Sen. Kamala Harris accepted the nomination for vice president on Wednesday night in an empty convention hall, a stark image of politics during the coronavirus pandemic.
In many respects, Harris’ speech hewed to the traditions of vice presidential candidate speeches, mixing biographical detail with praise for her running mate and sharp jabs at the incumbent. But the eerie silence in the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del. — where about 30 reporters had been allowed to watch her speech in person — made it clear how much is different in 2020.
“I accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States of America,” Harris said, in a historic moment that would typically draw a prolonged ovation.
Harris is the first Black woman and the first Asian American candidate on a national ticket. She began her speech with a nod to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and to the additional decades of struggle for the enfranchisement of Black women.
“Without fanfare or recognition, they organized and testified, and rallied, and marched, and fought — not just for their vote, but for a seat at the table,” Harris said, in a reference to Shirley Chisholm, the trailblazing Black congresswoman who ran for president in 1972, and who famously said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
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Harris paid tribute to women who fought for civil rights, and to her own mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, whom she called “the most important person in my life.”
“She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people,” Harris said. “To believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility.”
Harris also spoke about the pandemic and its disproportionate effect on Black and Brown communities. She also cited the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police, imploring voters to “do the work” of ending structural racism.
“We’re at an inflection point,” she said. “The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It’s a lot. But here’s the thing. We can do better.”
In describing her career trajectory as a lawyer, district attorney, California attorney general and U.S. Senator, Harris emphasized her credentials in fighting for justice. “I know a predator when I see one,” she said.
Harris took aim at President Donald Trump and told viewers that the stakes in the Nov. 3 contest are a matter of life and death. “We have a President who turns our tragedies into political weapons,” she said.
Much of the remainder of the speech was spent praising Joe Biden, who will accept the Democratic nomination in Wilmington on Thursday night.
Following her speech, Harris got a round of applause from a giant Zoom screen with people in 30 windows. Biden then came out and the two stood six feet apart from each other, forgoing the traditional pose with the candidates’ hands clasped and arms raised.
Harris’ historic address was followed by a stirring performance of “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Jennifer Hudson from Chicago.