THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
EMMA CHAI stole a moment with Berkeley Councilmember, Kate Harrison.
She talks about being a female politician, the #MeToo movement and Bernie Sanders.
Sheila Jordan wrote in Berkeleyside, “Kate is a nuts-and-bolts kind of woman. Her independence is an important quality.” How important is independence in the world of politics?
It is critical to know who you are and where you come from and to hold on to it as your core values. This doesn’t mean you have to stick stubbornly to your preferred solution–we need to work together. I like to focus on what people need, help them see others’ needs and think about the mechanics of how to serve those needs through local government.
How has it helped you as a female politician?
By keeping me from feeling I have to please everyone all the time, an impossible task.
Has it ever hurt you?
Some people won’t endorse me because of it.
How has the #MeToo movement become a social change?
#MeToo has helped remove the internalized shame many of us have felt when victimized by sexual harassment or assault. Women have been trained to make everyone else feel okay – including abusers. We need to care for each other more than those who victimize others. Also, the movement has helped men come forward to point out where other men are out-of-bounds.
You have an impressive resume. You run a business. You are currently serving as a Berkeley City Councilmember. Before that, you traveled around the world, advising governments. Academically, you are equally accomplished: a graduate of UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and UC as an undergraduate. What led you to run for office?
Two things: I have always been interested in politics and public affairs, particularly insuring justice and equity, and I love my community. I have served as the State/Local Politics Chair of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club chair for four years, working on local campaigns and co-drafting our economic justice platform. I co-founded Berkeley Progressive Alliance out of an interest in insuring equity and inclusiveness in our housing policies and transparent government. I spent a lot of time writing to the council and appearing at meetings. Mayor Arreguin asked me to run for his Council seat when he was elected Mayor.
You are also a wife who met her husband through student politics and a fantastic daughter, who was on the phone singing happy birthday to your 94-year-old mother. How do you juggle work, family, and politics?
Well, my house is a lot messier than it used to be! But seriously, I am trying to focus on the importance of personal and work relationships and keep the big picture in mind. My husband’s support is irreplaceable.
Now your life is pretty much all work. Which day of the week is the worst for you?
Council meetings are Tuesday nights so people would expect me to say Tuesdays but I like hearing from constituents and crafting policy with my colleagues. Fridays are the worst because I am tired heading into the weekend.
Here Kate Harrison is wearing EMMA CHAI's Olivia cardigan, a classic cable-knit with a shawl collar.
You look like a girl next door. What’s the one thing that people are often surprised to learn about you?
I have worked throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as a rule of law consultant, travelling to some pretty isolated and often corrupt places. I almost always travel alone and have been in some tough spots. My interest in the broader world started when I took a train to Mexico as an exchange student when I was 15.
You are a big Bernie Sanders supporter. What are the three reasons you support him?
Income inequality is a scourge on our society. Bernie Sanders is willing to call out that issue. He is also targeting the reasons for this shift: loss of full time employment and legal and political efforts to weaken organized labor, enormous levels of student debt and failure to deal with the burden of the escalating cost of health care on our society, employers and families, especially in the face of the aging of our society.
You are rerunning. What's your message to Berkeley?
Our focus should be on building an inclusive and diverse community. We need more housing at all income levels; local and state government’s efforts should be directed to funding and removing barriers to the types of housing that aren’t being built: housing for low and moderate income households and alternative forms of housing such as Accessory Dwelling Units, tiny homes, and modular units. We also need to start immediately tackling the crisis of climate change by setting green building standards and implementing alternatives to the private automobile, not just providing incentives. There is no time to waste.
To the women who wish to run for office, what’s the most important advice you could offer—the advice you wish someone had given you?
Do whatever you can to keep yourself happy and sane. There are no limits to what you could be doing while running or serving so you have to set them for yourself.
Now, about fashion. How do you use clothes to exude confidence and authority?
Color in clothing and jewelry are exciting and give me confidence but so do shoes I can walk in and clothes I can breathe in.
Picture 1: Here she wears EMMA CHAI's Samantha cardigan, for a bold sunflower yellow color.