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Kerala Kaumudi Online
Wednesday, 16 June 2021 7.36 AM IST

‘I may be first woman in this office, won't be last’, says Kamala Harris

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WASHINGTON: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris declared that her victory was just a beginning for women as she was elected to be the top-ranking female leader in US history.

"While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last," Harris told a rally as she introduced President-elect Joe Biden at a victory rally in Delaware.

She paid tributes to the women, particularly Black women, whose shoulders she stands on as she shatters barriers that have kept mostly white men entrenched at the highest levels of American politics for more than two centuries.

"I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been," Harris said, wearing a white suit in tribute to women's suffrage. President-elect Joe Biden had the character and audacity "to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country, and select a woman and his vice president." she added.

"While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last," Harris said in her first post-election address to the nation.

The 56-year-old California senator, also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, represents the multiculturalism that defines America but is largely absent from Washington's power centres. Her Black identity has allowed her to speak in personal terms in a year of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism. As the highest-ranking woman ever elected in American government, her victory gives hope to women who were devastated by Hillary Clinton's defeat four years ago.

Harris told little children to "dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they're never seen it before." After Biden's speech, she was joined on stage by her family, including her two grandnieces who wore white dresses.

A rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades, Harris served as San Francisco's district attorney and California's attorney general before becoming a U.S. senator. After she ended her own 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, Joe Biden tapped her as his running mate. They will be sworn in as president and vice president on January 20.

Biden's running mate selection carried added significance because he will be the oldest president ever inaugurated, at 78, and hasn't committed to seeking a second term in 2024. Harris often framed her candidacy as part of the legacy of pioneering Black women who came before her, including educator Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate to seek a major party's presidential nomination, in 1972.

She paid tribute to Black women "who are too often overlooked but so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy."

Despite the excitement surrounding Harris, she and Biden face steep challenges, including a pandemic that has taken a disproportionate toll on people of color, and a series of police killings of Black Americans that have deepened racial tensions. Harris' past work as a prosecutor has prompted scepticism among progressives and young voters who are looking to her to back sweeping institutional change over incremental reforms in policing, drug policy and more.

Jessica Byrd, who leads the Movement for Black Lives' Electoral Justice Project and The Frontline, a multiracial coalition effort to galvanize voters, said she plans to engage in the rigorous organizing work needed to push Harris and Biden toward more progressive policies.

"I deeply believe in the power of Black women's leadership, even when all of our politics don't align," Byrd said. "I want us to be committed to the idea that representation is exciting and it's worthy of celebration and also that we have millions of Black women who deserve a fair shot."

Harris is the second Black woman elected to the Senate. Her colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, who is also Black, said her very presence makes the institution "more accessible to more people" and suggested she would accomplish the same with the vice presidency.

Harris was born in 1964 to two parents active in the civil rights movement. Shyamala Gopalan, from India, and Donald Harris, from Jamaica, met at the University of California, Berkeley, then a hotbed of 1960s activism. They divorced when Harris and her sister were girls, and Harris was raised by her late mother, whom she considers the most important influence in her life.

"When she came here from India at the age of 19, she didn't quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in America where a moment like this is possible," Harris said.

Kamala is Sanskrit for "lotus flower," and Harris gave nods to her Indian heritage throughout the campaign, including with a callout to her "chitthis," a Tamil word for a maternal aunt, in her first speech as Biden's running mate. When Georgia Sen. David Perdue mocked her name in an October rally, the hashtag #MyNameIs took off on Twitter, with South Asians sharing the meanings behind their names.

The mocking of her name by Republicans, including Trump, was just one of the attacks Harris faced. Trump and his allies sought to brand her as radical and a socialist despite her more centrist record, an effort aimed at making people uncomfortable about the prospect of a Black woman in leadership. She was the target of online disinformation laced with racism and sexism about her qualifications to serve as president.

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