Kamala Harris kicks off her 2020 campaign with a massive rally in Oakland

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Katie Canales/Business Insider

  • Sen. Kamala Harris kicked off her 2020 presidential campaign on Sunday at a large rally in her hometown of Oakland, California.
  • Law-enforcement estimates put attendance at the rally at 10,000, while some 12,000 others lined the streets outside the venue.
  • Harris highlighted her 25-year career as a prosecutor and laid out her promises to fight for healthcare, education, and a reformed immigration system.

Sen. Kamala Harris kicked off her 2020 presidential campaign on Sunday at a large rally in her hometown of Oakland, California, where she positioned herself as the “moral leadership” America needs to challenge President Donald Trump.

Thousands crowded the streets in the hours leading up to and during the event, which law enforcement officials estimated was attended by over 10,000 people, with another 12,000 packing the streets surrounding the venue.

“What’s up, Oakland?” Harris began her speech, to raucous cheers. She went on to tell the story of how her Indian mother and Jamaican father came to the US to pursue education, work, and the American dream.

“I’m so proud to be a daughter of Oakland,” she said, as the crowd roared. “My parents came here in pursuit of more than just knowledge. Like so many others, they came in pursuit of a dream – for themselves, for me, and for my sister Maya.”

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The event placed people of color front and center, beginning with the national anthem sung by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the pledge of allegiance, delivered by an elementary school-aged black girl. A black pastor also delivered the invocation and SambaFunk, a Bay area arts collective representing the African diaspora performed – all before Harris took the stage.

Harris ascended the American flag-decorated stage to the tune of the Mary J. Blige song “Work That,” and left it to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “My Shot” from his hit musical, “Hamilton.”

Read more: What you need to know about Kamala Harris and her 2020 presidential bid

Harris focused the first part of her speech on her 25-year legal career as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general.

“It was just a couple of blocks from this very spot nearly 30 years ago as a young district attorney, I walked into a courtroom for the first time and said the five words that would guide my life’s work: Kamala Harris for the people,” she said. “My whole life I’ve only had one client, the people.”

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She appeared to defend her claim – contested by many on the left – that she was a “progressive prosecutor,” highlighting a prisoner re-entry program she founded that helped reduce rates of recidivism in San Francisco, and arguing that what she did was unusual for the time.

“‘For the People’ meant fighting for a more fair criminal justice system at the height of the War on Drugs by creating a first-of-its-kind initiative to allow first-time offenders to get skills and job training instead of jail time – at a time when re-entry and prevention and redemption were not in the vocabulary or mindset of most district attorneys,” she said.

Harris slammed the Trump administration, calling out specific anti-immigrant policies, including migrant family separation, and argued that the “American dream feels out of touch” for many Americans struggling economically.

“We are at an inflection point in the history of our world,” Harris said. “We are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question: Who are we? Who are we as Americans?”

Repeating the phrase, “Let’s speak truth,” Harris addressed a litany of major issues, including the gender pay gap, pharmaceutical companies’ raising drug prices, climate change, bigotry, and global authoritarianism.

She quoted Bob Marley and Robert Kennedy and appeared to strive for a tone of unity, arguing that “the biggest truth of all” is that Americans have “so much more in common than what separates us.” But, she added, she isn’t asking Americans to ignore important differences.

“Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not talking about unity for the sake of unity,” she said. “I believe we must acknowledge the word unity has often been used to shut people up and preserve the status quo.”

Becky Cecena, 68, left, and Julie Hartford, 57, of Vacaville, California, stand in line awaiting entry to California Senator Kamala Harris' presidential rally in Oakland, California.

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Becky Cecena, 68, left, and Julie Hartford, 57, of Vacaville, California, stand in line awaiting entry to California Senator Kamala Harris’ presidential rally in Oakland, California.
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Katie Canales/Business Insider

The first-term senator promised to guarantee healthcare as a human right with Medicare for All, education as a right with universal pre-K and debt-free college, and boost struggling families with “the largest middle- and working-class tax credit in a generation.” She mentioned immigration policy on several occassions, promising to open the country’s doors to refugees, and give DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers,” a pathway to citizenship.

Harris warned that the presidential campaign trail will be challenging.

“We know what the doubters will say. It’s the same thing they’ve always said: they’ll say, it’s not your time … they’ll say it can’t be done,” she said. “But America’s story has always been written by those who can see what can be, unburdened by what has been.”

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The large, diverse crowd appeared enthusiastic about Harris’ message and life story.

“I think that she actually is for the people, like she says. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had someone in Washington who actually was?” Julie Hartford, a 57-year-old retiree from Vacaville, told INSIDER.

Harris has joined several other progressive Democratic presidential candidates, including two Senate colleagues, in what will likely be a crowded and hyper-competitive primary field.

But her relative youth, identity as a black and South Asian woman, ties to both the Democratic establishment and progressive wing of the party, and popularity on social media have pundits declaring her a front-runner.