Today, The Capital Times highlighted how Senator Kamala Harris’ historic nomination for Vice President — as the first Black and AAPI woman to be chosen as a running mate for a major-party ticket — has inspired women of color across Wisconsin.
For state Rep. Shelia Stubbs, Kamala Harris’ historic acceptance of her party’s vice presidential candidate slot Wednesday night brought with it the chance for the Madison Democrat to see herself “at a place that I’ve never been able to see me before.”
Stubbs isn’t unfamiliar with “firsts” — she’s the first African-American lawmaker from Dane County, a role she assumed after winning election in 2018.
But witnessing Harris — the first Black and South Asian American woman to run on a major party’s presidential ticket — deliver her speech Wednesday at the virtual Democratic National Convention, Stubbs, a 14-year Dane County Board veteran, knew she would get emotional.
“I know with Sen. Harris at the helm at the White House, I will not be forgotten,” Stubbs said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “My voice will not be forgotten.”
Harris’ inclusion on the Democratic national ticket, topped by former Vice President Joe Biden, was celebrated by other Wisconsin Democrats this week as a way for people of color inside and outside of politics to see themselves reflected in the process.
But on top of that, the California senator also has personal ties to Madison, which she highlighted in a 2018 trip to Wisconsin to campaign for U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin — when Stubbs met Harris personally during an interaction she said she “will never forget.”
Born in Oakland, California, in 1964, Harris’ family moved to Illinois and then Madison in 1968 when her father, Donald Harris, accepted an appointment at UW-Madison while her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, worked as a breast cancer researcher there, before the couple separated and later divorced.
Harris, who returned to Berkeley with her mother and sister, went on to have a career in criminal justice, working as a San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general before joining the U.S. Senate in 2017.
That experience, some officials warned this week, shouldn’t be overlooked or divorced from her identity as a woman of color.
“People of that stature don’t get here by accident,” said Dawn Crim, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. Crim is the only African American woman serving in Gov. Tony Evers’ Cabinet.
“Nobody’s letting anyone in. She is walking proudly to that door because of her record, because of her tenacity, because of her work as a prosecutor,” she said. “The pride of the moment is yes it’s her, but the pride also is an affirmation of the experience and her perspective and what she has done to get her there.”
‘Maybe there is space for me’
Democratic officials see Harris’ inclusion on the ticket as a way for individuals of color currently not involved in politics to find themselves reflected in the process.
Crim, one of the founding members of the Madison Network of Black Professionals, stressed the “role modeling that Kamala Harris’ selection does.” As a Howard University graduate, Crim said Harris could inspire other students from historically Black colleges and universities.
“What’s nice about this moment is there’s so many women and just people of color overall that are saying, ‘Yes, I can be next,'” Crim said.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a former state lawmaker from Milwaukee and Wisconsin’s first African American lieutenant governor, noted that following President Barack Obama’s win in 2008, making him the nation’s first African-American president, it was expected that those who grew up seeing Obama as their president would “automatically think, ‘There’s opportunity for me also.'”
“But now people can look at the office of president, people can see with Kamala as the nominee for the office of vice president as a woman of color and now think, ‘Well, maybe there is space for me here. Maybe this is something that I’ll try out,’” he said.
Elected in a year that saw perhaps the most diverse set of candidates ever to run for office in the nation, Barnes, who represented Wisconsin in the DNC’s virtual state roll call Tuesday night, said the congressional wins that cycle were crucial for ushering in a new class of politicians that reflect the American experience.
“People will say (that) we elected some very unlikely candidates,” he said. “But those unlikely candidates are the most likely Americans, whether it’s a single mom, whether it’s working people, blue collar folks, service industry workers, the list goes on and on. (It’s) not just wealthy people who want another pet project so they decided to run for office.”