“That little girl in California” turns heads and proves her mettle.
“It’s personal… it was hurtful” Her voice did not crack even as she uttered these. Head straight, eyes closed for a fraction of a second as she collected her thoughts, she looked straight into the camera as these next words rang out. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school. And she was bussed to school every day.”. Then her head turned slightly to look at the object of her attack straight in the eye and deliver the punchline – “that little girl was me”.
What the world saw that moment late June of 2019, is what makes Kamala Harris who she is. There was conviction in her beliefs, yet, words were measured, not derisive, let alone derogatory; she maintained the same cadence, and the same authoritative tone that lets people know the truth as she sees it without letting the other feel they are being spoken to. With that she let Joe Biden know where she stood, and not afraid to stand outside the room later as a punishment to herself. That’s exactly what she did. Her own star as a candidate for the Democratic ticket waned shortly thereafter, primarily because how she came out so strongly. The punishment she was quite ready to accept, and, she quit early. In a turn of events that took many by surprise, Biden today chose Harris as his running mate. In accepting the nomination, Harris vowed to join Biden in a “fight for our soul” and build America “that lives up to our ideals”.
That also puts the two parties in stark contrast. Biden’s choice came within days of newspaper accounts how the horse-race on the Republican side is being played out for VP position. A leading contender Kristi Noem, Governor of South Dakota, apparently ingratiated herself with an explicit suggestion about putting President Trump’s likeness as the fifth image on Mount Rushmore. In response to Democratic choice for VP, President Trump offered “She was very disrespectful to Joe Biden. It’s hard to pick someone that was that disrespectful.” Ms. Harris was forceful, definitive, composed, yet gracious – qualities I am sure she practiced in her storied career as prosecutor and Attorney General; these are the same qualities some might find it difficult to accept coming from a woman. Attacking somebody on their record does not make you unsuitable for a place on the ticket, much less disrespectful – a point Trump Party will never understand. Precisely because she will not hesitate to counter a President Biden if need be, she will be the counter that the Dynast in Chief never tolerated in his Durbar.
An initiative by Ms. Harris deserves special attention to Indian Americans. Starting in 2006 as a District Attorney for San Francisco she identified chronic truancy as a matter of public safety, an early sign for criminal involvements later on. After meeting with thousands of parents, she introduced a policy to prosecute parents of chronically truant adolescents. In 2008 citations were sent to six parents with wards truant for over 50 days. San Francisco school district spent months working with parents via phone calls, letters, private meetings, review boards and so on, often teaming up with social services. In a three-year period, chronic truancy in SF public schools went down by 50% and not a single parent was jailed. She continued the effort as the California Attorney General, commissioning reports that found statewide truancy rates as high as 30% in elementary schools, costing the exchequer over USD 1.4 Billion. Her dogged campaigns to eliminate truancy in California public schools is bringing awareness bore fruits, latest reports point out 95% of schools have implemented specific protocols to address attendance and that truancy in the latest report.
Despite that progress report, Kamala has been under attack from progressives. In a 2010 meeting of the Commonwealth Club she said, speaking of a mother talking to her kids, “if you do not go to school, Kamala’s going to put you and me in jail”. She was talking about a friend of hers and there was a mock panic in the voice, even a smile at her own joke. It is no surprise that the Woke Brigade has her in a freeze-frame as they come out for her with pitchforks. They ignore reams of data linking truancy with all kinds of increasingly more dangerous criminal involvements, and they will overlook how truancy improved in three years under her watch and that hundreds of moms of at-risk kids in violent neighborhoods thanked her. One can question if truancy should be in the hands of prosecutors at all, but that concern is alleviated by the fact that to get past the school board required months of collaborative work by the entire support network of the city, and, literally months. If a kid’s misbehavior is ignored for months by their parents, enforcement questions do arise – a point most almost all parents of at-risk kids readily agree on.
Harris’ anti-truancy initiative gives an inside look at her thought process, likely colored by her own upbringing as an Indian American. It is the onus of every parent to be vigilant about how their wards are doing, at least that they are meeting very basic standards. Nothing more basic, and requiring lesser effort on part of the kid, than attendance. Weight of evidence connects, causally, truancy with at-risk behavior later on. Since adolescents are legally required to be wards of parents, the buck ultimately has to stop at the parents. Almost every single one of these cases involves parents who have just gotten too busy, elevated levels of urgency gets their attention and does the job – just as Harris’ efforts did. Her no-nonsense commonsense response appeals to all desiring upward mobility and a better future for their kids, especially Indian Americans.
A mom told me, only half in jest, nothing makes her happier than when somebody holds her accountable for her adolescents’ follies, it keeps her on toes and makes her be doubly vigilant. With some caveats, I found it true for the vast majority of parents I have met. Especially for Suburban women, her tough on crime mien, and her concern for children’s well-being, are assets Biden needs. She is not afraid to take, and throw, a punch and she will not be afraid to play bad cop to Biden. Almost twenty years junior to Biden, Harris has time in her hand for a future run for the Oval Office, not looking to upstage her boss. All in, choosing her does look like the product of deep thought exercise as she herself is known to make.
It is amazing how the US has changed in my lifetime, Trump zone notwithstanding. With some fortitude and some luck, we can talk about an Indian American VP, and possibly President in four years. Kamala’s mom, Shyamala Gopalan, a cancer researcher who immigrated from India, would exhort her “Don’t just sit around and complain about things. Do something.” Kamala is on a path to do something really big.
We do not know how Ms. Gopalan would have congratulated her daughter If she were here today, RIP. But we will. Let’s beckon a daughter of our common ancestry and say in unison “Kamal Hai, Kamala” (“It’s Amazing, Kamala). And that will be a truth that binds us. Amen.
[Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own].