14 August 2020

Kamala Harris, for which People? A Response to People's World article

[Note: this is in response to Mark Gruenberg's article in People's World headlined "Selection of Kamala Harris as VP candidate makes history" A few days before during a conference call during which Party members complained strongly about the Gruenberg piece, the editors said they'd consider printing a reply. I wrote one. In rejecting the reply, the news site's editor-in-chief, John Wojcik, wrote, in part, "it seems all you want to do is be hypercritical of anything we do. We are going to be busy in the coming months fighting to make sure Trump is not reelected so we will not have much time between now and the election to deal with all of your complaints or to spend a great deal of time editing out of your articles so many things that contradict the party program."]


The issues with the article begin with the headline, which may or may not be of Gruenberg's making. Within 24 hours of being named his pick for vice-president, People's World  pivoted right under the guise of helping the working class it has made its mission for 100 years by suggesting the Harris nomination is "historic.'

Harris has not made any history, but history made her. True enough, the Black women who led our radical movements in any arena proved that their worth exceeded their male counterparts, despite male chauvinism rampant in many of these movements. The efforts, blood, sweat, and tears of those Black women produced this moment for Harris. Harris played no part in these movements nor pretended to. More importantly, she plays no part in such a movement today. Her career as a prosecutor show this.

History made Harris. What Harris has done with this inheritance is what demands scrutiny. The rightwing movement within the Democratic Party demands equal analysis. While her Wikipedia page is being sanitized, one would expect People's World and Gruenberg to stick to "just the facts" and be a little more discerning.

Harris has taken the inheritance that produced this moment and, since the beginning of her political career, turned it into a heat-seeking missile against the class that engaged this struggle, which includes Black women.

Despite Harris polling below 5% after her failed presidential campaign [Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar ranked much higher and have more leftist credentials], Gruenberg makes what must be a fanciful assertion to link Harris' pick as "in a move that is widely expected to boost voter turnout."

How? I am challenged to find the dots to connect that draw this conclusion between her low approval rate with the rhetoric coming out of "national union leaders" cited in Gruenberg's article. Clearly, she has boosted the approval of some labor leaders, but this doesn't jive with the poll numbers. I have some questions for these labor leaders: another time, another article.

Linking her rise in California's Democratic Party machine to her brief courtship to California Assembly speaker, later mayor, Willie L. Brown, is admittedly very dangerous ground to tread. But allowing for her own intelligence, competence, and hard-work ethic does not negate that ours is not a meritocracy, especially when it comes to Black and Brown women. So her early appointments to various state commissions may or may not be related to that Harris-Brown courtship, but even after she reportedly dumped him, he continued to support her rise in San Francisco politics.

The reason for the break up itself is curious: she said it was his womanizing. To those of us living in the Bay Area at the time, Brown was known to be a solidly married man and a serial dater. It was a mature understanding between he and his wife, two consenting adults, and without controversy. Was Harris, who was 29 to Brown's 60, the only woman in the San Francisco Bay Area not to know this?

By Harris' own admission, the affair became an "albatross" to her future political aspirations, starting with Brown's famously gifting her a brand-new BMW.


The pivotal moment came in the San Francisco District Attorney race. Harris ran against her former boss, incumbent District Attorney, Terence Hallinan. The Irish Hallinan family were, like the Italian Aliotos, a famous, liberal, San Francisco family - only the Hallinans tended further left than that. Unlike the Roman Catholic Aliotos, the Hallinan patriarch was a lifelong socialist and an atheist.

Hallinan's father was Vincent Hallinan of the same Progressive Party as Henry Wallace, FDR's one-time vice president and presidential candidate. Despite Wallace's defeat as a Progressive Party candidate in 1948, the Communist Party USA, which endorsed him, also endorsed Vincent Hallinan in 1952 (his running mate, incidentally, was a Black woman, Charlotta Bass). These are the only times the CPUSA has endorsed non-Communist Party candidates.

Hallinan's mother was Vivian [Moore] Hallinan, who headed the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, ran her husband's presidential campaign when the feds jailed him during his defense of the Communist Party's Harry Bridges, and attended Daniel Ortega's inauguration as Sandinista president of Nicaragua.

Terence Hallinan took his parents' leads. Before winning elections to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and then District Attorney, Hallinan studied at the London School of Economics, founded by Fabian Society socialists Beatrice and Sydney Webb; he worked for the ILWU in Hawaii, which was chartered by Communist Party members Jack Wayne Hall, and Charles and Eileen Fujimoto; and he joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1963 where he spent a summer in Mississippi. He helped organize the WEB DuBois Club in San Francisco with the CPUSA, and co-founded a group to end racial discrimination in some of the San Francisco's popular sites.

Terence Hallinan is the one named in Hallinan vs Committee of Bar Examiners for the State of California. Despite graduating law school in 1965 and passing the California bar exam, the courts refused to certify him based on his political activities. Hallinan's suit went to the California Supreme Court, where he won.

Another of Vincent Hallinan's sons, Terence's brother, Conn Hallinan, is a columnist for Foreign Policy Focus and was editor of People's World when it was a West Coast publication


The details of this radical pedigree are important to the Kamala Harris story. Because it was in a changing, post-Cold War San Francisco of the that Hallinan's far left-wing stance [Joe Alioto called them "the social conscience of San Francisco] was no longer convenient to the creeping neoliberal, anti-poor, antilabor consensus of Reagan and the Bill Clinton New Democrats. Ahead of the contentious 2003 District Attorney race between incumbent Hallinan and insurgent Harris, the powerful San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee withheld its endorsement of Hallinan, evening the ground for his competitor, the insurgent, law-and-order Kamala Harris. This greenlighted some local unions and Democratic Party Clubs to fund her campaign against his.

Harris was a clear contrast to Hallinan, and she was intended to be.  Her rise to power was understood for what it was by us activists within the class war raging in San Francisco in those days. 

Hallinan opposed the novel "three-strikes" laws that disproportionately impacted Black and Brown people. Harris demanded more prosecutions of antiwar protestors. Hallinan wanted to liberalize drug possession and prostitution. Harris set up stings with undercover cops which entrapped largely Latino men. Harris' remedy to truancy in the public schools was the lock up parents, which disproportionately impacted Black women.

The heart of Harris' campaign to unseat Hallinan was he was too soft on crime. The heart of the movement that Harris did belong was moving the Democratic Party program further to the right.


We understood this struggle then, and many of us understand what Harris represents now. Harris' unseating of Hallinan was another turn of the screw against the working class and Black and Brown communities of San Francisco. More broadly, it confirmed a rightward shift within the Democratic Party. 

Only the most reactionary interpretation of Identity Politics would elevate this candidate to anything "historic" based on her African and South Asian ancestry. Yet what else does this lifelong prosecutor bring to the table? Certainly not any progressive movement. There is nothing new or historic about her stance against the working class and in favor of giant corporations (a priority she shares with her one-time partner, Willie Brown).

This vice-presidential nomination signals further shifts to the right for a Democratic Party barely in the camp of the working class of this country or the world. It is a Democratic Party that has served rhetoric to labor unions - despite what certain labor leaders say - and held the same course when it comes to trades-union movements in the global South, which are seen as antagonists to US capitalism.

What Harris' nomination and the People's World headline should have indicated is her elevation is a signal that the left has no home in this campaign or in their potential administration, and that the same forces that guided Biden and San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee, will continue to guide her as vice president and a President Biden.

No doubt we must make informed, strategic decisions this November to the threat Trump represents, but the analyses this demands is not helped by propping up an extremely problematic candidate with fluff pieces - a candidate which the base on the left have no affection for. Leave those sorts of machinations to the DNC PR staff.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

So was this article run..or not

mulligas said...

What did you think of the article Chauncey Robinson wrote about Harris after the election.