OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – In a scathing rebuke of the Trump administration’s divisive politics, Senator Kamala Harris of California launched her bid for the U.S. presidency at an Oakland rally Sunday by promising to unite the nation and reclaim its democratic institutions if elected in 2020.
Harris, a Democrat, told a crowd of about 20,000 gathered in front of Oakland City Hall that she was going to “speak some truth” about the discriminatory rhetoric in which President Donald Trump has indulged since announcing his own candidacy for the presidency more than three years ago as he rode down a gilded escalator at Trump Tower.
“People in power are trying to convince us that the villain in our America’s story is each other. But that is not our story; that is not who we are; that is not our America. Our United States of America is not about ‘Us versus Them.’ It’s about ‘We, the People,'” Harris said.
“We must seek truth, speak truth and fight for the truth,” she said. “So let’s speak some truth.”
That refrain featured heavily in Harris’ half-hour speech Sunday afternoon, serving as both a foil to the president’s brazen mendacity and a challenge to his exclusionary policies.
“Let’s speak truth about the economy. Our economy today is not working for working people,” Harris said. Pledging to cut taxes for the working and middle classes if elected, Harris promised to fund the cut by reversing Trump’s “giveaways” to corporations in the GOP’s 2017 tax-cut legislation.
“Let’s speak truth – climate change is real,” Harris continued, in an apparent allusion to Trump’s longstanding insistence that climate change is “a hoax.”
“And let’s speak an uncomfortable but honest truth with one another,” she said. “Racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia are real in this country. And they are age-old forms of hate with new fuel. And we need to speak that truth so we can deal with it.”
On Jan. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Trump’s July 2017 decision – announced via tweet – to ban transgender people from military service.
“When white supremacists march and murder in Charlottesville or massacre innocent worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue, that’s not our America,” Harris told the crowd. “When we have children in cages crying for their mothers and fathers, don’t you dare call that border security. That’s human rights abuse. That’s not our America.”
Harris, 54, was born in Oakland to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, who she said instilled in her a dedication to public service. Harris went on to become California’s 32nd attorney general, serving until she was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2017. Before that, Harris served as district attorney for San Francisco and deputy district attorney for Alameda County, its flagship courthouse located steps from Oakland City Hall.
“It was just a couple blocks from this very spot nearly 30 years ago, as a young district attorney, that I walked into the courtroom for the first time and said the five words that would guide my life’s course: “Kamala Harris, for The People,” Harris said to boisterous cheers Sunday.
Harris has rechristened the standard courtroom introduction – embodying a prosecutor’s public oath – as her campaign slogan. But while the introduction casts her as Trump’s ideological opposite, it also highlights for conservative voters her reputation as a tough-on-crime prosecutor.
During Harris’ tenure as state attorney general, her office resisted fully implementing court-ordered reductions in California’ prison population under Brown v. Plata, a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prison population limits are necessary to remedy constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Likewise, felony convictions skyrocketed during Harris’ tenure as San Francisco’s district attorney, and her office reportedly fought to uphold wrongful convictions secured through prosecutorial misconduct.
This doesn’t sit well with prison reform advocates, who have taken to criticizing Harris in the press since she announced her presidential run earlier this month. A handful of protesters followed suit Sunday by shouting down the junior senator as she described her prosecutorial record, but their voices were drowned out by chants of “Ka-ma-la” by supporters.
In her own remarks Sunday endorsing Harris, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sought to rehabilitate Harris’ law enforcement record by drawing attention to her work on human trafficking and an inmate re-entry program she designed for young, first-time drug offenders in San Francisco that became a model for similar programs around the state.
“Back when it was still popular to be tough on crime, she was smart on crime,” Schaaf said.
Harris’ record didn’t bother rally attendee Mehret Seltan, whom she said she has supported since the senator’s days as a district attorney starting in the mid-2000s.
“She’s for the people and that’s what America needs to be,” Seltan said. “We need to unite instead of divide and conquer. We need to come as one.”
Harris closed the downtown Oakland rally on a similar note.
“The truth is, as Americans, we have so much more in common than what separates us,” she said, alluding to Trump and his administration. “I say, we rise together or fall together, as one nation, indivisible.”