Berkeley Kid Goes National

Kamala Harris was born in Kaiser Hospital in Oakland. When she formally declared her candidacy for president in 2019, she did so in downtown Oakland. She is widely perceived as an Oakland native.

But her parents were graduate students at UC Berkeley who lived in an apartment near campus. Joe Biden’s new running mate is actually a Berkeley native.

There’s a reason neither she nor the campaign are advertising that: ever since the 1960s the right has used “Berkeley” as shorthand for left-wing radicalism. The Trumpists are already going after her from that angle without mentioning Berkeley; garnering headlines in the right-wing media bubble, although not so much in the mainstream press, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel alleged that the choice of Harris for vice president shows “the left-wing mob is controlling Biden’s candidacy, just like they would control him as president.”

It’s a familiar smear, outdated and delusional but useful for stoking the outrage of time-stuck MAGA fanatics. I doubt it will affect the election; my hunch is that adding Harris to the ticket will neither help nor hurt Biden. The election will still be a referendum on reality — or, as the Lincoln Project has been putting it recently, America or Trump.

Harris spent her first twelve years in Berkeley. When she hammered Biden at the Democratic presidential debates for working with segregationist senators, mentioning that as a little girl she was bused to integrate a school, the school she was referring to is a mile from my house. Today Thousand Oaks Elementary has a mural of accomplished minority women with Harris at the center:

Ruth Asawa, Delores Huerta, Malala Yousafzai, Harris, Serena Williams, and Anne Frank.

Harris left Berkeley at age 12, moving with her mother and sister to Montreal. But she doesn’t deny her roots. She writes about them in her autobiography, and last year she told Berkeleyside, the local e-news hub, that “Growing up in the flatlands of Berkeley, I was raised on stories of activism of the 1960s.”

After earning her law degree she returned to the Bay Area and became well-known in the San Francisco legal community, serving as district attorney. I remember at least one mediation chat about her. (There’s lots of time to chat during mediations, and lawyers love to discuss their golf games and gossip about colleagues.) I won’t share the particulars, because they smacked of the usual things men say of ambitious women. But those lawyers did regard her as someone to watch, and that has proved prescient.

No matter how much her ascension brings scorn on my adopted hometown, I wish Kamala Harris strength, courage, grace, and success over the next three months — doubly so if Biden and she win on November 3.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.