. Harris acknowledged the mural and stated her appreciation for being included among so many extraordinary women.
Harris has credited her childhood in Berkeley as a major influence in her career choice, and has frequently discussed how the activism of her community has positively affected her. Although she lived in Montreal from ages 12 to 18, she returned to the Bay Area in order to begin her career, and was eventually elected District Attorney of San Francisco in 2003.
Throughout her career, Harris has been the first to do many things — this includes being the first African American woman to serve as California’s Attorney General, and the first South Asian American senator in history. Continuing to break barriers as the Vice President-elect, Harris has inspired many, from students at Berkeley High School (BHS) to members of the broader Berkeley community.
“Seeing someone of my own ethnicity lets me know that it would be possible for me to take that position of power if I wanted to. It’s pretty inspirational,” said Rohini Chokkalingam, a South Indian senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS).
The US has historically been a country where those in power often come from similarly privileged backgrounds. Until Barack Obama’s election in 2008, there had never been an African American president — and the US has yet to elect a female president. The progress towards a more inclusive country has been gradual, but the election of a woman of color as the Vice President is a major step forward.
Chokkalingam stated, “I’m really, really proud that she’s the new Vice President. It’s really cool to see someone who doesn’t fit what’s usually in the White House taking office.”
Despite recognizing her accomplishments in breaking barriers, the Berkeley community has mixed opinions on Harris, with some seeing her position as a prosecutor and support of law enforcement as a betrayal to the communities she has sworn to protect.
Aya Daterra, a freshman at BHS, reflected on Harris’s past and said, “Despite the fact that Kamala Harris is a woman of color, her harsh policies have dramatically affected people of color and perpetuated racism in the justice system, and that can’t be ignored.”
In the past, Harris has supported policies that promote mass incarceration. With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining extensive media coverage, the police force and our justice system are continuing to be examined. Through this national dialogue, Harris’ past rulings have been under scrutiny.
However, others continue to view Harris as both a powerful politician and leader. Leigh Marz, who previously worked alongside Harris as an executive director for Physicians for a Violence-Free Society, said, “I’ve been watching Kamala Harris work on behalf of women and silenced groups for years, and I think her and Joe Biden are the perfect partnership. I’m excited to see what she does once she’s in office.”
Despite the controversies surrounding Harris, much of the community recognizes the progress her election signifies. Throughout Trump’s presidency, the US has become increasingly divided, but many hope Biden and Harris’s election is the beginning of a new era.
“It’s interesting because at the beginning of the election Harris and Biden were always making headlines for attacking one another, and now, seeing them work together makes me believe that if they’re able to put aside those differences, we’re working towards a future that looks different,” Chokkalingam remarked.
Although many remain critical, Kamala Harris’s election is undeniably a political milestone. It has shifted the US one step closer toward becoming a country where everyone is represented in positions of power. As Chokkalingam said, “Berkeley is really proud of her.”