Ritu Jha –
A hovering helicopter chop-chopped over a 20,000 strong crowd, but could not drum out the plaintive strains of Alicia Key’s “Girl on Fire,” which could be heard half a mile away.
Restaurants were giving discounts and Indians – even those on H-1B visas and so unable to vote – waited over four hours to a glimpse of a woman who they believe could be the next president of the United States: Kamala Harris.
Harris, 54, a senator from California and a former state attorney general, arrived at around 1:30 pm at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland to make her first presidential pitch January 27. She looked charged, energetic and gave her the best – as a presidential candidate should – in her 35-minute speech.
Speaking of her parents came from – father from Jamaica, mother from Chennai, India – and their participation in the civil rights movement, and nodding towards the Kaiser Hospital a few blocks away from where she was born, Harris pointed to another landmark in her life.
“A couple of blocks away, nearly 30 years ago, as a young district attorney I walked into the courtroom for the first time and said the five words that would guide my life’s work: ‘Kamala Harris, for the people.’”
Harris’s speech dwelt on the need for Americans to heal, what she could offer the middle class and how she can hope to rekindle the trust and unity of the country and voters need.
Harris said, “We were raised to believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is everyone’s responsibility. In fact, my mother used to say, ‘Don’t sit around and complain about things, do something.’”
In a break between the frequent bursts of applause, she said, “My whole life, I’ve only had one client: the people. “We are here because the American dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before. And we are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question: Who are we, who are we as Americans? So, let’s answer that question to the world. To each other. Right here. Right now. America, we are better than this.”
She announced she would work to reform the flawed criminal justice system, to support government-insured universal health care, debt-free education from pre-kindergarten through college, climate change, a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and a tax break for the middle-class. She criticized Wall Street for its greed, and big pharmaceutical companies for the opioid crisis, concluding that, from the California coast to the mountains of West Virginia, “we don’t need another War on Drugs.”
She targeted the Trump administration’s foreign and domestic policies and the spread of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia in the nation.
“When we have leaders who bully and attack a free press and undermine our democratic institutions, that’s not our America,” Harris said before denouncing President Trump’s border wall plan.
The crowd cheered lustily when she declared, “Let’s speak the truth. Climate change is real and it is happening now. From wildfires in the west to hurricanes in the east, to floods and droughts in the heartland, we’re not gonna buy the lie. We’re gonna act, based on science fact, not science fiction.”
In a shift to the purely political, Harris said, “Under this administration, America’s position in the world has never been weaker. 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. And the biggest truth is in the face of powerful forces trying to sow hate and division among us – the truth is that as Americans we have much more in common than what separates us.”
She concluded the argument, saying, “We are at an inflection point in the history of our world.”
Harris told the large audience of boisterous supporters, said, “I have the honor of being your [candidate for] president. I will tell you this: I am not perfect. Lord knows I am not perfect. But I will always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will tell the truth.”
Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a breast cancer researcher, Her father, Donald Harris, came to the US to study economics at the University of California at Berkeley, Harris is married to attorney Doug Emhoff.
The crowd included Indian Americans, some of whom had flown in from the east coast.
Ramesh V Kapur, an Indian-American Democratic leader-based in Boston told indica that he has supported the Democratic Party since 1980, and has raised money for them.
Speaking about Harris, he said, “I saw her more comfortable [as a presidential candidate]. Hillary [Clinton, who lost the 2016 presidential election] somehow was not comfortable in her skin at the presidential level. She [Harris] is more candid and more herself and that can help her.”
He conceded that Clinton was the first woman to contest the election and so may have opened the way for others.
While Kapur was positive about Harris, he also mentioned Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is also in the race and from the strategically important state of Ohio.
“But I am for Kamala.; we’ll raise the money,” Kapur said.
Asked about the chances of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is also running for the 2020 presidential race, said, he said he had raised funds for her in Massachusetts when she ran for Congress.
“And at least Tulsi will bring Hinduism to the forefront because we are still third-largest religion, and somehow not recognized in the United States, ” Kapur said. “But it’s very tough to win on a Hindu line.”
But he pointed out that Gabbard was from Hawaii, a less influential state than California, which knowns Harris well. He said Harris also a better fit for the Democratic Party the way it is now.
Ashok Bhatt, a Democratic leader came from New Jersey only for the rally, pointed out to indica that Harris had never lost any of the five elections she contested in – two times for district attorney, two times for attorney general and one time for US Senate.
“So never underestimate Kamala Harris,” he said. “She is a very strong candidate for the US president and a frontrunner right now in the polls. We are fully confident that she is going to be the first woman president of the United States.”
Besides Bhatt was San Francisco-based Jignesh Desai, who felt Harris spoke inspiringly, and said he was fired up because of her Indian connections and her willingness to work for people in a democratic way.
“I’m always going to support a woman as the president,” said Desai, who added that he had voted for Clinton in 2016. “In this country, we need a woman as a president and I’m all for it. We need to make it work it this time.”
Shanthala Balagopal, who came to attend with her spouse Evan Hourigan, shared her excitement with the Harris campaign, telling indica, that she was very charismatic and also very different from Clinton.
“She resonates with us,” Balagopal said. “When we talk about Kamala, the main things I care about are education, equal rights and retirement [security]. And healthcare is very important to me. I am very happy to see that in her speech. We are all bound by debt. I am so excited to see somebody who looks like me and is running for the president.
Hourigan described Harris as the face of the Democratic Party, as a woman of color who promised a female ticket in 2020. He also felt she connected with millennials.
Another Harris supporter, Swapna Mokarala of Fremont, who came along with her young daughter, was glad to see Harris, even if from afar. She told indica, “We need a president who can stop gun violence in schools. We send our kids for education. If we know our kids are not safe [we are not at peace].”
She said she liked the Harris plan for government-insured universal healthcare.
“If they bring it to middle-class people who can’t afford it, that would be great,” said Mokarala, who cannot yet vote because she holds a Green Card. She said she is eligible for citizenship but got a little lazy about applying, but now she will get moving.
“We love America,” Mokarala said.
Others at the rally who cannot vote included some H-1B visa holders, who told indica that was still exciting to see an Indian American running for president.
A few girls from Pakistan who did not want to be named said they backed Harris because they saw her as South Asian like them.
One lady, who only provided her first name, Harsitha, and who came with her family at 10 am to find a place closer to the stage, said, ” She was a prosecutor and did good things for Oakland. I am confident people will vote for her.”