By Aprille Russell
Kamala Harris wears comfortable shoes. One might think the shoes are a minor detail, but they say something important about her.
Harris, age 56, was born in Oakland, California the daughter of immigrants. Her father Donald J. Harris arrived in the U.S. from Jamaica as a graduate student, and her late mother Shyamala Gopalan came to the U.S. from India for graduate school. Harris credits her parents for introducing her to political activism at an early age, and notes being pushed in a stroller as a toddler at marches and protests.
Kamala Harris attended Howard University, a historically black college and university. There she pledged as an Alpha Kappa Alpha—the nation’s oldest Black sorority.
In 2011, Harris was elected Attorney General of California, leading a department second only to the U.S. Department of Justice in size and influence. First as a district attorney and then as attorney general, Harris developed a mixed reputation as a “progressive prosecutor” enacting alternatives to incarceration yet targeting parents in anti-truancy efforts (efforts she says she regrets today).
In 2016, Harris was elected the junior senator from California and has served as a member of the prestigious Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. As senator, she became known for her prosecutorial grilling of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and U.S. Attorney General William Barr.
In 2019, Harris asked Barr, “Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested you open an investigation into anyone?” In response Barr stumbled through a series of deflections regarding the meanings of the word “suggested,” “hinted” and “inferred” before declining to answer.
A rising star on the national stage, Harris’ prosecutorial background became a liability during her 2020 presidential run. As the country grappled with a widespread awakening to the effects of over-policing and systemic racism, that recognition collided with campaign fundraising challenges and a crowded Democratic presidential field. Harris suspended her campaign.
With a deep bench of women and women of color vice-presidential candidates, Harris stood out as the obvious choice for Democratic nominee former Vice President Joe Biden. Harris had developed a friendship with the Biden family when, as California Attorney General, Harris collaborated with Biden’s son the late Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden to hold big banks accountable after the 2008 Great Recession and subsequent housing foreclosure crisis.
Harris is the third woman (after Democrat Geraldine Ferraro and Republican Sarah Palin) to hold the vice presidential slot on a major party ticket. She is the first Black woman and the first Southeast Asian woman in this role.
Kamala Harris is called “Momala” by beloved stepchildren Cole and Ella, the children of husband Doug Emhoff from his first marriage. Yet, like many women in politics, Harris is described as “aggressive” and “unlikeable.” Those who see her more as the “fun aunt Kamala” portrayed by Maya Rudolph on SNL would beg to differ.
Should former Vice President Joe Biden win the presidency (votes are being tallied in swing states that will decide the Electoral College count as this article goes to press), Senator Kamala Harris will make history again.
And, now, back to the comfortable shoes: Harris’ sneaker of choice on the campaign trail is a popular casual shoe by Converse. Harris isn’t wearing stilettos or even a sensible flat. She’s wearing shoes that are sporty, fun and will get her where she wants to go.
That’s Kamala Harris. Both conventional and subversive. A woman on a mission striding to get things done.
Aprille Russell is a nonprofit and communications professional. She has served organizations dedicated to housing for homeless persons, early childhood education, pulmonary research, civil rights and women’s rights.