Kamala Harris' VP Nomination Is Momentous, But We Need To Demand More

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On the heels of Ruth Bader Ginsberg's passing, the 2020 elections feel more pressing than ever

2020, whether we like it or not, is a year of change: the pandemic, the Civil Rights protests, the wildfire crisis on the West Coast, and now RBG’s death have made it more obvious than ever that all the terrible things that happened are not just because of one bad year, but because the many systems that currently rule our lives are incredibly broken. 

Within an already very historic year, Kamala Harris made headlines as the first woman of color to be nominated for national office by a major political party. 

As Joe Biden’s vice-presidential running mate, Harris was rewarded with a lot of historic “firsts.” She is the first Black woman and first person of Indian descent to be nominated, as well as the fourth woman in U.S. history to be on the presidential ticket. 

RELATED: The True Story Of Our Racist Criminal Justice System & The People Who Have Vowed To Fix It

But what does Kamala Harris' nomination mean for an already turbulent election year? 

Harris’ nomination marks a new turn for the Democratic Party: an appeal to diversity and inclusion markers, versus an appeal to the electorate. 

Historically, the VP ticket was used to bring candidates more to the center, or to appeal to electorate demographics that normally would’ve voted for the other party: for example, Barack Obama, as the first black president, needed someone who was white and politically mainstream, and so Biden, the Delaware Senator and Iraq war hero, became his choice. 

Harris’ VP choice is not an attempt to flip red states blue — as the Senator of California, Harris represents a state that, no matter what will give Biden their votes. Nominated in the midst of the George Floyd protests, Harris’ nomination feels like a very hard appeal to the appearance of social justice and “progressive” change. 

Why Kamala Harris is an important step in the right direction.

Harris' nomination is meaningful to women, especially many women of color and immigrants, and she might bring their vote to Biden’s ticket. 

It is important to vote — this goes without saying. But especially now, when civil rights hang in the balance just because one person in the government passed away, it is important to also realize that we cannot hang all our hopes on institutions to save us. 

Many have snidely said that the presidential race feels like a pick between two equally senile, white old men. Biden has gotten a lukewarm reception from both sides of the political spectrum.

If he wins the presidency, at 78 he will be the oldest president in history — so it goes without saying that many nervously looked towards the VP nom not only as another name to add to the ticket, but also looking towards the potential leader of the Democratic party if Biden were to win. 

Harris then, in terms of personality, seems to make up what Biden lacks. She’s passionate and charismatic with a strong family story and personal identity that can solidify the votes Biden’s been missing since his campaign started. 

Can we rely on Biden-Harris to make any actual change? 

Probably one of the biggest issues of this year is criminal justice. 2020 blew open the problems that plagued the many systems in our lives — the protests especially have shown that this country’s gross treatment of race and class will no longer be tolerated. 

We are constantly told over and over to "vote blue no matter who," and that the most important thing is to vote President Trump out of office.

Yet George Floyd was killed in Minnesota, a historically blue state. We’ve seen protests erupt and subsequent police brutality retaliate in cities all across the country, we’ve seen troops enter and civil rights all but disregarded to suppress dissent. 

In regards to criminal justice, critics point to Biden’s Crime Bill, his checkered past in regards to mandatory busing (which Harris famously called him out on) and mass incarceration. He currently does not support defunding the police, instead stating instead should they meet a “certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.” 

He is weak on pro-choice, as he’s voted for the Hyde Amendment, which states that women couldn’t use Medicaid dollars in order to protect their reproductive rights — a stance he still today supports. As a senator, he’s voted to support an amendment that would have allowed states to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guarantees a woman's right to abortion. 

And yet, despite all this, Biden, and now his VP nom, have come out, to many, as the beacon of hope out of Trump's presidency. 

RELATED: 15 Kamala Harris Quotes That Prove She’s A Promising Vice Presidential Candidate

Where does Harris stand in tandem with Biden’s policies?

During her presidential race, she was notoriously critical of Biden — stating she believed the women who accused Biden of sexual assault, calling him out on his stances on criminal justice “reform” and his ties to two southern segregationist senators who opposed the desegregation of schools.

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Yet, she stands wholly supportive of Biden now. 

That seems to be the problem of Biden and Harris’ pasts: they do not align with a lot of the change they promise to uphold. More importantly, this just seems to be a trend with the Democratic Party’s promises towards change in general. 

Harris’ prosecutorial past has been relentlessly criticized: many critics calling her “Cop-mala Harris” as she notoriously targetted single-parent households, poor and families of color, jailing black nonviolent cannabis users and opposed reforming California’s three-strikes law, which is the only law in the country to impose life sentences for minor felonies. 

However, she has also introduced anti-lynching legislation that was later blocked by Rand Paul in 2018. She is working on a bill called the Justice Policing Act of 2020, which looks at police accountability, giving the Department of Justice more power to investigate entire police departments for patterns of discrimination. She also calls, in a limited capacity, to “defund” the police, pointing out the disproportionate amount of money cities put into policing while slashing public education.

But, she also follows that statement by saying “no, we aren’t going to get rid of the police. We all have to be practical.” 

"Practical" candidates who appeal to the center are not satisfying people anymore. 

What does it mean to be practical in a year in which the tragedy inflicted on most families seem absurd, cruel, and superhuman?

This year the news is bombarded with injustice, whether it be random and sentimental, such as a beloved movie and TV star passing, or injustice on the individual level, in which we see more and more civil rights chip away in a growingly troubled presidential term. 

For example, recent reports detail forced sterilization at ICE detention centers. People repetitively call for the repeal of ICE and the eradication of Trump’s detention camps along the border, yet officials on either side have yet to make any strong stance against him. People protest these policies, only to be shut down by an excessively violent police force

Then during this, we have mayors and governors supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, painting murals, drafting supportive messages on Twitter, only to continue sending more and more police into cities.

We have Harris who claims to champion immigrant rights, only to push for a law that would get undocumented youth arrested for minor crimes, forcing schools to turn in students over to ICE, an especially brutal law given San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city.

No one expects Harris to be perfect.

She has vocally defended immigrant rights: she supports DACA, has pushed for temporary visa protections for crime victors, and has provided legal services to unaccompanied minors as California’s attorney general.

But this all proves we cannot expect change from our government officials alone. 

I truly can’t stress the importance to get out and vote this election. Biden-Harris seems to be the best option to get Trump out of office, and the Democratic Party has continued working to ensure a “suitable” replacement for RBG.

But we can’t count on voting or on relying on a government that profits off of repetitively oppressive systems that constantly disadvantage minorities.

How many times will we continue saying that choosing one party over the other feels like the “lesser of two evils?” Why have we allowed this to be the norm? Why are we constantly being put in this position, especially when the position in this country continues to grow more and more dire? 

The pandemic has revealed how deeply classist, racist, and sexist our healthcare is, the same way the protests reveal how racist and violent our police force is. The same way now that the wildfires and hurricanes across the country show that governments will stay lukewarm on any actual climate change policy if it inconveniences the corporations that contribute to a majority of global warming. 

We have to put pressure on the institutions that rule our lives, and we need to start holding them accountable. Because we cannot be okay with the “status quo,” or “going back to normal.” There has to be change, and we have to start demanding it out of the people we hope to represent us. 

RELATED: 9 Ways To Encourage People To Vote In Upcoming Elections

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Jessica Xing is a writer who covers LGBT rights, books, culture, and media.