In many ways, Donald J. Trump’s victory in 2016 can be seen as a backlash to eight years under a Black president.
However, politics doesn’t exist without its own analog to Newton’s third law, every reaction brings an equal and opposite reaction. The various ferment in progressive circles around such topics as sex, gender, racism and economic justice since the election four years ago proves that. Enter Sen. Kamala Harris.
“How we view this candidacy in a vice-presidential nomination really is multifaceted. It encapsulates the women’s movement as well as the more traditional civil rights movement,” said Robert Preuhs, P.h.D., Chair of the Political Science Department at MSU Denver. “But also it really reflects the changing racial and ethnic dynamics of the country.”
In short, the idea of a woman of color operating the highest levers of power is no longer a fringe concept to many throughout the nation.
Harris is remarkable in that not only is she the first Black female politician to be chosen to run for the nation’s second office, she is also of Asian descent, making her the first multiracial candidate as well. Her candidacy has the potential to reach beyond the progressive base, which could be crucial to winning the election. Although she identifies as African American first and foremost, her South Asian roots are reflective of the lack of clarity within racial groupings that American politics has operated under for a while, Preuhs said.
Beyond that, Preuhs said that demographically, younger people are more open to diversity. People, especially young whites aged 18-25, have grown up exposed to both the idea and realities of diversity, which has led them to be more accepting and tolerant.
In other words, Harris’ candidacy is a product of both changing generational norms as well as the continued social and racial justice movements that have taken place up to this moment with a dash of political calculation thrown in.
Despite the progress that Harris might represent, not everyone under the progressive tent is happy with the 2020 Democratic Ticket.
“It is also fair to say that it’s not all celebration. Not all women or femmes, Black people, or people of color are applauding Senator Harris as the VP pick, and I think we should honor those feelings and remind ourselves that these communities are not monoliths,” wrote Anna Ramirez Crawford, Board Chair of the Women’s Lobby of Colorado in an email. The Women’s Lobby of Colorado is a women’s advocacy group that does not endorse any political candidates for office.
Harris’ record as California’s attorney general has drawn criticism from the more left-leaning side of the progressive spectrum. The Party for Socialism and Liberation – Denver, a group that has been key in organizing Denver’s summer protests, excoriated the pick on their Facebook page. Taking exception to Harris’ role as California’s “top cop,” they call the pick itself a searing indictment of the Democratic Party. Skeptical that a Biden/Harris ticket could bring about the type of change that PSL thinks the country needs, they call any potential policies that Biden and Harris bring to the table basically a diet version of the current right-wing trajectory that the country is on.
Still, there is optimism to be found elsewhere. Preuhs said that Harris not only will bring years of more traditional expertise but also a new perspective. He added that a good amount of political and social science expertise says that women bring different policy ideas in their roles as representatives. Politicians of color are also able to articulate the different dimensions of experience that are found within the country.
“Women who share their lived experiences and intersections of gender, race, culture and other identities deepen the public conversations that lead to more equitable outcomes and policies for everyone,” said Lisa Christie, Vice President of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. “Having been silenced for so long, Black women specifically recognize the importance of inclusive voices in all aspects of our society. “
The Women’s Foundation of Colorado is a nonprofit that does not endorse any political candidates for office.
If there’s nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come, then come November, Harris may find there is an army at the ballot box prepared to carry her into the Vice President’s office at the White House.