Kamala Harris opened and closed the third night of the Democrats’ virtual convention on Aug 19.
WASHINGTON – Californian senator Kamala Harris officially accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination to run as its vice-presidential candidate on Wednesday (Aug 19), making history as the first Black and South Asian woman on a major party’s presidential ticket.
The third night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) featured Democratic heavyweights including immediate past president Barack Obama, who gave an unusually heavy-hitting critique of his successor Donald Trump and his administration as a threat to America’s democracy.
Mr Obama and former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton also reached out to undecided voters in their speeches, urging them not to sit out the election and warning that the consequences of Mr Trump winning a second term were too dire.
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t. And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead.
Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever,” said Mr Obama, whose voice wavered with emotion at times.
Speaking from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, Mr Obama warned that America’s democratic institutions were being threatened like never before, and that the Trump administration had “shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win”.
“What we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come,” he said, as he called on Americans to rally behind Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Ms Harris, as well as Democrats in federal and state races, and vote Mr Trump out.
Mr Trump responded twice on Twitter as Mr Obama’s speech was ongoing.
“HE SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, AND GOT CAUGHT!” he said, referring to the “Spygate” conspiracy theory that the Obama administration had spied on his campaign in 2016, which the Justice Department found no evidence of in a Dec 2019 report.
A few minutes later, Mr Trump wrote: “WHY DID HE REFUSE TO ENDORSE SLOW JOE UNTIL IT WAS ALL OVER, AND EVEN THEN WAS VERY LATE? WHY DID HE TRY TO GET HIM NOT TO RUN?”
Mrs Clinton, who lost to Mr Trump in 2016 by razor-thin margins in crucial battleground states despite winning the popular vote, made a similar plea to Americans to turn out to vote in November.
“For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realise how dangerous he was’, ‘I wish I could go back and do it over’, ‘I should have voted’. This can’t be another woulda-coulda-shoulda election,” she said.
“Remember in 2016 when Trump asked: ‘What do you have to lose?’ Well, now we know: our health, our jobs, even our lives. Our leadership in the world and, yes, our post office,” she added. “If Trump is re-elected, it will get even worse.”
Unlike the previous two nights of the virtual DNC which focused on Mr Biden’s character and personality, Wednesday’s programme was heavier on policy.
Prominent lawmakers and activists highlighted Mr Biden’s stances on issues close to Democratic voters, including gun control, immigration rights, climate change action and affordable childcare.
Wednesday’s lineup also paid tribute to women in politics, featuring Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, while highlighting the historic significance of Ms Harris’ nomination, which comes 100 years after women in America won the right to vote.
Ms Harris’ speech was viewed by observers as a chance for her to introduce herself to the wider American public and highlight her background, qualifications and strengths as a candidate.
Ms Harris, 55, reflected on her personal history and paid tribute to the generations of women on whose shoulders she stood, particularly her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, a breast cancer researcher who died in 2009.
The late Mrs Harris arrived in America from India at age 19 to pursue her dream of curing cancer, pursuing and earning a PhD at the University of California Berkeley. It was there that she met Donald Harris, who had come from Jamaica to study economics.
“They fell in love in that most American way –while marching together for justice in the civil rights movement of the 1960s,” said Ms Harris, whose acceptance speech was the climax of the DNC’s second-last night.
Her parents split when she was five, and she and her younger sister Maya were raised mostly by their mother, who would pack the girls’ lunches before they woke up and pay bills after they went to bed, Ms Harris recounted.
She said: “I keep thinking about that 25-year-old Indian woman – all of five feet tall – who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California.
“On that day, 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,”
Ms Harris, who has highlighted her immigrant family and her rise from college graduate to prosecutor, California’s Attorney-General, senator and now vice-presidential nominee as an embodiment of the American dream, said her values had been shaped by her mother.
“She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people. To believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility,” she said.
Making the case for Mr Biden and herself as the next leaders of America, Ms Harris said: “We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work. A president who will bring all of us together –Black, White, Latino, Asian, Indigenous – to achieve the future we collectively want.”
But their vision felt distant in today’s America, ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, she said, blaming Republican president Trump’s “failure of leadership” for the loss of lives and livelihoods.
The virus has also hit Black, Latino and indigenous communities disproportionately harder due to structural racism, said Ms Harris, who highlighted inequities in education and technology, health care and housing, job security and transportation along racial lines.
“This virus has no eyes, and yet it knows exactly how we see each other – and how we treat each other,” she said. “And let’s be clear – there is no vaccine for racism. We’ve gotta do the work.”
In a nod to the ongoing national reckoning over racial injustice, she added: “We’ve gotta do the work to fulfil that promise of equal justice under law. Because, none of us are free, until all of us are free.”
Ms Harris, who is 22 years younger than the 77-year-old Mr Biden, also sought in her speech to be a bridge between older moderates and younger progressive voters, whose voices and causes of racial justice, gun control, immigration rights and climate change action featured heavily on the third night of the DNC.
“You are pushing us to realise the ideals of our nation, pushing us to live the values we share: decency and fairness, justice and love,” she said.
“In this election, we have a chance to change the course of history.”