Sen. Kamala Harris says the powerful seek to divide America

Sen. Kamala Harris says the powerful seek to divide America

Video Courtesy of TIME


Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, standing outside of Oakland’s city hall, formally kicked off her campaign for the White House on Sunday, presenting herself as the leader who can best unite an America that is at an “inflection point” and facing a critical question.

“We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before,” Harris said. “And we are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question: Who are we? Who are we as Americans? So, let’s answer that question to the world and each other right here and right now. America, we are better than this.”

Harris, a first-term U.S. senator from California who announced her candidacy last Monday, rallied thousands of supporters at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, her hometown and where she served as a prosecutor before becoming the state attorney general.

Harris invoked the speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1968 when he announced that he would challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson, noting that Kennedy said “at stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country, it is our right to moral leadership of this planet.”

Harris added, “So today I say to you, my friends: These are not ordinary times, and this will not be an ordinary election, but this is our America.”

Harris’ campaign is filled with historic possibility. If she ultimately wins the White House she would be the first African-American woman and first person of Asian descent to be president.

Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, said that as she and her sister, Maya Harris, grew up in the East Bay they were “raised by a community with a deep belief in the promise of our country, and a deep understanding of the parts of that promise that still remain unfulfilled.”

She has attributed her decision to become a lawyer and a prosecutor to her upbringing, and said Sunday that she and her sister were “raised to believe that public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is everyone’s responsibility.”

She said she is running “with faith in God, with fidelity to country, and with the fighting spirit I got from my mother.”

Harris’s launch has drawn heavily on symbolism. She officially entered the race on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Campaign aides say she has drawn inspiration from Shirley Chisholm, a New York congresswoman who in 1972 became the first black woman to run for president from a major party.

Harris’ first news conference as a candidate was on the campus of Howard University, the historically black college in the nation’s capital that she attended as an undergraduate. On Friday, she was in South Carolina to speak to members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, of which she is a member. Other members of the group, wearing traditional pink and green, were on hand at Sunday’s rally.

Her choice of Oakland for her campaign launch was both biographical and symbolic. The state of California has played a leading role in resistance to the presidency of Donald Trump. And Oakland itself, where she was born and spent her formative years, has a history of activism. The plaza outside City Hall where Harris spoke once housed Occupy Oakland’s encampment. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he picked the site for his first Bay Area campaign event.

Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called it “fitting” that Harris chose “the most liberal district in deep-blue California to launch her campaign.”

Harris’ campaign is expected to highlight her career as a prosecutor as part of her rationale for seeking the presidency. Harris was the first black woman elected district attorney in California, as well as the first woman, first African-American and first Asian-American to hold that job.

On Sunday, she said she has long known the criminal justice system to be “deeply flawed” but that she also knew the “profound impact law enforcement has on people’s lives and its responsibility to give them safety and dignity.”

Harris said throughout her life she has “only had one client: the people,” echoing the words she has used in courtrooms and has adopted as her campaign’s slogan.

Harris also did not shy away from taking on Trump directly, saying the U.S. welcomes refugees and calling the wall that Trump wants to build at the southern border a “medieval vanity project” that would not actually stop transnational gangs, which she noted she battled as state attorney general. She also said that, as president, she would “always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will tell the truth.”

Harris is among the first major Democrats to jump into what is expected to be a crowded 2020 presidential contest.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have announced exploratory committees. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Julian Castro, federal housing chief under President Barack Obama and a former San Antonio mayor, already are in the race.

Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont may also run.

After the rally, Harris planned to her first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate. In the weeks before last November’s elections, she traveled to the leadoff caucus state to campaign on behalf of Democrats, and also visited other early-voting states.

Harris’s campaign will be based in Baltimore and led by Juan Rodriguez, who managed her 2016 Senate campaign. Aides say the campaign will have a second office in Oakland.

The lessons after threats drive a black legislator to quit

The lessons after threats drive a black legislator to quit

Video Courtesy of Associated Press


BENNINGTON, Vt. — Voters in this very liberal, very white state made Kiah Morris a pioneer when in 2014 they elected her as its first black female legislator. Two years later, another Vermont surfaced: racist threats that eventually forced her to leave office in fear and frustration.

After she won the Democratic primary for re-election to the state legislature in 2016, someone tweeted a cartoon caricature of a black person at her, along with a vulgar phrase rendered in ebonics. The tweeter threatened to come to rallies and stalk her, Morris said. She won a protective order against him but once that expired, the harassment continued, she said.

The harassment escalated into a break-in while the family was home, vandalism and death threats seen by her young son. Even after she announced she wouldn’t seek re-election, despite running unopposed, a group of youths pounded on her windows and doors at night, forcing her and her husband, convalescing after heart surgery, to leave town.

Finally, in late September, she resigned.

“There’s obviously online harassment that can happen, and that’s a part of our social media world right now, but then when things started happening in everyday life, that’s when it becomes really worrisome and terrifying,” she said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Amid the racial and ideological polarization consuming the country, the Morris case highlights the dangers politicians of color face. And it reinforces that even liberal bubbles like Vermont shouldn’t get too confident or comfortable in their cloaks of inclusivity.

No one should have to endure what Morris did, said Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a white Democrat.

“This is deep racism coming out, and there are Vermonters hunting down other Vermonters here. This is awful for our state,” she said. “Rather than shake our heads and say, ‘Oh, what a shame,’ we all need to buckle down and figure out what steps we can take, what steps each of us can take, however large or small, to erode some of the system that allow racism to continue.”

The sheriff of New Jersey’s most populous county resigned last month after a recording surfaced in which he made derogatory remarks about blacks and the state’s first Sikh attorney general. In August, a Georgia man was sentenced to prison for racist threats against two U.S. senators, including black South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott.

“Racism and racial animus is a chronic illness of this country. It’s not something that just comes in waves in certain places. It’s always there simmering,” said Gloria Browne-Marshall, a professor of constitutional law at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and author of the book “Race, Law and American Society: 1607 to Present.”

Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery and in 2000 became the first to legally recognize same-sex civil unions, a precursor to gay marriage. It has elected Green Party and Socialist candidates. Even its Republican governor would be considered left of center in a conservative state.

But Vermont is also 94.4 percent white, according to census statistics. The black population is just 1.4 percent, or about 8,700 people.

In recent years, like elsewhere in the country, racism has bubbled up, including white supremacist flyers posted this year on college campuses.

“In a state that wants to promote itself as this liberal bastion, the majority of people outraged should have been there protecting” Morris, Browne-Marshall said.

Morris said she was dissatisfied with the response by Bennington police when she reported the acts against her and her family; the police chief has defended his department’s handling of the complaints.

She’s grateful that the attorney general’s office and Vermont State Police are now investigating.

When independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who despite a liberal pedigree has struggled to connect with black voters, learned that Morris was not seeking re-election because of the threats, he called the situation outrageous and, in a statement to The Burlington Free Press, said it is “not what Vermont is about.”

“In the state of Vermont, no elected official, candidate or person should be fearful of their safety because of the color of their skin or their point of view,” he wrote. “This corrosion of political discourse is destructive to our democracy, and we cannot let it take hold.”

Morris said that she has received other support from Vermonters, but said the hard part is learning the system is not set up to protect her.

“I cannot be the legislator that I want to be. I cannot speak my truth in the way that needs to have been said,” she said. “I cannot do those things and be secure and be assured of the safety for myself and my family. And that is really unfortunate.”