Senator Kamala Harris Takes Her Place in History as VP Nominee

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Democratic vice presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks on the third night of the Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center August 19, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. The convention, which was once expected to draw 50,000 people to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is now taking place virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Senator Kamala Harris made history Wednesday night, becoming the first woman of color to accept the Democratic nomination for vice president in a speech where she passionately articulated the lessons she learned from her own mother, and what this election will mean for generations to come.

"In this election, we have a chance to change the course of history. We’re all in this fight," said Harris, an Oakland native who is both the first Black woman and Asian American to appear on a major party ticket.

"Years from now, this moment will have passed. And our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us: 'Where were you when the stakes were so high? They will ask us, what was it like?' And we will tell them. We will tell them, not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did," Harris said.

Harris faced a tough challenge: Her speech came after a forceful, scathing and unprecedented indictment of President Donald Trump by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. And, Harris was speaking from a largely empty hall, set up to look like a regular convention arena but attended by just a handful of reporters after the Democratic Party scrapped its original convention plans in favor of a COVID-19 safe virtual gathering.

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Still, Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, spoke emotionally about the women whose "shoulders she stands on" — including the suffragists who succeeded 100 years ago this week in securing women's right to vote. But her strongest moments came when she talked about her own mother — Shyamala Gopalan, and what she taught Harris and her sister, Maya, about family, community and "the values that would chart the course of our lives."

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"Even as she taught us to keep our family at the center of our world, she also pushed us to see a world beyond ourselves," Harris said. "She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people. To believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility."

Harris said those lessons led her to her career path: as a lawyer, a district attorney, an attorney general and a U.S. Senator. While she didn't attack Trump as forcefully as she has at times, Harris was blunt when assessing his record, at one point leaving this line hanging: "I know a predator when I see one."Donald Trump's failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods," she said later. "We're at an inflection point. The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It's a lot. And here's the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more."

Harris spoke from Delaware, the home state of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, on the third night of this year's virtual Democratic National Convention. Her remarks capped an evening that also included remarks from Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Before Harris' keynote, Democrats highlighted a number of key issues — climate change, gun violence, immigration and domestic violence — featuring activists from around the nation.

In speeches by female leaders, including Pelosi and Clinton, Harris' record was repeatedly invoked as counterpoint to Trump's.

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"We need leaders equal to this moment of sacrifice and service — we need Joe Biden and Kamala Harris," Clinton said.

Clinton's speech nodded to both Harris' history as a prosecutor and her mixed race family.

"Tonight I am thinking of the girls and boys who see themselves in America’s future because of Kamala Harris—a Black woman, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, and our nominee for Vice President of the United States," Clinton said. "This is our country’s story: breaking down barriers and expanding the circle of possibility."

She implored young people not to "give up on America," saying Biden picked the right partner in Harris.

"Kamala is relentless in the pursuit of justice, and uncommonly kind. When her press secretary Tyrone Gayle, a remarkable young man who had also worked on my campaign, was dying of cancer, she dropped everything to be with him in his final moments. Because that’s who she is," Clinton said.

The former presidential candidate also noted Harris' reputation as a tough former prosecutor: "I know a thing or two about the slings and arrows coming her way. Kamala can handle them all," she said with a smile.

Pelosi echoed that sentiment, saying that on this 100th anniversary of women's suffrage "Kamala Harris is the Vice President we need right now—committed to our Constitution, brilliant in defending it, and a witness to the women of this nation that their voices will be heard."

Former President Obama said that Biden had chosen "the ideal partner, who is more than prepared for the job, someone who knows what it's like to overcome barriers."

Addisu Demissie, a Democratic consultant who helped plan this year's virtual event, said the speech was a chance for Harris to introduce herself to Americans.

"For those of us here in California ... she has 100 percent name recognition among the voters," he said, "but for the rest of the country, most people who are going to watch this — it's their first real introduction to her."

"What you're gonna see is somebody introducing themselves to the country ... I think it's going to hit one way for us here in California. But it really isn't about introducing her to California. It's about introducing her to 49 other states," he said.