I look a lot like Kamala Harris. I’m a light-skinned Black woman with bright eyes, great dance moves and a lot of ambition.
As I scroll through my Twitter and Facebook pages, I see a lot of friends and people posting how amazing it will be for little girls and young women, especially brown ones like me, to see someone who looks like them one step away from the most powerful office on Earth.
And in many ways, it will be amazing. Sen. Harris boasts a strong Black and Indian identity. She attended a historically Black university, and she’s worked hard for everything she’s accomplished, all the way up to and including her term as California’s junior U.S. senator and where she is now — about to become, on Jan. 20, 2021, the first nonwhite female vice president of the United States. She’s bright, funny, shrewd, confident, quick and beautiful. Check, check, check.
What Harris really offers to America’s young adults, though, is a blueprint for what to do when you realize you have been loudly, publicly and expensively wrong.
As San Francisco’s district attorney, as California’s attorney general and as a U.S. senator, Kamala Harris has been profoundly imperfect. Her presidential run was plagued with attacks on her health care plan, as she kept waffling on her support for "Medicare for All." Her student debt forgiveness plan was complex and milquetoast. “Kamala is a cop” was the all-too-easy retort for her critics whenever she boasted of justice reform, considering she used to send parents to prison as an answer to student truancy. She’s not been as forceful as other senators on breaking up Big Tech monopolies, and instead successfully courted Silicon Valley donors for campaign contributions.
But what gives me hope about Kamala Harris and Joe Biden is that both have chosen to grow and to say sorry when they realized they were wrong, and they have committed to making things right. In the first Democratic primary debates, Harris famously called out Biden for his failure to support busing to desegregate schools and its immediate effect on her access to education as a little girl. In the final presidential debate, Biden admitted he was wrong to back the disastrous 1994 crime bill and apologized for the harm it caused millions of families, mostly poor and mostly nonwhite.
Both Harris and Biden have committed to overhauling our nation’s approach to safety and justice to put families and communities before the prison industrial complex. Her attention to policy detail is astounding, as she drilled into the minutiae of this summer’s proposed police reform legislation. She questioned tech executives sharply over Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of Facebook user data to aid Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. And she proved to be harsher on Big Pharma executives than they planned, as she fought for lower prices and more transparency.
I was excited to vote for Harris, not because of where she and Biden are now, but because of where they have committed to grow. Harris was an early co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, and her ticket’s policy promises have grown greener and greener as she’s listened to experts and solicited feedback from activists and those worst affected by pollution.
More than anything, as role models go, I am tired of a president who always has to be right. Donald Trump claims he was right about COVID-19 all along and that “we’re rounding the turn” on the pandemic, despite an enormous surge of cases that has topped even the worst days back in the spring. If you ask Trump, Trump has never, ever been wrong.
America can offer better aspirations to every child and young adult who calls this nation home. We deserve role models who do their best, and do better when they learn better. We deserve role models who not only acknowledge their mistakes, but use their power to rectify them. We deserve role models who have loving partners, some humility when they don’t have all the answers, and the grit to see justice all the way through.
I wasn’t looking for a savior this election. I was looking for good, hardworking people who can identify injustices — even injustices they enabled — and root them out. No elected official is perfect, and they shouldn’t claim to be. But every elected official is accountable to us, the voters, and should be able to commit to learning and listening. And to that end, I’m excited to see Kamala Harris become our next vice president. For all her past failures, she’s a good woman with an eye for what’s right, a strong sense of self, and a confident swagger. I’m in.
Savannah Thorpe is a progressive political operative in Lancaster and a freelance writer.