Five observations from Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign kickoff in Oakland

A film crew with Kamala Harris' presidential campaign interviewing attendees waiting in line for the Sunday afternoon kickoff rally in Oakland.

1. What does a Harris supporter look like?

I went to Kamala Harris’s presidential kickoff rally interested in figuring out who might be generally attracted to her campaign. I wondered whether it might be older, white, women jaded by Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016. It wasn’t the case at all. Inside the event and in and around the city side streets where people patiently lined up, it was 35-45 year old men and women, mostly white. Obama-like. Sunday was a great start to a presidential campaign. But don’t peak too earlier!

2. Quiet, but attentive

I’m not sure how the scene looked, and more importantly, sounded on television, but the section of the crowd near the video screen on 14th Street was definitely not vocal. For a crowd estimated to be 20,000 in Downtown Oakland, it wasn’t very boisterous. That’s not to say they were generally bored and disinterested. I saw many rapt faces taking in every word of Harris’ speech. It was clear the Harris campaign has succeeded in getting voters attention, but there is still much work for them before many of those in attendance Sunday afternoon fully jump on board. A political campaign is the ultimate sell and ask any salesperson, if you can catch the customer’s attention, there’s a good chance they’ll buy. These people are listening.

3. Reframing the ‘Top Cop’ problem

Now, those customers (voters) are going to start thinking whether there’s a catch in this deal with Harris. Is it too good to be true? That catch presents itself in the hashtag #KamalaHarrisIsACop. Her background is built around her time in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, being San Francisco District Attorney, and state Attorney General. The campaign’s slogan is “Kamala Harris For The People,” a reference to her role as prosecutor. But progressives all over the country, and especially in Oakland, viewed prosecutors as the blunt point of an entirely unfair and racist legal system. For instance, the vast majority visibly opposing Harris outside the venue were young African-Americans. During her speech, Harris tried to take the edge of this problematic part of her origin story by focusing on protecting women against violent crimes, including the fight against sex-trafficking. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley often uses the same device to deflect criticism. But with the “For The People” slogan, Harris is attempting to reframe the role of district attorney in this era and merge it with what most people in the East Bay would equate with a county public defender. In Alameda County, at least, it is the public defender who is viewed as the lawyer defending the people, not the district attorney. Recall, last June, that O’Malley won re-election, but lost Oakland to Pamela Price, a civil rights lawyer who ran on police accountability.

4. Give people those ugly signs

Those signs are still ugly. The font popularized by Newsweek has no retro feel because it was intended to be a utilitarian typeface perfect for headlines. While the connection to Shirley Chisholm’s history-making 1972 presidential campaign materials is a good idea in theory, it also does not convey any time period, but actually the late 1960s, 70s, 80s, and early 90s. Despite the look and the garish color combination of blue, red, and yellow, it might have been wise to have distributed placards to many in the crowd. They were virtually absent other those standing in the backdrop behind Harris. If this crowd was indeed history nerds and open-minded early voters, a placard in their homes would be a good reminder of this day in the next 20 months.

5. Thanks a lot, Willie

Willie Brown did Harris no favors with his column last weekend in the San Francisco Chronicle. During the course of every conservation I had Sunday, Brown’s “romance” with Harris was mentioned in one way or another. The sentiment, whether blunt or unsaid, is the appearance of a powerful man ostensibly greasing the skids early in her career, making her look grossly overambitious–emphasis on gross–or worse. This didn’t seem to be Brown’s intent. The column appears another hamfisted attempt by Brown to use the Chronicle for his own ends. In this case, bringing attention to himself and then portraying Harris as her own woman, despite the leg up her gave earlier in her career. The dalliance or whatever the relationship between them, of course, is well-known among avid followers of government in the state. But it illustrates how running for president focuses the national lens on every little detail the candidate has ever publicly said or done. Lucky for the Harris campaign, nobody outside of Northern California knows Brown and his illustrious background in dirty politics, other than the scant few who thoroughly enjoyed his cameo in The Godfather III.

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