At the Women’s March on Washington, Senator Kamala Harris told constituents, she “had our backs,” and since she has been in office Senator Harris been a vocal and active participant in standing up for the constitutional rights for her constituents in California against presidential legislation that undermine core human rights and values.
She is well known for her work defending exploited children, especially sexually trafficked minor, and for her opposition to capital punishment and defense of the rights of the undocumented.
The daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, Senator Harris is the first Indian American woman and second Black woman in the US Senate. She was born in Oakland, graduated from Howard University, and Hastings College of Law.
Wanda Sabir: Reflect first on the 91st anniversary of Carter G. Woodson’s Negro History Week, now Black History Month, and your position as senator. You have moved through the ranks steadily increasing the control you have over the menu at the table. What were your goals and objectives when you decided to take on that responsibility?
Senator Kamala Harris: I stand on the shoulders of great people, some names you would recognize and some names you would not recognize. I was raised in an environment with a sense of responsibility to serve and to be a voice for those things that needed to be spoken and heard. That is what led me to run for DA of San Francisco (2003). That is what led me to run for Attorney General of California (2010), and now to be in the United States Senate (2016).
When I look at where we are in the year 2017, I know, as we all do, that the challenges are still great. There is still a real need to fight and speak very loudly about the issues we care about. That’s what propelled me to run for senate and is certainly my reason for being here— from my participation in the Women’s March on Washington, DC, one day after this president was inaugurated to being a part of a protest in front of the White House against the Muslim Ban, to just speaking against two of the presidential nominees to the cabinet, Senator Sessions for Attorney General and Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary.”
It is the reason I have been working on why law enforcement needs to be trained on implicit bias. Now that we have Black History Month, as far as I am concerned it is all year round, we rededicate ourselves and remember where we come from, our reason for being and responsibilities we have going forward.
WS: I was reading about your committee assignments, you have a lot to do – Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs; U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence; U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works; United States Senate Committee on the Budget, five committees. Is there anything happening now we can support you on?
Senator Harris: When we look at the marches that have been happening, it is important for people to speak out, show up, not just in Washington but all over the country. I encourage people to stay involved and support folks like Rep. Barbara Lee and others in the Bay Area. It is important to talk with all our friends and relatives and encourage them to pay attention to what is going on.
Pay attention when we are talking about Russian hacking of our country’s electoral system. Pay attention when the President of the United States says we are going to shut our borders to people because of their faith. What I need people to do to help me is to educate themselves and each other about what’s going on and to know we have to fight for our country and fight for our ideals.
These things that are happening right now are contrary to our ideal.
WS: As the second Black woman senator, and only one of 10 Black senators, how do you do the work in the face of hostility?
Senator Harris: It is about working with the Latina US Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, from Nevada on issues like immigration [and] fighting the Muslim ban. [It is about] working with Corey Booker (D-NJ) on Criminal Justice Reform.
It is definitely working across the aisle where we can, but building bridges among people who have more in common with us than differences. People like Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on immigration reform. It is about working with a lot of folks around our collective need to focus on the economy, so people have jobs, a place to live.
Another big issue, which is a coalition building piece, is to work with all sorts of people around the need to maintain the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Another thing people can do is reach out to their representatives to make sure they fight to keep the Affordable Care Act from being repealed.”