The woman who could change the world forever

Child of hope: Born in America, Kamala Harris has a Jamaican father and an Indian mother. © Getty

Will Kamala Harris become president? Her selection as Joe Biden’s deputy already breaks the mould of American politics. If she wins the world’s most powerful job, it would launch a new era.

Kamala Harris, US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s pick to be his running mate in November’s election, has been a trailblazer all her life.

“My mother used to have a saying,” the 55-year-old Harris is fond of recounting. “She would say to me: ‘You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last’.”

Harris was the first black attorney general of California, the first woman to hold the post, and the first woman of South Asian heritage to be elected to the US Senate.

She is now seeking to become the first female vice president of the United States.

And, with the 77-year-old Biden expected to serve only a single term if elected, Harris would be favourite to win the Democratic presidential nomination four years from now.

That could give Harris a chance to launch a new era in history as the first female president of the United States.

It is the culmination of a remarkable personal story that began over a century ago in a small village in India. There, her grandfather, PV Gopalan, rose from obscurity to become a distinguished civil servant.

In a socially conservative society, Gopalan was open-minded. When his daughter Shyamala applied to study at UC Berkeley, he said, “If you get admission, you go.”

In the US, Shyamala met Donald Harris, a Jamaican-born Economics student, and in 1964, Kamala was born. She was one of the first children to be bussed to school – and she grew up in the political heat of the civil rights movement.

She called her grandfather “one of the favourite people in my world”. When he wasn’t teaching her poker, he was writing her letters. His belief in gradual reform shaped her political convictions. “I’m going to try and go inside the system,” she said, “where I don’t have to ask permission to change what needs to be changed.”

So, how might she end up in the White House? As Biden’s vice president, she will automatically take over if he falls ill, dies in office, or is impeached. But if he serves a full term and does not stand again in 2024, Harris is now the clear frontrunner to replace him as the Democrat candidate.

This would be an astonishing moment in world history. With very few exceptions, power has always been held by white men. In the US, women only gained the vote in 1920 and many African Americans were prevented from voting until 1965. Voting a black woman into the Oval Office would show that the world is finally changing.

However, she must first face the fury of Donald Trump. In his opening salvo, he called her “nasty”, a “phoney” and a “madwoman”. Last night, he accused her of failing to meet the immigration requirements to stand for election. Many political commentators are saying she will need every shred of her political experience for the contest that lies ahead.

So, will Kamala Harris become US president?

Female Obama?

Yes, Harris is heading for the top job. Barack Obama’s election in 2008 showed that Americans were prepared to vote an African American into the White House. The momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement has accelerated the desire for change. The tide of history is behind Kamala Harris.

No, Obama faced racist abuse and Hilary Clinton faced intense sexism. Harris will have to contend with both. If Biden wins, she must survive four years of vicious political scrutiny. And if Trump wins this November, her presidential hopes will be over for good.

You Decide

  1. Who in your family is your greatest inspiration?
  2. Is Kamala Harris right that real change comes from within the system?

Activities

  1. Create an election poster for Harris as president, celebrating her family’s story and background.
  2. Write a letter to someone who inspires you and tell them how you plan to change the world.

Some People Say...

“Every office I’ve run for, I was the first to win. First person of colour. First woman. First woman of colour. Every time.”

Kamala Harris (born 1964), US politician and lawyer, serving as junior US senator from California since 2017

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that although most vice presidents run for president, few actually win. Of the last 13 vice presidents, 10 stood for the top job, eight were nominated by their parties, and only three finally made it to the White House. Biden (Obama’s former vice president) hopes to be the fourth. This time, however, the position has gained more attention because of Biden’s age. He will be the oldest president in US history and his second-in-command will play an important role if his health declines.
What do we not know?
Whether America will ever vote for a black woman. The political scientist Sharon Austin argues that previous campaigns for the presidential nomination have never been taken seriously. Political donors, the media, and voters do not expect a black woman to win, so they do not give the money, coverage, or support to gain momentum. However, as more black women are elected to political office, this negative perception may begin to change.

Word Watch

Socially conservative society
As strict Hindus, Harris’s grandparents’ marriage was arranged by their parents. Women were not traditionally expected to study or work so, by studying in the US and marrying for love, Kamala’s mother broke many social conventions.
UC Berkeley
Kamala Harris’s mother studied Nutrition and Endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley and worked in breast cancer research.
Bussed
In order to create more mixed schools, some areas transported students from poor black neighbourhoods to predominantly white schools. In debates last year, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris clashed over Biden’s past opposition to bussing.
Impeached
Three presidents – Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump – have been impeached by the House of Representatives. In all three cases, the Senate voted not to remove them.
Few exceptions
In 2008, Barack Obama became the first non-white American president. Only two of the United Kingdom’s 55 prime ministers have been women (Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May).
Opening salvo
The first in a series of questions or statements used to try and win an argument.

Subjects

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