Who Do We Call to Solve Our Most Complex Problems? Vice President Harris

The U.S. and Israel just launched a historic climate-smart initiative. It’s no accident a project like this was put forward by the first female vice president in American history.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris as he addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on July 19, 2023.. (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

With so much breaking news, you may have missed the history made this month: Vice President Harris and Israeli President Isaac Herzog announcing $70 million in funding, half from the U.S. and half from Israel, for climate-smart agriculture to capture, store, use and protect water resources in the Middle East and Africa. And it’s no accident a project like this was put forward by the first female vice president in United States history, who is a woman of color. 

“Women of color” is an imperfect term. It boils down so many essential and complex heritages under one umbrella and can obscure a person’s background and the experiences that go alongside it. I’m not only talking about our additional barriers to success. I’m talking about the lack of complexity without us at the table. That lack of scope is driving a lack of solutions to the problems we face, from the local to the global.

The current tone and tenor of debate seeks to oversimplify and reduce complex issues to simplistic us vs. them frames. You are for something, or you are against it—period.

This frame is also often the start of a slippery slope toward the dominance of assumptions, bias, stereotypes and hate speech in the public square. Incidents of antisemitism are at their highest levels in the United States since 1979.

Women of color know things are more complex. And continuing to frame things as if they are that simple harms us all. That’s part of the reason I am on the board of Heart of a Nation, an organization committed to undergirding democracy by having the difficult, necessary conversations that will forge a multinational progressive movement amongst Americans, Israelis and Palestinians. We can’t move toward equity, justice and fairness unless we do it together.

It is easy to pile on long-established sides in a fight. It is harder to look people in the eye and say that while I don’t agree with you, we can work together on these other points. That is precisely what Vice President Harris did last week. That’s why her leadership is so necessary, refreshing and powerful. And that’s why I know she’s who we need to address complex global problems sustainably.

As a woman of color and a progressive, I know this climate-smart agriculture initiative is a win. And I know how more wins like this can improve people’s lived experiences for generations. Scientific models of accelerated climate change predict a refugee crisis never seen in modern times. 

By bolstering the work of nonpartisan NGOs already working on environmental issues across borders and cultures in the Middle East, like the Arava Institute, this American-Israeli venture in sustainable food production and water use will help build resilient food systems, improving the lives and livelihoods of people facing catastrophe if current climate models hold.

That’s why more initiatives like this project will forge conversations across lines of difference and tip the scales toward justice and shared humanity, especially for women of color abroad. More importantly, with Harris’ leadership on projects like this, we are starting to see what we’ve been missing by never having had the benefit of a woman of color in the role. Imagine what we can do when we significantly increase the number of women of color in positions of power: how much better it will be for all of us. 

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A’shanti Gholar is the first Black woman president of Emerge, the nation’s premier organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office.