Vice president-elect Kamala Harris on Saturday paid tribute to the women, particularly Black women, whose shoulders she stands on as she shatters barriers that have kept mostly white men entrenched at the highest levels of American politics for more than two centuries.

"Tonight I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been," Harris said, wearing a white suit in tribute to women's suffrage. She called it a testament to President-elect Joe Biden's character that "he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country, and select a woman and his vice president."

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” Harris said in her first post-election address to the nation.

The 56-year-old California senator, also the first person of South Asian descent elected to the vice presidency, represents the multiculturalism that defines America but is largely absent from Washington's power centers. Her Black identity has allowed her to speak in personal terms in a year of reckoning over police brutality and systemic racism. As the highest-ranking woman ever elected in American government, her victory gives hope to women who were devastated by Hillary Clinton's defeat four years ago.

Harris told little children to "dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they're never seen it before." After Biden's speech, she was joined on stage by her family, including her two grandnieces who wore white dresses.

A rising star in Democratic politics for much of the last two decades, Harris served as San Francisco's district attorney and California's attorney general before becoming a U.S. senator. After she ended her own 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, Joe Biden tapped her as his running mate. They will be sworn in as president and vice president on Jan. 20.

Biden’s running mate selection carried added significance because he will be the oldest president ever inaugurated, at 78, and hasn’t committed to seeking a second term in 2024.

Harris often framed her candidacy as part of the legacy of pioneering Black women who came before her, including educator Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black candidate to seek a major party's presidential nomination, in 1972.

She paid tribute to Black women “who are too often overlooked but so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.”

Despite the excitement surrounding Harris, she and Biden face steep challenges, including a pandemic that has taken a disproportionate toll on people of color, and a series of police killings of Black Americans that have deepened racial tensions. Harris' past work as a prosecutor has prompted skepticism among progressives and young voters who are looking to her to back sweeping institutional change over incremental reforms in policing, drug policy and more.

Jessica Byrd, who leads the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Project and The Frontline, a multiracial coalition effort to galvanize voters, said she plans to engage in the rigorous organizing work needed to push Harris and Biden toward more progressive policies.

“I deeply believe in the power of Black women’s leadership, even when all of our politics don’t align,” Byrd said. “I want us to be committed to the idea that representation is exciting and it’s worthy of celebration and also that we have millions of Black women who deserve a fair shot.”

Harris is the second Black woman elected to the Senate. Her colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, who is also Black, said her very presence makes the institution “more accessible to more people” and suggested she would accomplish the same with the vice presidency.

Harris was born in 1964 to two parents active in the civil rights movement. Shyamala Gopalan, from India, and Donald Harris, from Jamaica, met at the University of California, Berkeley, then a hotbed of 1960s activism. They divorced when Harris and her sister were girls, and Harris was raised by her late mother, whom she considers the most important influence in her life.

“When she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn’t quite imagine this moment. But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible," Harris said Saturday night.

Kamala is Sanskrit for “lotus flower," and Harris gave nods to her Indian heritage throughout the campaign, including with a callout to her “chitthis,” a Tamil word for a maternal aunt, in her first speech as Biden’s running mate. When Georgia Sen. David Perdue mocked her name in an October rally, the hashtag #MyNameIs took off on Twitter, with South Asians sharing the meanings behind their names.

The mocking of her name by Republicans, including Trump, was just one of the attacks Harris faced. Trump and his allies sought to brand her as radical and a socialist despite her more centrist record, an effort aimed at making people uncomfortable about the prospect of a Black woman in leadership. She was the target of online disinformation laced with racism and sexism about her qualifications to serve as president.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington said Harris’ power comes not just from her life experience but also from the people she already represents. California is the nation’s most populous and one of its most diverse states; nearly 40% of people are Latino and 15% are Asian. In Congress, Harris and Jayapal have teamed up on bills to ensure legal representation for Muslims targeted by Trump’s 2017 travel ban and to extend rights to domestic workers.

“That’s the kind of policy that also happens when you have voices like ours at the table,” said Jayapal, who in 2016 was the first South Asian woman elected to the U.S. House.

Harris' mother raised her daughters with the understanding the world would see them as Black women, Harris has said, and that is how she describes herself today.

She attended Howard University, one of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, and pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha, the nation’s first sorority created by and for Black women. She campaigned regularly at HBCUs and tried to address the concerns of young Black men and women eager for strong efforts to dismantle systemic racism.

Her victory could usher more Black women and people of color into politics.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who considers Harris a mentor, views Harris' success through the lens of her own identity as the granddaughter of a sharecropper.

“African Americans are not far removed from slavery and the horrors of racism in this country, and we’re still feeling the impacts of that with how we’re treated and what’s happening around this racial uprising,” she said. Harris' candidacy “instills a lot of pride and a lot of hope and a lot of excitement in what is possible."

Harris is married to a Jewish man, Doug Emhoff, whose children from a previous marriage call her “Momala.” The excitement about her candidacy extends to women across races.

Friends Sarah Lane and Kelli Hodge, each with three daughters, brought all six girls to a Harris rally in Phoenix in the race's closing days. “This car is full of little girls who dream big. Go Kamala!” read a sign taped on the car’s trunk.

Lane, a 41-year-old attorney who is of Hispanic and Asian heritage, volunteered for Biden and Harris, her first time ever working for a political campaign. Asked why she brought her daughters, ages 6, 9, and 11, to see Harris, she answered, “I want my girls to see what women can do.”

———

Associated Press writer Kat Stafford in Detroit contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

(22) comments

Dwasserba

"When Georgia Sen. David Perdue mocked her name in an October rally..." Hey Sen. Perdue: "perdu/perdue" in French means "lost."

NewMarketParent

@Dwasserba

Doesn't matter. He should get used to calling her "Madam Vice President". I'm sure he can wrap his mealy mouth around that.

ma23464

I think it such a shame and a great disservice to equality when people with a minority status get used as political pawns. Biden listed 13 people to be his possible VP. All of them women. I find it hard to believe that in this country all 13 top picks could be women.

While I will admit I completely disagree with Harris and her political ideas, she is a strong competent intelligent person. But I disagree that she is the best pick to be Biden’s number 2 and ready to be President. I feel she was primarily picked out among those women because she had the most appeal to rally the black voter. The democrats black vote has been slipping. Even this year Trump of all people managed to take away a few percentage points of the minority vote from the Dems. A Republican not as dividing as Trump could easily take a large portion of the minority vote from the Dems. I thing that minorities in this country are starting to see the light and are tired of being lied to and used as pawns by old white men like Biden. Trump was right about Baltimore. The people of that city deserve better.

NewMarketParent

@ma23464

I think it such a shame and disservice to equality when mediocre white men get used as political pawns. Admittedly, all the better than average tend to be Democrats, so you don't have much to pick from.

While I admit that I completely disagree that fascism and racism are a great way to consolidate white voters, when in the tiny hands of someone so incredibly mediocre. While he was never suited or qualified for the job, you gave it to him anyway because that is what you do. The Republicans white vote had been slipping.

I think minorities have heard the racial dogwhistles for generations and Republicans will never rash through their minority glass ceiling until they soundly and completely reject the racism which plagues their party.

ma23464

Good points. Thanks for the insight

Dwasserba

[thumbup]ma

sevenstones1000

Yeah, it’s a shame that lists of considered were all white men since the beginning of time. And is Mike Pence really the best white man Trump could find? What is Pence “the best”at, exactly?

newspostreader

sevenstones1000 - He's best at hiding in the closet while sending other gays to conversion camps.

NewMarketParent

@newspostreader

I see what you did there.... [wink]

DickD

No matter what her race, I like her, she is a smart woman.

Dwasserba

She will teach us all the reasons other countries have embraced the notion of empowering strong scary women.

gary4books

It is difficult, if not impossible, to disprove a negative. But given time, people will see if this woman is a "socialist" or will take over as President or will ruin the USA. Wait and see before you make up your mind.

FyremanEd

FACT

phydeaux994

Help Heal America FyremanEd, do your part.

NewMarketParent

@FyremanEd

I also yell the word "FACT" when I am so sure of my points.

TomWheatley

Hopefully none of the three that you list, but if there is one, it will be the middle one. If not by the 25th Amendment, then by running on her own in 2024.

NewMarketParent

@TomWheatley

Oh enlighten us with your Extremely Opaque Crystal Ball.

Greg F

Eisenhower was a socialist...by your definition.

newspostreader

gary4books - The stimulus check you most likely received a few months ago is socialism. Did you cash it? Medicare, if you have reached that age, is a form of socialism. Social Security is a form of socialism. Yes, you pay into these things throughout the years, but still a government socialist program.

NewMarketParent

@newpostreader

And the Fire Department, Police Department, Roads, EPA, Military...

I swear that all of the people that decry "Socialism" really don't understand what it is. Right now it is rallying cry in an attempt to bring back the Red Scare. It is not socialist to use the money that you pay in taxes for your benefit. What people really want to say, but won't is that their real fear is that the money they pay in taxes will go to people that they have traditionally stolen labor from.

NewMarketParent

@gary4books

They won't. Faux News after they pick their chins up off the ground will move back into the familiar territory of white grievance and innuendo. They pretty much have already started. The fact that they will not grind into paste the suggestion that the same election that re-elected Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham was somehow illegitimate is very telling about what we can expect for the next 4 years.

Greg F

Well, you can bet the RRR (racist right republicans) will do their dirtiest to Kamala.

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