On August 12, the US Democratic Party's presidential candidate Joe Biden announced his running mate. This is the person who not only helps him spread his message during the campaign leading up to the big election in November—it is who will become the new vice president if he is elected. His choice?
Often, running mates are quiet counterparts to the presidential nominee—they provide stability and balance to things. But Harris is a groundbreaking choice for a lot of reasons. So groundbreaking, in fact, that she may become more of a star in this campaign than Biden himself.
The term 'glass ceiling' refers to an invisible barrier that only stops certain people from rising to positions of power. It is not an actual physical ceiling you can touch—it's a social barrier. For example, women or people of colour are often said to face a glass ceiling when trying to become heads of large companies or organizations because traditionally those positions are held by white men. They try to earn their way up to these positions, but instead, they 'hit the ceiling' and get stopped.
As the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant father and an Indian immigrant mother, Kamala Harris belongs to several social groups that have long faced glass ceilings. She is the first woman of colour running on the presidential card of a major American party (Democratic and Republican), and only the fourth woman ever to run in those positions for those parties. No woman has ever been a US president or vice president. And only one Black person has: former President Barack Obama.
This alone makes her a newsworthy running mate. But it is far from the only thing worth talking about.
In 2019, Kamala Harris was actually one of Joe Biden's opponents to become the Democratic presidential nominee. At one TV debate last year, Harris made headlines with her criticism of Biden's record on Black rights during his long political career (meaning how he voted on certain important issues and laws that affect Black people). These were uncomfortable moments for Biden. So the fact that he chose her despite these public disagreements suggests that he believes in her and her skills.
Harris spent years working as prosecutor in California; a lawyer that works to represent government laws in court. Her experience made her a confident public speaker and excellent debater (as Biden found out in 2019!).
It also gave her a lot of knowledge about how a government's laws affect people, good and bad. Especially how they affect Black, Latino, and other communities of colour in the US. As she said in her nomination acceptance speech, "[These problems are] the effect of structural racism; of inequities in education and technology, health care and housing, job security and transportation; the injustice in reproductive and maternal health care; in the excessive use of force by police and in our broader criminal justice system."
As a former Attorney General of California, she knows what laws to change and why. The only problem? According to her critics, she hasn't always done this.
A fighter? Or a compromiser?
Right now, both the United States and Canada are experiencing big moments of protest. Especially across the US, the Black Lives Matter movement has increased the focus on the problems of systemic racism, especially in criminal justice. This has already led to some social change, but there is still lots to be done.
In this light, Kamala Harris could be seen as an ideal candidate for these times. Someone who has worked in criminal justice, and who knows how to get things done. But when working for California, she also had a history of compromising. This means that she didn't always push for those big changes, even when she was in a place of power.
Sometimes she kept things as they were, especially in terms of how the police and prison system work. This left some people confused and disappointed. Even angry.
Questions to be answered
Harris has defended her past actions. And since 2016, when she last worked in California, America has become more open than ever about criminal justice reform—or changing the police and prisons systems.
In the end, only Harris can prove her critics wrong. And she can only do that if she is elected. Her selection as running mate in the 2020 US election makes it more than just a showdown between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. As a history-making candidate, Kamala Harris will be big news all through to November.
And maybe beyond that.