Kamala Harris’ record is so appalling that to support her means throwing black and brown people under the bus for nothing but symbolic progress
All politicians and candidates have bad votes or past bad policy positions. In a country as far to the right as America, this is a reality. Some of these politicians never change or shift, some change their positions at opportune moments like when running for higher office, and some genuinely change their policies and platforms. What tells the difference between opportunism and genuine change is how they respond to the grassroots pressuring them, the timing in which they make their change, and it can be tough to differentiate sometimes. But when it comes to Kamala Harris, her career has been so built up on locking up black and brown people and contributing to mass incarceration, that a rhetorical shift will never be believable.
For 8 years, Kamala Harris was deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California, for 7 years she was District Attorney of San Francisco, and then spent 6 years as Attorney General of California. Her entire professional career has been spent as a prosecutor, and minus a small handful of moments, spent this time contributing to mass incarceration and a racist criminal justice system. All of this was transparently done to give her a launching point to higher office. Her record can not be excused. From mocking those that call for more schools and less prison funding, to covering up the routine manipulation of evidence, to trying to prevent an incarcerated transgender woman from getting the needed surgery, to opposing having her office investigate police shootings, locking up parents over truancy and creating a literal school to prison pipeline, and arguing against reducing prison crowding because it would hurt that state’s slave labor force, these are not exceptions but a pattern of her career. Even by mainstream center left standards for criminal justice, Kamala does not come close to meeting those standards. She can talk about being the child of parents active in the Civil Rights Movement and evoke some of the same language but as Bay Area activist Blake Simons writes “[Kamala] weaponizes civil rights language…Kamala is not only a super cop, but an adamant defender of the institution of policing that is rooted in slave patrols.”
There are several excuses. That if you wanted to move up the ladder as a prosecutor you had to be “tough on crime” which always translates to locking up black and brown people over marijuana charges while bankers walk free into executive positions, or declining to say billionaires existing is morally indefensible while lecturing about how we have to stop very serious crimes. These are conscious choices being made, to go after the powerless because it’s politically convenient and giving the rich light slaps on the wrist. Taking the easy way out for political power doesn’t become less tempting when one runs for President or enters the office, it become more tempting. The powerful interests at play only get more intense, and the idea that after spending two decades catering to them that you can simply stop when you want to is naïve. Just after saying at a town hall she wanted to eliminate private insurance, her communications team quickly came out to say she would compromise for more moderate health care proposals. These skills as a prosecutor do not translate to suddenly holding the powerful accountable because they are not designed to do so. Her questioning of Brett Kavanaugh was incredibly lackluster. The pattern will not end.
If you support Harris for President then you are not serious about any progressive causes. Your cheap uses of the “intersectionality” term become even more hollow when you ignore a vast swathe of people being locked up for marijuana charges or the single mothers put in jail because of truancy. Her record is so clear and will only be further laid out before the public in the next year. To continue to support her despite her entire professional career makes her progressive supporters of hers as fraudulent as her label as a progressive prosecutor.
No doubt there is discussion of what an incredible milestone it would be to have America’s first black woman becoming president and breaking the glass ceiling. This symbolic achievement simply does not matter. As Harris has smashed through every barrier in her climb up the levels of power, the debris and shards of glass have fallen upon the marginalized people and keeping them on the bottom rung of society rather than open up the path to liberation. The one that benefits almost entirely from this milestone is Harris and Harris alone. The material needs of oppressed people must be centered when we talk about supporting a candidate. Not their excuses for the sake of ambition, or the symbolic achievement that might be realized, or how politically viable someone is or isn’t. When those take priority, you’re not truly committing to the struggle for the principles of equity and justice. Saying you support policies like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, criminal justice reform, and more only means anything when you support candidates that are going to implement them.
This must be clear, to support Harris despite everything she has ever done and the signs that she won’t even implement of a fraction of the policies we need, is to send a signal you simply want the world to go back to normal, when you didn’t have to worry about politics. You want someone that says the right words, makes the cool TV appearances and shows how much they relate to your life by listening to some of the same songs. This is not justice, we already experienced the ceiling for symbolic achievement and there’s no coincidence that the Black Lives Matter movement arose during that exact same time period. There should be no support someone who’s entire career looked at such a powerful, brave and bold movement in the face and says: No