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Once upon a time, in Berkeley, California, there was a girl, who loved to run. Her name was Kamala Harris. And she was the daughter of immigrant parents from Jamaica and India. Both parents became PhDs and their bi-racial daughter Kamala grew up to become the first by many measures: The first female, the first Black, the first South Asian Vice President.
Actor and comedian Ilana Glazer is the co-creator of “Broad City” on Comedy Central and has a stand-up special on Amazon Prime Video called “The Planet Is Burning.” She is also one of the co-founders of the non-profit, Generator Collective, which defines minimal civic engagement and invites the average American to embody that.
Ilana Glazer Once there was a girl who would represent A LOT of “firsts” and would rise to become one of the most powerful people in the world.
Her name is Kamala.
Kamala grew up in Berkeley, California, surrounded by radical thinkers and creative spirits.
Her parents, Shyamala and Donald, were student activists – young people who were fighting for equal rights for all – and they brought her along to the protests and marches they attended.
With her pigtails tied neatly with pink ribbons, her white tights and black patent leather shoes, Kamala would raise one tiny little fist defiantly into the air in solidarity with those around her.
People chanted and waved their signs. Kamala joined right in. She tugged at her mother who bent down, her long, shiny black braid hanging low. “What do you want?” she asked…
“Fweedom!” Little Kamala yelled!
These electrifying moments that her parents exposed her to inspired Kamala; as she would move from the classroom, to the courtroom and finally to one of the highest offices in the land.
Glazer I’m Ilana Glazer. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the rebel women who inspire us.
On this episode, Kamala Harris. Breaker of glass ceilings, daughter of immigrants, proud woman of color, and the first female Vice President of the United States of America.
Glazer You could say that Kamala’s political career began even before she was born! Her parents met at a protest. They were both students at the University of California at Berkeley.
Shyamala Gopalan, was a formidable, 5-foot-tall immigrant from India studying biology. Kamala’s father Donald Harris had come from Jamaica to study Economics.
Shyamala’s family expected her to enter an arranged marriage – a traditional cultural practice in India, where your parents choose your husband or wife for you.
But Shyamala was anything but traditional. She and Donald fell in love, got married, and named both their daughters after Hindu goddesses. Shyamala said once that a “culture that worships goddesses produces strong women.”
But… when Kamala was seven, her parents got divorced. Kamala and her sister Maya would still see their father on weekends and during the summer. But much of their time was spent with their mother.
Beyond her work as an influential breast cancer researcher, Shyamala was also a leader in her community. She mentored students of color, and counseled African-American women battling breast cancer. And, she was determined that her daughters would grow up understanding both their Indian heritage and their African-American roots.
So, Shyamala not only had the girls study at the Hindu temple, she had them attend an African American church and sing in the choir as well.
On Thursday nights they went to The Rainbow Sign, a Black cultural center near their home. There they were exposed to extraordinary people – like Nina Simone, a singer and civil rights activist. Maya Angelou, the famous Black poet. And Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to congress. At that very moment, Chisholm was about to become the first woman AND the first Black person to run for President of the United States!
These female leaders made their mark on Kamala. With Nina and Maya and Shirley…and Shyamala as her role models…there’s not a lot that could hold her back.
Glazer When Kamala was 12 her mother received a job offer in Montreal, Canada and off the family went. But, at their new apartment building kids weren’t allowed to play on the front lawn!
This…Could. Not. Stand. So, Kamala and her sister ORGANIZED. They got ALL the kids together to protest this inequity.
They were successful. The owner of the building changed the rule and playtime was ON.
Because, from front lawns and beyond, Kamala had taken to heart the words of her mother,
“Don’t just sit around and complain about things. Do something.”
Glazer In 1981 Kamala Harris graduated from her high-school in Canada. After her early years surrounded by Black and brown people in California, she had spent more than half a decade in majority-white spaces. She wanted something different, and she decided to attend the historically Black college, Howard University in Washington, DC.
So, she moved back to the United States, and double-majored in political science…and economics like her father.
At Howard, Kamala joined the debate team, chaired the economics society, and became a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the first Black sorority in the country.
But the WEST coast beckoned. After graduation, Kamala returned to the Bay Area to attend the Hastings College of Law at the University of California, San Francisco.
Her sister Maya was there too. She was studying at UC Berkeley, and had given birth to her own daughter. Kamala was now an Auntie…and soon…she would be a lawyer too.
In 1989 Kamala sat for her Bar Exam. This is a HUGE test you have to take to become a lawyer. And in California, it’s 2 whole DAYS long. Imagine taking a test for 2 WHOLE DAYS!
The room was quiet except for the scratching of pencils and the sounds of people thinking really hard. Everyone was nervous, they’d been studying for this test for MONTHS. Many of them wouldn’t pass.
And… Kamala was one of them. She failed this big test on the first try…but in 1990 she took it again and this time she passed!
She had decided that she wanted to be a prosecutor – the kind of lawyer that proves people did the crimes they’re accused of.
Her mom was NOT happy about it. Shyamala believed that the justice system was unfair to people of color. But Kamala felt that real change would come from being an insider. When activists came marching and banging on doors, she wanted to be on the other side to let them in.
Having successfully argued her case to her mother, Kamala took a position in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in Oakland, California. And, after working tirelessly for 8 years, she was recruited to the San Francisco D-A’s office to run the Career Criminal Division.
The law was interesting and fulfilling, but politics and public service interested Kamala even more.
In 2003, she ran against her former boss, for district attorney in San Francisco. Kamala won. Foreshadowing what would come…she became the first female D-A in San Francisco’s history and the first Black and South Asian person to hold the office. But she wasn’t done.
In 2009, Kamala decided to run for Attorney General of California, that’s basically the top lawyer in the WHOLE state.
But, while her political star was on the rise, tragedy was around the corner.
Glazer While Kamala was running to become Attorney General, her mother was hospitalized with colon cancer.
Kamala visited her mother in the hospital every chance she got. Shyamala was so tired from the side effects of her treatments that she had stopped watching the news and reading the paper. But Kamala liked to just spend time next to her, whether she was awake or not.
During one of these visits, her mother summoned the strength to ask her, “What’s going on with the campaign?”
Kamala, who was down in the polls, told her mom that she was gonna get her butt kicked.
Shyamala leaned over and looked at her with a BIG smile and said “Bring it on. Good luck to them.” She knew her daughter would overcome whatever they put in her way.
After her mother passed away… Kamala threw herself into her work and fought even harder in a race that she was not expected to win against a popular, Republican man.
On election night the following November, The San Francisco Chronicle declared him the winner and he made his victory speech.
But, three weeks later, when all the ballots were all finally counted, Kamala had actually WON, by less than a point!
She would go on to serve 2 terms as Attorney General of California before moving on to even HIGHER offices.
Glazer In 2014 Kamala got married to Doug Emhoff, a lawyer in Los Angeles, who she had met on a blind date a year before. Doug himself is also a first. The first man and the first Jewish Vice Presidential spouse – but let’s not jump ahead of ourselves, first, we have to get to 2016 when Kamala won her Senate race.
Election night 2016 was bittersweet. While Kamala won the right to represent the people of California in the United States senate – the presidential candidate she supported, Hillary Clinton, lost her bid to become president.
The next few years in Washington were very different from decades past. Donald Trump was president, and senators like Kamala were doing their best to try to address issues within the administration.
Kamala used the techniques she learned as a lawyer to hold elected and appointed officials accountable. Videos of her kept going viral…
Audio Montage of Kamala Viral Videos
Kamala’s tough questions would win her a lot of fans across the country.
Glazer After a few years in Washington, Kamala didn’t like what she was seeing. But, when she was young and she had a problem, her mother would ask “Well, what did you do?”
As in – what did you do to FIX it?
So, Kamala ran for President. She asked her sister, Maya, who had been a top policy adviser for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, to be her campaign chairwoman.
And, she made big waves when she made some bold and challenging statements to former Vice President Joe Biden – who everyone was pretty sure would win the nomination – during one of the debates.
Joe DID win the nomination…and we all know what happened next.
Glazer Just before many places in the United States started to lock down because of the Coronavirus, Kamala Harris endorsed Joe Biden for president. That’s a fancy way of saying that she thought he was best for the job. And then, in August of that year Joe asked Kamala to run alongside him as his vice-president. The second highest office in America.
The Vice President not only takes over if the president can’t do the job anymore, they’re also the president of the senate. Their vote in the senate can break a tie if that body is deadlocked!
Because of the pandemic, politics looked A LOT different in 2020. Usually political parties hold a big event called a convention where they name the person that will be the head of their party that election cycle. But that year…no crowds.
Instead, Kamala walked on stage to speak in front of a quiet, almost empty room. There was no one there except reporters in masks. Those throngs of cheering people from past conventions were now in the parking lot outside, or sitting safely at home watching on TV.
Audio Clip: KAMALA DNC SPEECH 5:39-6:24 “My mother taught me that service to others gives life purpose and meaning. And […] she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now speaking these words: I accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States of America.”
This was a hard moment in the United States. A moment when strong people must stand up and do a difficult job. And Kamala Harris. Stood. Up.
Glazer It was almost time to vote when Halloween 2020 arrived. It was a very different kind of Halloween. Lots of kids stayed home instead of going out trick-or-treating. But people still dressed up. And all over the United States, little Rebels repped Kamala’s signature style: a blazer, jeans, and converse high tops.
And on Election… week 2020, after many days of vote counting and recounting, Kamala Harris became Vice President elect of the United States of America.
In her victory speech, she stood in a white pantsuit, on a socially distanced stage, in a parking lot in Delaware. She paid homage to the many women – including her mother – who came before her…
Audio Clip: KAMALA ELECTION SPEECH 6:56-7:19 “I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women, Black women… Asian, White, Latina, Native American women who throughout our history have paved the way for this moment tonight.” (Audience claps, cheers, and honks.)
And… Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged the many women who will come after…
Audio Clip: KAMALA ELECTION SPEECH 8:57-9:05 “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.” (Cheers and honks)
This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Executive Producers are Jes Wolfe and Katie Sprenger.
This episode was produced by Isaac Kaplan-Woolner. Sound design and mixing by Bianca Salinas. Corinne Peterson is Production Manager.
This episode was written by Robyn Adams. Proofread by Ariana Rosas. It was narrated by me, Ilana Glazer.
Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. For more, visit Rebel Girls dot com. Until next time, stay rebel!