Sunday, January 27, 2019 was a beautiful day in the East Bay, and Indivisible East Bay held its monthly All Members Meeting. Oh, and also – Senator Kamala Harris kicked off her Presidential campaign in her native Oakland. Several IEB members skipped the AMM for the historic event; we bring you their impressions.

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A preliminary note: So far, IEB’s only position in the Democratic primary is that we will support whoever wins it and do all we can to elect a new president in 2020. If you are interested in participating in a discussion about how we engage with the primary with that as our ultimate goal, please add your email to this list and we will contact you sometime in the coming months about next steps. We are also committed to creating an environment in which our members feel comfortable supporting the primary candidate of their choice regardless of what we do as an organization.

As all agreed, it was a massive crowd – news reports estimated 20,000, which all attendees agreed seemed extremely low. Unfortunately, entry to the event was apparently poorly organized, with huge lines thronging the streets near Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza, so people reported waiting for a couple of hours. (The good news, as one said, was that the delay meant they only got to listen to Kamala’s speech, and not any of the warmup acts!)

On the other hand, IEB Governance Committee member and Senator Team co-lead Amelia Cass had a different experience:

Due to IEB’s relationship with the senator’s Congressional office, I was invited to the rally by her campaign. I see this as a good sign that the senator respects our organization and is interested in appealing to IEB and the rest of the Indivisible movement, and so we have a great chance for us to influence both our own representative and the national discourse. (And as a side benefit for me, I got to watch the rally from the “VIP” section behind the stage, standing just two people over from, as it happened, Rep. Barbara Lee.)

Despite the delays, everyone agreed that the crowds were happy and enthusiastic and the mood, electric. “Clearly a sense of history in the making,” as one IEB-er put it. All reports noted the diversity of the “deliciously Oaklandish” crowd: “So many moms with their kids.” “The racial, age, and gender diversity was obvious, but there were also clearly lots of non-binary and queer folk.”

At least one IEB-er appreciated Harris’ comment that she was born just a few blocks from the rally site, which he understood as an indirect swipe at the outrageous birther conspiracy that has already sprung up against her. As the press has reported, she never mentioned Trump by name, but almost every sentence was directed at him. “The crowd went WILD when Harris said a hostile power was infecting the White House like malware,” as one IEB-er put it. As for policy: Harris began with criminal justice reform and her experience taking on corporations, corruption, and criminals “for the people” of California as Attorney General – perhaps a little surprising since those are also the aspects of her career as a prosecutor that have faced the most criticism (though some have pointed out that both then and now, she has been held to a different standard as a Black woman). She also discussed Medicare for All, legal status and a path to citizenship, election security, and nuclear proliferation. The biggest applause for a policy item was probably her promise to act on climate change “based on science fact, not science fiction,” with her call for a “middle class tax cut” to be paid for by repealing the tax scam a close runner-up. 

Still, although Harris’ speech incorporated many of IEB’s priority policy areas, it was light on commitments to take specific actions. And she did not come across, like some of her rivals, as bursting with big new ideas about how to make our country better. But what it lacked there, it made up in moral force and smart and determined personality. And toward the end of her speech, she turned to an Obama-style theme of a united America familiar to anyone who has heard her speak over the last few years, but with new nuance and thoughtfulness about the meaning and implications of unity that, in Amelia’s words, “I think our movement would do well to consider during a contentious primary.” Although some of those attending the event – including Amelia – say they “weren’t persuaded to vote for her,” they were all impressed. “I think she’d make a formidable opponent,” summarized one IEB-er.

Top photo: Crowd on 14th Street waiting for Kamala Harris, with view of video showing the crowd in the Plaza.

Photographs by Jonathan Zingman and Nancy Latham

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