Known as “Momala” to her two step-children, the 55-year-old US senator and daughter of immigrants has embraced her status as the first woman of colour on a major party ticket, and outlined a future of possibilities if she and presidential candidate Joe Biden defeat president Donald Trump.
But in the most important speech of her political life she also turned to the women that lifted her up.
Speaking on the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment which gave American women the right to vote, Harris represents the extraordinary potential for members of a critical Democratic constituency — women of color — who have benefited from the battles waged by those who came before.
“These women inspired us to pick up the torch, and fight on,” Harris said in her remarks to the convention.
Harris has repeatedly stressed she puts family first, and for her, the woman whose shoulders she stands on is her late mother Shyamala, a highly respected cancer researcher who emigrated from India.
Shyamala met her future husband — Harris’s Jamaican-born father — while demonstrating for civil rights on the streets of Berkeley, California.
“Oh, how I wish she were here tonight, but I know she’s looking down on me from above,” Harris said.
When Harris’s mother gave birth to her in Oakland, “she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now, speaking these words: I accept your nomination for vice president of the United States of America.”
‘You’re a rock’
Three relatives invited her to accept the nomination: her younger sister Maya Harris; niece Meena Harris; and Ella Emhoff, the daughter of Harris’s husband Douglas Emhoff, whom she married in 2014 — and has just taken a sabbatical to support his wife’s campaign.
“You’re a rock, not just for our dad, but for three generations of our big, blended family,” Ella said in a video montage played during the virtual convention.
“You showed me the importance of public service, and made sure I grew up surrounded by smart, strong, ambitious women every day,” added niece Meena, a lawyer and author of a children’s book focusing on the life of her mother and aunt.
Harris’s sister, who served as a policy analyst in Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated 2016 campaign, recalls how Kamala would “be there in a flash” to defend Maya if a kid picked on her.
“Well now we’ve got your back as you and Joe fight to protect our democracy,” she said.
Women will play a critical role in this year’s election, as suburban women in particular have begun leaning away from Trump. Polls show most Americans approve of Biden picking Harris as his running mate.
Harris appeared confident in a plum-colored suit, sometimes holding up her two fists as she urged Americans to “fight with conviction (for) the America we know is possible.”
But the speech that would normally be delivered to a packed house, with traditional confetti or roars of applause, was made in a crowdless room in Wilmington, Delaware, without any of the stagecraft of a typical political convention.
The entire event has been moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic, and when Biden came out to congratulate her, it was at a safe but awkward social distance.
Harris will square off with Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence during a debate on October 7, and if sparks fly, she’ll be prepared, Harris’s close friend Stacey Johnson-Batiste told CNN on Wednesday.
“Kamala is fierce, and she’s a fighter,” she said.