Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California who is campaigning for the 2020 presidential election, is more than ready to forego a national holiday that is, well, shameful. Which holiday? Columbus Day.
Before we dig into why Columbus Day is extremely Not Good, let’s view the details of what Harris said, and what she’d like to see instead. At a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Monday, Harris declared that she supports changing the name of the holiday on the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. A voter had posed the question at the meeting, asking whether or not she would support an initiative to rename the holiday, to which Harris immediately replied, “Sign me up.”
Harris isn’t alone in wanting to make this important change. As of 2018, an impressive 55 cities had dropped Columbus Day. Berkeley, California, was the first city in the U.S. to make this change, way back in 1992. Four states (South Dakota, Vermont, Alaska, and Hawaii) have already made the change. Oregon doesn’t recognize Columbus Day as an official holiday to start with.
What’s so bad about Columbus Day? Oh, where to begin?
The facts of history correct our cultural understanding that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America: He never actually reached what is the present-day U.S., and more importantly, indigenous populations were already here. While the story of Columbus sailing in with his three ships has been easily digestible for generations of school kids, it glosses over the violent reality of what Columbus meant for indigenous populations. That violence included the spreading of epidemic diseases, rape, kidnapping, and enslavement.
As we all remember, Trump managed to give a statement on Columbus Day in 2017 that didn’t mention indigenous people at all. Seriously, not even once.
The permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas was a transformative event that undeniably and fundamentally changed the course of human history and set the stage for the development of our great Nation. Therefore, on Columbus Day, we honor the skilled navigator and man of faith, whose courageous feat brought together continents and has inspired countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions — even in the face of extreme doubt and tremendous adversity.
Yeah, it’s definitely time to retire this archaic holiday and replace it with something that educates the general public and centers indigenous peoples.
Harris has also promised to pass a “new Voting Rights Act,” which would turn Election Day into a federal holiday. This would also emphasize same-day voter registration. Both of these changes have the potential to make voting more accessible.