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Indian-American Senator Kamala Harris officially launches White House bid from California hometown

Harris had announced her White House 2020 run past week on Martin Luther King Day, but on Sunday, she kicked it off ceremonially in Oakland, California, where she was born and spent her early years and where she returned as a lawyer to start her career in law enforcement as a district attorney.

world Updated: Jan 28, 2019 21:30 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Kamala Harris,White House bid,Donald Trump
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris launches her campaign for President of the United States at a rally at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in her hometown of Oakland, California, U.S., January 27, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage(REUTERS)

Senator Kamala Harris officially launched her campaign for Democratic presidential nomination at a rally at which she said the world and the United States were at an “inflection point”, attacked President Donald Trump’s policies, and invoked repeatedly her Indian-origin mother as her inspiration.

Harris had announced her White House 2020 run past week on Martin Luther King Day, but on Sunday, she kicked it off ceremonially in Oakland, California, where she was born and spent her formative years and where she returned as a lawyer to start her career in law enforcement as a district attorney.

With a giant US national flag as the backdrop, Harris, 54, began by talking about her parents — Donald Harris, who came to the US from Jamaica, and Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who came from India. And said she and her younger sister were raised to value public service and fight for justice. Her mother would say, she said,”Don’t sit around and complain about things, do something’. Basically I think she was saying, ‘You’ve got to get up and stand up and don’t give up the fight’.” She mentioned her mother a couple of times and the word “fight” more than 20 times, in varying contexts.

Harris launched shortly into her reasons for the seeking the highest political office in the country. “We are here knowing that we are at an inflection point in the history of our world,” she said. “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.”

And in a thinly veiled reference to President Trump — who she did not name even once — she said, “we have leaders who lie and bully and attack a free press and undermine our democratic institutions that’s not our America”. Trump has made more that 8,100 false and misleading statements since taking office, according to fact-checkers at The Washington Post, and has called press “the enemy of the people”.

Harris was scathing in her all-around criticism of the Trump administration. On immigration, Harris called the proposed wall along the border with Mexico the president’s “medieval vanity project” — and said it will not work and spoke of the administration’s practice of putting children separated from their families in “cages”.

The first-term senator addressed bluntly questions of race, anti-Semitism and discrimination of all kinds that have seen a resurgence. “Let’s speak an uncomfortable but honest truth with one another: racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia are real in this country. They are age-old forms of hate with new fuel.” She mentioned the march of white supremacists in Charlottesville and the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg.

On foreign policy, the senator said America’s position in the world has never been weaker than it is under the Trump administration. “Democratic values are under attack around the globe. When authoritarianism is on the march. When nuclear proliferation is on the rise. We have foreign powers infecting the White House like malware.”

Harris left barely any issue untouched in what was the most high-profile launch rally by any of the Democrats who in the fray so far — climate change is “not science fiction”; “too many unarmed black men and women are killed in America”; people are “drowning” in debt; “economy today is not working for working people”.

Indian Americans, who have watched Harris’s rise in politics, are “extremely excited” by her run for the White House. “We have done well extremely well professionally, educationally, created businesses and opportunities,” said Ramesh Kapur, an entrepreneur and Democratic strategist who attended the Oakland rally, “but electing a president of your own DNA will the ultimate sign of that we have truly arrived.”

The community is following Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu lawmaker in US Congress who is set to formally launch her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination next week, just as closely. Though not of Indian origin, the lawmaker from Hawaii has been embraced by the community as one of their own.

First Published: Jan 28, 2019 21:25 IST