13: Kamala Harris

Three events in one day! That’s a lot to attend. Of course, many of the candidates had done the same, only they spoke at the events. I just had to show up and clap, and that I could do, so I was all in to see California Senator Kamala Harris speak at the Union Missionary Baptist Church in Waterloo. In fact, I had the whole family and some friends with me for this one.

Since I started this project, my son, Nic, has started working as an intern for the Harris campaign. In fact, I feel I should give her campaign a special shoutout for walking the talk and paying their interns. There are all kinds of reasons why this is a good development, and at the top of the list is the fact that Nic is now gainfully employed for the summer.

Of course, that creates kind of a weird situation in which I am now writing about an event and campaign that a member of my family is now involved in. So, let me say that that will have no effect on what I write other than to give my son personal credit for everything that went right at the event. For example, though this Town Hall discussion was on a Sunday night, not a time when one would expect great attendance, over 200 people showed up, and the event was unique in that it started almost exactly on time. All of this was clearly due to my son. See, no conflict of interest.

A full house

This continues: it was a packed house and an upbeat crowd, one of the more diverse audiences I’ve seen at a campaign event, and there was a great playlist streaming on the audio system. I noted that the event started on time, which is true, but there was a long wind up that made this possible, with a local speaker followed by five minutes of music, then another speaker and another five minutes of music. However, just when I began to despair that they were just stalling for time and the Senator was still in Cedar Rapids, she appeared on the stage.

Kamala Harris got a warm welcome, and she thanked everyone for coming out and introduced her husband, Doug Emhoff, who was in attendance. Harris is a polished speaker, and her stump speech was interesting in that she rarely addressed Trump directly, but she talked a lot about Trumpism, the beliefs and policies associated with the current administration. She was concerned with both Trumpism’s causes and its impacts. This seemed a savvy way to advance her case without wasting her time persuading a crowd of people of something they already believe.

“This is an inflection moment in the history of our country. This is a moment in time that is requiring us each as individuals, and collectively, to look in the mirror and ask a question, that question being, ‘who are we?’ And I think what we all know is that part of the answer to that question is ‘we are better than this.’”

The speech ranged from inspirational calls to policy details. In rolling out actions that a President Harris would take in her first 100 days (on gun policy and wage discrimination, in particular), she was able both to delve into specific issues and chart out a political path forward. She covered a lot of ground.

In the Q&A, I got to watch Nic run around in the crowd with a microphone. I took several pictures of his back, which are too bad to share here. Harris’s background as a lawyer and prosecutor clearly came to the forefront during this part of the event. When asked about marijuana legalization, she said she supported it in principle but had a series of caveats about the impact on young brains and concerning how to measure impairment of drivers. When asked to sign on to the National Breast Cancer Coalition platform, she was able to speak about the work her mother did as a breast cancer researcher and how influential that had been on her as a girl. She was sure she would support the platform, but still, she wasn’t going to sign anything without reading it. Once a lawyer, always a lawyer.

There was one memorable moment when a young man stood up to ask if he could make a statement rather than asking a question. “Oh, no!” I thought, a self-acknowledged grandstander is the worst at an event like this. I feared a long, indulgent rant. Maybe the Senator did too, but she said, “sure, it’s a Town Hall” with an uncertain laugh. The young man then announced that he was a Republican and didn’t agree with her on a lot of issues, but he appreciated her coming to Waterloo and hoped that as the campaign continued she wouldn’t assume all Republicans supported the nasty tactics of late. That was it: very polite, very concise. Harris hit this one out of the park, thanking him for coming to the event and using it as a reminder of the possibility of unity despite the divisions of the current moment. It was an uplifting conclusion and left everyone in a hopeful mood.

And, of course, then everyone wanted pictures. Plenty of people rushed the stage, phones in hand. Having learned lessons past, I was positioned between the candidate and the exit and got plenty of pictures: my daughter Devin and I with Senator Harris; my younger son, Ian, and I with Doug Emhoff; Nic and the other interns with the Senator. And then there was a sweet moment when Ian re-met Nora, Senator Harris’s Iowa political director, whom Ian had worked with on a previous campaign as a 9-year-old volunteer. Of course, Ian was a foot and a half shorter the last time she saw him. “Is that Ian?” she asked. That’s how we’ve all felt over the past year.

Later, I saw on the campaign’s Instagram feed that even the guy who asked the last question came up for a picture afterwards. All in all, that was a pretty successful event, marking the end of my long weekend of candidates. But, man, they still keep coming.  This is my 13th one, and more people keep announcing. I’m only halfway there!

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