The Truths We Hold | Kamala Harris

Summary of: The Truths We Hold: An American Journey
By: Kamala Harris

Introduction

In ‘The Truths We Hold: An American Journey’, Kamala Harris takes us through her journey from being the daughter of immigrant parents to becoming a fierce advocate for justice as a prosecutor, attorney general, U.S. Senator, and the first woman of South Asian descent and the first African-American woman to hold those offices. Through a series of personal and professional anecdotes, we witness the various challenges and lessons she encountered while fighting for equality and the rights of the marginalized in the United States. The book offers an insightful look into the life and career of one of America’s dedicated public servants and the experiences that shaped her progressive values.

Kamala Harris’s Roots

Kamala Harris, the daughter of Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris, was born in Oakland, California in 1964. Gopalan, a Doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology, was a civil rights activist who met her husband, Donald, during a protest in Berkeley. While growing up, Harris was heavily influenced by her parents’ heritage, with her mother coming from Southern India and her father hailing from Jamaica. She was inspired by lawyers like Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley and hoped to follow their footsteps. Despite facing challenges like moving to Montreal during her childhood, Harris’s strong-willed nature enabled her to flourish and dream of a future in which she could champion justice.

Kamala Harris’s Journey at Howard

Kamala Harris attended Howard University, a historically black institution that provided talented black students with the education other institutions denied them. At Howard, she found her place and participated in various activities, including joining a sorority, chairing the economics society, and honing her rhetoric in the debate team. During the weekends, she protested against apartheid in South Africa and interned at the Federal Trade Commission. After graduation, she decided to become a prosecutor despite skepticism from her family. She was determined to do things on her own terms and champion equality.

Kamala Harris’s Life-Changing Experience in Alameda Court

In her final year of law school, Kamala Harris had an internship in the office of the District Attorney. It was here that she first discovered what kind of lawyer she wanted to become. A defining moment in her life came late on a Friday afternoon in the Alameda County Courtroom, where she witnessed an innocent woman who needed help. The woman was going to spend the weekend in jail, but Harris rushed into action, pleading with the clerk to bring back the judge so he could listen to the case before the court closed. The judge arrived just in time, and the woman was set free to go home and have dinner with her children. This unforgettable experience taught Harris the importance of using every scrap of power to see that justice was done.

Kamala Harris: From Failure to an Officer of the Court

Kamala Harris, a deputy DA in Oakland, failed her bar exam on her first attempt despite having secured a job. Her employer agreed to keep her as a clerk while she prepared for a resit. She eventually passed, and her principle during her work was that every crime against an American is a crime against society. Prosecutors like her can help the less powerful by making justice a collective endeavor. Prosecutors’ words partly decide people’s fates and determine if charges should be brought and which charges. Although they have the power to deprive someone of their liberty with a flick of their pen, they also have limits. Harris learned this when she tried to get a six-year-old girl molested by her sixteen-year-old brother to narrate her story but couldn’t articulate it to the jury.

From Prosecutor to Politician

Kamala Harris’s journey from a prosecutor to the race for DA of San Francisco.

In 1998, Kamala Harris was already a seasoned prosecutor having worked for nine years in the Alameda County DA’s office. She was offered the role to run the career criminal unit at the San Francisco DA’s office, which she accepted despite the dubious reputation of the office, which had a poor conviction rate and a toxic working environment. Harris attempted to make changes, but the problems were too severe for one person to handle.

However, her distinguished work in the division for children and family services under Louise Renne, the first woman city attorney, set her on the path to elected office. Harris spearheaded a novel approach to sexually exploited youths by establishing safe houses for former juvenile sex workers. This meaningful work reinforced her belief that she was capable of delivering innovative policy solutions.

Meanwhile, the DA’s office was struggling to retain talented career prosecutors while violent felons were getting off without punishment. Harris, convinced she was the right person for the job of DA of San Francisco, launched her campaign for the post.

Harris’s experience as a prosecutor and in the children and family services division highlights her dedication and ability to effect change. Her quest for higher office was borne out of her belief that she could make a difference where others had failed.

Kamala Harris: The Fight Against Mass Incarceration

Kamala Harris began her campaign for San Francisco’s DA with a mere 6% poll in her favor. Despite the challenge, she was inaugurated in 2004. Harris ran for the job because she knew she was up for the task, but also saw a need for change. The DA’s office was due for a revolution. Her victory was an achievement, not only for being a woman of color in a justice system that fails to represent America’s diversity, but also for her policy proposals. Harris’s friend Lateefa had committed a minor offense as a juvenile. Had Lateefa gotten caught today with a small amount of marijuana, she would likely be in prison. In 2005, Harris launched “Back on Track” to assist first-time offenders. Instead of entangling these people in the criminal justice system, the program immerses them in job training, literacy courses, and parenting classes for a mere $5,000 a person. Two years later, the program proved to have a recidivism rate of just 10% versus the average of 50%. With the prison population of the US being 2.1 million people in 2018, mass incarceration is an affront to justice. Harris’s campaign for the San Francisco’s DA office was the beginning of her fight for change.

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