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Kamala Harris and Me
July 3, 2019
by William P. Meyers

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Times Have Changed

When Kamala Harris was born (October 20, 1964), I was nine years old. Our backgrounds were quite different, but there were some similarities. Senator Harris was born in Oakland, California to two immigrant graduate school students. I was born on a Marine Corp base in North Carolina to a mother who did not finish high school and a father who did, but my father already had some status as an officer.

So how did we, Kamala and I, end up on the same team? Why am I supporting her? (Though there are other candidates I like or would find acceptable if Kamala fails in her bid.)

I was raised a racist (more properly, a segregationist) while Kamala was raised to fight for minority rights. She gives the impression that her parents were more radically leftist then, in the 1960s, than she is now. To understand Kamala, especially if you are younger than either of us, I think it helps to understand times past, particularly the 1970s.

Back to 1964, the year Kamala was born: my family had moved to Jacksonville, Florida when my father retired from the Marine Corps. My father was attending college on the GI bill and working nights; I seldom saw him. I was attending a Catholic school where we were lectured on how evil communists, Jews, and Protestants were. The Vietnam War was escalating under President Johnson. Civil Rights bills were being passed. The Democratic Party had a conservative, racist wing (which my mother fit into) and a liberal wing (my father supported the New Deal and was not so overtly racist).

In the next few years, when Kamala's parents were going to lefty meetings, the military draft was interfering in the lives of young American males. Richard Nixon became President in 1967 and racists started drifting from the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. Leftist groups bloomed across the spectrum, from reformist groups to hard core communist and anarchist groups.

In 1970 (I think) Kamala would have been entering first grade. I was a scholarship kid at the best private school in Jacksonville, and I was lucky. I had ceased to be a Catholic or even a Christian, but was hiding that from everyone. I had decided racism was likely wrong, which I hid from my parents, but felt I had plenty of support for from most of my school friends. My school was all-male; women's liberation seemed like a quaint idea to me. I did not think anyone was an actual homosexual, I thought that was a slur used to demean people, a slightly more charged way of calling someone a sissy. While there were no black students at my school, there were many Jews, and so I had lost my anti-semitism and counted them not just as friends, but as allies against the stupidity of certain adults.

Kamala was in public schools in the 1970s, out in what had become a very left community in the 1960s. In the 70s the nation was becoming more integrated, racism and anti-semitism more subtle, but it was a long process. When the draft ended in 1972, and McGovern lost to Nixon in a landslide, the steam started coming out of the militant left. I entered a liberal college that year and began my own political, lifestyle and philosophical wanderings. I mainly wandered leftward, looking for answers. In 1976 when I graduated from college, Jimmy Carter was on the way to becoming President. He was too far to the right for me. Meanwhile, in 1976 Kamala was just 12. Her mother would move her to Montreal. Then in 1981 Kamala enrolled for college at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Was she really keen on going to a historically black college, or had she failed to get into a fancier college? Do not know, but apparently Howard worked out well for her.

To me the 80s were the end of mass movement radicalism. Many of the radical groups of the late 60s were down to small cores in 1980 and were totally defunct by 1990. The election of Ronald Reagan showed how far to the right the nation had drifted. Turning back the clock became a national pastime.

Kamala Harris

I had not done well post college. I had tried government work and found the kind of jobs I could get too boring. I wrote a novel, but no one would publish it. But I did my novel writing in Emeryville, right across the border from Berkeley, so I came to know the environment that Kamala grew up in. There were still plenty of radical leftists in Berkeley when I was there around 1980. The hills were indeed elite, the flatlands still largely working class. Probably some of the people I met there had known Kamala as a child, but of course she was not famous yet.

Whereas I chose a crooked (but ethical) path, rejecting the establishment, Kamala went straight. I think she was right, for times had changed. The establishment had won, so the best that was possible was reforming the government and law. Revolution was out, but I could not see that because of the times I had grown up in. Kamala went to law school. I had once paid to take the law school entrance exam, then decided the entire system of law was oppressive, and blew off the exam. While Kamala was at law school I graduated from being a foot-soldier or the radical left to being a leader. At my high point the federal government indicted me under the H. Rap Brown Act for inciting a riot (a federal judge through out the charges).

When Kamala started practicing law in 1990 I was an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World and Earth First! Her first job was as a deputy District Attorney for Alameda County (Oakland). I relocated to San Francisco, where I did temp work as a paralegal and part time work in the IWW office. I participated in protests and marches, and in the Rodney King riots. But around 1994 I moved to Mendocino County, to be closer to nature.

In 2000 Kamala Harris started working in San Francisco for the city attorney. I still had lots of friends in San Francisco, but was starting to focus on my freelance editorial business. I had concluded that the revolutionary left was not viable given global developments including the coming ecological meltdown. I joined the Green Party and eventually got elected to a school board. Kamala was elected San Francisco DA in 2003. Interestingly, my wife knew the ex-wife of the defeated incumbent Terrance Hallinan, and my step-son went to school with their son. I was impressed that a black woman could beat Hallinan, so I started paying attention to her career.

Two Green Party members I knew were elected to major offices in San Francisco. Ross Mirkirimi was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2005, but switched to Democrat before being elected Sheriff in 2011. He also had been Hallinan's campaign manager when Kamala defeated him. Matt Gonzales was also a Supervisor from 2000 to 2005 and was Ralph Nader's running mate in 2008. He now works in the SF public defender's office as Chief Attorney. He also switched to Democrat. I did not switch to Democrat until after Donald Trump was elected in 2016, though I did support Hillary Clinton over Green nominee Jill Stein (who I also know) in that election.

We are so far from the 60s now that it is hard to remember that Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon once through they might be overthrown in a revolution. The Black Panthers and Weather Underground are just legends. And yet the human race is in a far more perilous position than in 1965. We really are headed towards extinction if we don't get off our asses and fix things fast. Revolution might be appropriate in some nations, but in the United States the best strategy is to select a progressive Democratic Congress and President in 2020.

Which brings us back to Kamala. In 2010 she was elected California Attorney General. That means she was my Attorney General for 6 years (before I left CA). I still knew many hypercritical leftists, so of course I heard criticism. But I also heard good things, notably how she got $16 billion from the banks in a settlement over mortgage practices, when the other state AGs were going to settle for $2 billion. That is why I think she will be the best President for the environment. When something is important, she knows how to press hard.

In 2016 Kamala was elected to the U.S. Senate. I moved to Seattle right then. The election of Trump shocked me. Much as I long for the thrill of storming the barricades, I am doing the harder, less exciting work of walking precincts, knocking on doors, doing committee work, and making phone calls. Not just for Kamala, but to win control of the Senate and some state governments too.

If Kamala is elected it will be the beginning of another decade. I will be an old man and Kamala will be plenty mature to be President. I hope that some young people will be inspired by her story and become lawyers and government officials. But I also hope some will stray off the beaten path, because although that is more risky, that is where discoveries are made. A lot of what passes for normal in the Democratic Party today was scoffed at when proposed by leftists decades ago. So be glad there is one major party that can adapt to change.

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