On the Shoulders of Giants: Kamala Harris

Avatar of Ellora Mookherjee-Amodt

Born in Oakland, California, Vice President Kamala Harris was always the underdog. Born to two immigrant parents, she served as district attorney of San Francisco, attorney general of California, and US senator before becoming the first woman and person of color to serve as the vice president of the United States. Throughout her career, she’s been an inspiration and role model for women of color everywhere, with her powerful voice and ambitious passion for social justice. 

Harris’s introduction to politics began in 1990 when she was hired as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County. Throughout the next decade, Harris was recognized as highly intelligent and skilled by the Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown, who promoted her to a member of the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, and later appointed her to the California Medical Assistance Commission. 

She served as a prosecutor during this time as well and went on to serve as an assistant district attorney chief of the Career Criminal Division in 1998. In 2000, however, after publicly starting a campaign against a proposition that would allow minors to be prosecuted in Superior Court, District Attorney Terence Hallinan’s assistant, Darrell Salomon, attempted to block media coverage of her campaign. He also demoted her, causing Harris to file a complaint and quit. She took on a new position at San Francisco City Hall, running the Family and Children’s Service Division. This position led her to run for district attorney of San Francisco.

In 2002, she ran against former District Attorney Terence Hallinan. As the lesser-known candidate, she strategized by critiquing his performance during her time spent as his subordinate. She stated during her campaign that his office was technologically inept and went on to state that his conviction rate was far too low, and that he wasn’t doing enough to combat gun violence particularly in poor neighborhoods. Her strategy worked, as she won 56 percent of the vote and ran unopposed in 2007. She spent her two terms as the first person of color serving as district attorney. Focusing her efforts on public safety and reform, Harris gained a new amount of recognition. By decisively beating the more well-known Hallinan, Harris proved to be competitive and electable. She was endorsed by several democratic senators, including Nancy Pelosi, before being elected to the spot of attorney general of California in 2010. 

As attorney general, Harris continued to challenge the criminal justice system and advocate for public safety. Among other things, she began defending LGBTQ+ rights. In 2016, after then US Senator Barbara Boxer announced that she would not be running again, Harris stepped up to the role almost immediately. She was endorsed by former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden, and won the election with over 60 percent of the vote. She worked tirelessly to bring justice to former President Trump’s actions, including trying Brett Kavanaugh in his Supreme Court hearings regarding his interference in the Mueller investigation, as well as delivering a poignant speech on the Senate floor during the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Harris said, “We must recognize that in America, there are two systems of justice. One for the powerful and one for everyone else.” In January of 2019, Harris announced her run for president of the United States, but eventually lost the nomination to Joe Biden.

On August 11, 2020, after the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests that took place after the death of George Floyd, Biden announced that he had chosen Harris as his running mate. Together, they won the election on November 7, and Kamala Harris became the first African American, Asian American, and woman to serve as the vice president of the United States.

Update: This article was corrected to fix capitalization.