What You Should Know About ​Biden's VP Pick, Sen. Kamala Harris

For starters, it's pronounced 'Comma-La'.


We are in the home stretch and less than 90 days out from Election Day. Between 2020 giving us pandemics, racism, and a questionable economy, the girl has outdone herself with the surprises this year. Needless to say, the very fabric of our livelihood depends on the outcome of this election. No matter where your politics may lie, being an informed voter is paramount.

After the recent Democratic National Convention, Joe Biden selected Sen. Kamala Harris as his Vice President running mate on this year's ticket. With this historic nomination, Sen. Kamala Harris will be the first woman, the first Asian-American and the first Black Vice President of the United States if elected. It has been said that Harris' mother once said, "You may be the first to do many things. Make sure you are not the last." Whether or not you choose to vote Biden/Harris, this is truly a historical moment that will create a wave for change going forward into the future.

Here is what you should know about Sen. Kamala Harris:

  • Kamala Devi Harris was born October 20, 1964, in Oakland, CA to Donald Harris and Shamayla Gopalan Harris. Sen. Harris' parents are both immigrants, her father from Jamaica, and her mother from India.
  • Sen. Harris has one younger sister, Maya Lakshmi Harris. Maya is a powerhouse in her own right as an American lawyer, public policy advocate, and television commentator.
  • Donald Harris was an economics professor and Shamayla Harris was a physician. Her parents met during their time at UC Berkely.
  • After she graduated from high school, Harris attended Howard University. Which, if you did not know before, is one of the most prestigious historically Black colleges in Washington, DC. It was here that Harris graduated with a BA in political science and economics. She also joined Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority Inc. while attending Howard University. Following up on her undergrad career, Harris earned her law degree at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, J.D., in 1989.

  • To keep her children close to their Indian heritage, Shamayla gave them names that were a nod to their roots. Kamala means "lotus" and is also another name for the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.
  • Sen. Harris has spoken about the fact that she was bused to her elementary school. In fact, in the first grade she was bused to Thousand Oaks Elementary School. This school was early on in the integration process and she spent the next three years being bussed from her predominantly black, lower-middle-class neighborhood to a white school district.
  • As a child, Harris was able to embrace both her South Asian and Black identities. Her mother made sure her daughters attended both a Black Baptist church and a Hindu temple.
  • Currently, Sen. Harris is married to her husband Douglas Emhoff who is an entertainment lawyer. They were married in 2014 making Harris a stepmom to Emhoff two children, Cole and Ella.

What you should know about Sen. Kamala Harris’ political career:


During most of the 90s, Kamala Harris served as Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County, California. It was during this time that Harris earned her reputation for being "tough" in cases such as gang violence, drug trafficking, and sexual abuse. In 1998, Harris was named managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit of San Francisco District Attorney's Office.


From 2004 to 2011, Harris served as District Attorney of San Francisco. She became the first Black woman elected as San Francisco's District Attorney. During her time as District Attorney, Harris created a program to provide first-time drug offenders second chances. They also were able to have an opportunity to earn a high school degree and find a job. In 2010, Kamala became the first Black woman to be elected California Attorney General, overseeing the country's second-largest Justice Department, only behind the U.S. Department of Justice.

In this position, Harris managed a $735 million budget while overseeing more than 4,800 attorneys. Also while being California Attorney General, she fought for families and won a $20 billion settlement for California homeowners against big banks that were unfairly foreclosing on homes. During this time, Harris published her book, Smart on Crime: A Creer Prosecutor's Plan to Make Us Safer. Harris later went on to serve as Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2016.


Sen. Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 2016 and began her first term representing California on January 3, 2017. She was the first Indian-American to serve as a U.S. senator as well as the second African-American woman. Since being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, Harris has introduced and co-sponsored legislation to help the middle class, increase the minimum wage to $15, reform cash bail, and defend the legal rights of refugees and immigrants. Harris is on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and also on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

In 2019, Sen. Harris released her a second book, a memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, as well as a picture book, Superheroes Are Everywhere. January of that same year, Sen. Harris announced her bid to run for President in the 2020 elections. This was followed up in December 2019 with the Senator dropping out of the race and putting her support behind Joe Biden. On August 11, 2020, Joe Biden selected Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate for the 2020 Presidental elections.

Where does Sen. Kamala Harris stand on the issues?


Harris has expressed mixed messages on the issue of healthcare. There have been many questions surrounding where Sen. Harris stands as far as "Medicare for All". What we are clear on is that Sen. Harris has spoken about underserved communities during the pandemic and she has also spoken to maternal mortality. In July 2019, Harris unveiled a different kind of healthcare platform, "KamalaCare", that would expand Medicare without ending private insurance. This platform was thought to be splitting the difference between Sanders and Biden.


During her presidential candidacy, Harris advocated for several things: using executive powers to reinstate and expand the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Also, creating a clear path to citizenship for Dreamers brought into the U.S. as children.

Consumer Protection:

While being California Attorney General, Harris' role in securing a $25 billion settlement for California homeowners from big mortgage firms confirmed hef stance as a consumer advocate. Harris' record included prosecution of predatory lenders, protections for those drowning in student debt, and being tough on online consumer privacy issues.

Policing/Criminal Justice:

Harris has called for reforms to address racism in the criminal justice system during her presidential candidacy. This platform included an end to private prisons and mandatory minimums, legalizing marijuana, and abolishing the death penalty and solitary confinement.


Harris introduced a plan that proposed canceling up to $20,000 in student loans for borrowers who started a business in a poor community and maintained it for three years. This was very different than most of her opponents who wanted to cancel student loan debt altogether.

Climate Change:

Over that last few years, Harris has taken a stance on addressing climate change and environmental justice. She endorsed the Green New Deal and in September, Harris released a climate plan that allocated a $10 trillion investment in a clean-energy transition over the next ten years. Harris and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez introduced a plan for legislation that would ensure that new environmental bills be evaluated based on how they impact frontline communities.

If you want to find out more about where Sen. Harris stands since accepting the nomination, tune in to the Vice Presidential debate on October 7.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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