More than 20,000 people rallied at Oakland on Sunday for Sen. Kamala Harris as she launched an historic presidential campaign, bringing her Bay Area upbringing into the national spotlight.
In front of a crowd that stretched thousands deep at Oakland City Hall on Sunday afternoon, the former San Francisco district attorney positioned herself “for the people” — turning an oft-spoken phrase from years as a prosecutor into her campaign slogan — and vowed to “speak truth” about the nation’s issues.
“We are at an inflection point in the history of our nation. We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before,” Harris told the audience, mere blocks from the Kaiser Permanente hospital where she was born in 54 years ago. “I stand before you today clear eyed about the fight ahead and what has to be done.”
Harris never once mentioned President Donald Trump by name during her speech, but instead quipped that “we have foreign powers infecting the White House like malware” and called the proposed border wall his “medieval vanity project.” Presenting herself as a stark contrast to the Trump administration, California’s former state attorney general railed against children in cages, the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., and forcing undocumented immigrants back in the shadows.
“Let’s speak an uncomfortable but honest truth with one another: racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia are real in this country,” Harris said. “They are age-old forms of hate with new fuel. And we need to speak that truth so we can deal with it.”
In a speech that highlighted issues ranging from police brutality, climate change, gun violence, and voting rights, a few campaign promises emerged. She dedicated herself to the push to make Medicare free for all, reforming the cash-bail system, and creating universal pre-school and debt-free college. She also vowed to replace the 2017 Trump tax cuts with a $2.8 trillion middle-class tax plan.
Lauren Brooks, who traveled from Las Vegas, NV, for the rally, tells SF Weekly she was blown away by the engaging speech filled with confidence. Harris, as her fellow Alpha Kappa Alpha, the country’s oldest Black sorority, sticks out as her favorite among an increasingly crowded field for the Democratic nomination.
Oakland native Chad Provost remains skeptical given her two short years in the Senate but acknowledged he felt the same way about former President Barack Obama. Harris landing a $25 billion settlement with Wall Street banks amid the foreclosure crisis in 2011 and speaking on Thursday to the gender wage gap particularly resonated with him, though he would consider former Vice President Joe Biden a serious contender.
“It’s historical regardless of the outcome,” Provost said of Harris, who is half-Black, half-Indian. “We had to eyeball it for ourselves.”
Pointing to a small group of rally protestors, Provost added that he also wants to check out Harris’ prosecutorial record, which has been criticized by no insignificant amount of people on the left. Under Harris, San Francisco and California still saw high rates of incarceration, declining to investigate police misconduct, and appealing against the release of people proved innocent, like Daniel Larsen.
But Lateefah Simon, a longtime advocate of criminal justice reform who now represents Oakland on the BART Board of Directors, shields Harris with nuance. As San Francisco district attorney, Harris enlisted Simon to reduce recidivism rates with the program “Back on Track” to allow first-time nonviolent offenders to get a high school diploma and job instead of serving time.
“She was also coming into a system that was historically created to further white supremacy and her work was to chip away at that system one case at a time — and I saw it,” Simon said of Harris. “She can completely transform the system if she is commander-in-chief. There’s nobody on the ticket that has been in proximity to poor people of color and loved on them like this candidate. I promise you.”
Harris, perhaps acknowledging some of the criticism, made her own promises.
“As we embark on this campaign, I will tell you this: I am not perfect. Lord knows, I am not perfect. But I will always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will speak the truth.”