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It had to happen in Oakland; the progressive hometown where Kamala Harris set out to make history.

In front of an estimated crowd of 20,000 people at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Harris launched her 2020 presidential campaign by presenting an array of broad, progressive policies and focusing on what she views to be the failures of the current administration.  

On Sunday, she touched on popular talking points — debt-free college, tax cuts for working families and Medicare for all — for her vision for the country. Yet, her overall message focused on the call for unity and what she views to be the decline of American values under President Donald Trump’s administration, often taken a jab at the president without mentioning his name.

Alluding to the president, Harris criticized his divisive rhetoric, his attempt to build a wall at the southern border and, what she sees as increased racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and homophobia in the nation.

Harris addressed the crowd:

“We are at an inflection point in the history of our world. We are at an inflection point in the history of our nation. We are here because the American dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before.”

Harris added:

“We are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question. Who are we? Who are we as Americans? So, let’s answer that question to the world and each other right here and right now. America: we are better than this.”

Harris also pitched herself as a “fighter for the people,” invoking her Oakland roots:

“I’m running to be president of the people, by the people, and for all people.”

Ultimately, Harris said her love for her country and a “deep sense of responsibility” moved her to run for president.

For Natalie Morgan, who attended the rally with her friend Lena Potts, Harris’ announcement to run for president came as a relief.

Morgan said:  

“It has been a really trying time since 2016 alone and so just having a new voice of reason and direction is really necessary right now.”

Potts added:

“This is a historic moment. [It’s] exciting to see a black woman run for president and declare her candidacy for president. I think that’s super impactful beyond politics. That’s just an excellent moment for representation and folks being able to move forward.”

Potts continued:

“The fact that she has a real shot at the presidency is just so meaningful regardless of where you fall in the political spectrum, that’s just such a meaningful moment for folks. Just watching this moment in person is just super exciting.”   

Harris was born in Oakland. Her mother was from India and her father from Jamaica; both were civil rights activists. She became a deputy district attorney in Alameda County in 1990, and in 2003 became the first African American and first woman elected as San Francisco district attorney, as well as the California attorney general in 2010.

In 2016 Harris again made history when she became the second black woman and first south Asian woman to be elected to the US Senate.

Since then she has garnered national attention for her sharp questioning of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and then Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the Trump campaign’s possible links to Russia and the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Harris has also received criticism over her record as a prosecutor in California, with many on the left viewing her actions as counter to the progressive message she presents now. During a press conference at her alma mater Howard University last Monday, Harris was asked about her role in defending the California Department of Corrections in its efforts to prevent transgender inmates from getting gender reassignment surgery.  

Harris responded:

“I was the attorney general of California for two terms and I had a host of clients that I was obligated to defend and represent …. I couldn’t fire my clients, and there were unfortunately situations that occurred where my clients took positions that were contrary to my beliefs.

Harris added:

“The bottom line is the buck stops with me and I take full responsibility for what my office did. There are cases … where there were folks that made a decision in my office and they had not consulted me and I wish they had.”

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, University of San Francisco law professor Lara Bazelon said that Harris “was not a progressive prosecutor” and often was on the “wrong side of history when she served as California’s attorney general.”

Yet, for many attendees at Sunday’s rally, Harris also represents a stark opposite to Trump — something a few voiced to be a key component in beating the president in the 2020 election.

Ali Oligny and Shannen Casey, who both attended the rally said they came out of “cautious interest.”

Oligny told SFBay:

“It was such a shock when Hillary [Clinton] didn’t win for so many of us, and so it was like four years of coming to terms with reality that Trump is the president, watching his horrible policies, watching friends and family and people you know be negatively impacted … I’m really hear to learn what [Harris] is about and hope to be inspired by her platform.”

Casey echoed Oligny’s sentiment and said:

“I’m interested to see what her platform is since she hasn’t really elaborated what it is that she is running on. I’m also interested to see her position on what I’m calling the 2020 democratic apology tour [and] how she is going to address maybe some of the things that she has done in her past as a prosecutor that don’t necessarily align with the current political climate of the progressive left. So … it’s kind of a theme that I’m seeing with a lot of the presidential candidates on the left … cautious optimism.”

An abundance of American flags draped the front of Oakland’s City Hall. The intersection of Broadway and 14th street swelled with people trying to reach the grass field in front of Oakland City Hall. People who arrived early squeezed onto the field in an attempt to catch a glimpse of center stage, in front of City Hall and encased by a metal fence, where Harris would officially launch her 2020 presidential campaign.

Prior to Harris addressing the crowd, 2Pac’s “California Love” and Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” blasted from the speaker system installed in front Oakland’s City Hall.

Selected VIP’s got to sit inside the enclosed area of the center stage. Among them were politicians like State Assemblyman Scott Wiener and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Before Harris’ speech, Schaaf told a pool of reporters:  

“We’re proud to lift up our hometown girl. This country has a lot of healing to do and Kamala is dignitive, [and] she will heal a lot of the divisiness.”  

Schaaf added:

“She has the most incredible, strong character and Oakland is a place that definitely tests people but it also has the right values — the values that honor diversity. And that’s who she is, and that is why I’m thrilled to be supporting her.”

For Steve Tate, an engineer from San Jose, it was important to attend the rally for the sake of the “possibly monumental event” of Harris becoming the first woman president and first black woman president.

Tate told SFBay:

“There’s a certain resonance to her, she looks like us, she feels like us, she talks like us, she is from Oakland … She has all the credential necessary. She has a much broader appeal, not just to African Americans, Hispanics, but also to white middle-class America.”

For now, the 2020 presidential bid is shaping out to become another battle centered around Trump himself.

It’s unclear how Harris’ campaign will shape out over the next months. Some publications see her as the democratic frontrunner. Her campaign raised $1.5 million in its first 24 hours.

Toward the end of her speech, Harris said:

“If I have the honor of being your president, I will tell you this: I am not perfect. Lord knows, I am not perfect. But I will always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will speak the truth.”


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