The barrier-breaking vice-presidential pick remembered her late mom as she accepted the Democratic Party's nomination Wednesday night

By Sean Neumann
August 20, 2020 12:07 AM
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Sen. Kamala Harris accepting the Democratic vice presidential nomination on Wednesday night in Delaware.
| Credit: Win McNamee/Getty

California Sen. Kamala Harris remembered her late mother and described a future vision of the U.S. "where all are welcome" in an emotional and historic speech on Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention, as she accepted the party's vice presidential nomination.

Speaking from a nearly empty venue in Wilmington, Delaware, Harris became the first Black woman and first person of Asian descent to be named to either major political party's presidential ticket when she formally accepted the Democratic nomination.

The vice presidential nominee began her acceptance speech by reflecting on her mom, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who died of colon cancer in 2009.

In a reflection of how the campaign had been upended by the novel coronavirus pandemic and its health risks, the DNC skipped the customary crowds; the Chase Center where Harris spoke remotely would have usually held more than 18,000 people, if the convention took place in any other year.

Harris, 55, said her mother raised her and her sister, Maya, “mostly on her own” and taught them to be "proud, strong Black women” who grew to be "conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people.”

“Oh, how I wish she were here tonight,” Harris said. “But I know she’s looking down on me from above.”

Reflecting on what her mother was feeling the October day she was born in 1964, and picturing her mother holding her as a newborn, first-generation American, Harris took a breath before she accepted the nomination.

“On that day, she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now and speaking these words: I accept your nomination for vice president of the United States of America.”

Harris paused before she added, “I do so committed to the values she taught me, to the word that teaches me to walk by faith and not by sight, and to a vision passed on through generations of Americans, one that Joe Biden shares."

From left: Doug Emhoff and Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden and former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden after Harris accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination on Wednesday night in Delaware.
| Credit: Win McNamee/Getty
From left: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris
| Credit: Maya Harris/Twitter

Harris then said that alongside Joe Biden, if elected, she envisions a United States where all are welcome "no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love."

The Oakland, California, native described "a country where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect" and one "where we look out for one another, where we rise and fall as one, where we face our challenges, and celebrate our triumphs."

The vice presidential nominee's outlook came on a night when the Democratic Party drew contrasts between Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump's stance on immigration, climate change and gun reform.

Harris' remarks also came in direct contrast with Trump's often provocative and inflammatory rhetoric.

Since Harris was announced as Biden's running mate, Trump has called her "nasty" and promoted a false claim that she is not eligible to be vice president because her parents were immigrants.

Harris — whose mother was born in India while her father, Donald Harris, was born in Jamaica — was born in Oakland on Oct. 20, 1964.

"We’re at an inflection point," Harris said Wednesday. "The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It’s a lot. And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more."

She added: “Donald Trump’s failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods."

Invoking her career as a prosecutor, she said, "I know a predator when I see one."

Sen. Kamala Harris accepting the Democratic vice presidential nomination on Wednesday night in Delaware.
| Credit: Win McNamee/Getty

Harris is the fourth woman to join a major presidential ticket, following Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in 2008 and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Clinton spoke earlier Wednesday night in support of Harris and Biden, saying then: “Joe picked the right partner in Kamala.”

“She’s relentless in the pursuit of justice and equity, and she’s kind," Clinton said in her speech. “I know something about the slings and arrows she’ll face, and believe me, this former district attorney and attorney general can handle them all.”

Sen. Kamala Harris in 2019
| Credit: Mason Trinca/Getty Images
From left: Doug Emhoff and Sen. Kamala Harris after she accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination on Wednesday night in Delaware.
| Credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty

Harris unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination before dropping out of the race in December.

This year, she has become a prominent voice in the Senate during throughout the pandemic and following the killing of George Floyd in May, which prompted nationwide demonstrations against police misconduct and injustice.

“There’s no vaccine for racism,” she said Wednesday night. “We’ve got to do the work for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for the lives of too many others to name, for our children, and for all of us.”

Harris added: “None of us are free until all of us are free."

Mary J. Blige's "Work That" played over the speakers as soon as Harris ended her acceptance speech, while a video board lit up behind her, showing voters at home, clapping in support.

A few reporters sat about 20 yards in front of Harris, who stood alone on stage as she accepted the nomination, and they watched as her husband, Doug Emhoff, joined her near the podium afterwards to embrace her with a hug.

Biden and his wife, former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, also joined them on stage — though at a distance — and waved and clapped in support of the nominee's remarks.