Kamala Harris wore a white suit when she addressed the country for the first time as vice-president elect, something which might seem to some like an odd sartorial choice for Delaware in November. But for careful viewers, the message was immediate: Suffragettes wore white when they protested for women to have the right to vote. A century after the passage of the 19th Amendment, for the first time, it was a woman who thanked America for electing her to the second-highest office in the land.
In her speech, she acknowledged the significance that her tenure as vice president will have for so many will see themselves represented in a way they never have before. She recalled her own mother, who immigrated to the United States as a teenager and, Harris said, might not even have imagined what her daughter would become.
“I’m thinking about her and about the generations of women—Black women, Asian, white, Latina, and Native American women–throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight,” she said. “All the women who worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century: 100 years ago with the 19th Amendment, 55 years ago with the Voting Rights Act, and now, in 2020, with a new generation of women in our country who cast their ballots and continued the fight for their fundamental right to vote and be heard.”
Today, she becomes the first woman, first Black person, and first person of South Asian descent to become vice president–and will be a likely candidate to follow Joe Biden to the White House.
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last,” she said in her acceptance speech. “Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a county of possibilities.”
Many progressives have taken issue with Harris’s politics dating back to her days as a prosecutor in San Francisco, and those debates are likely to reemerge in the weeks and months ahead as the Biden-Harris administration sets out its agenda.
But on Inauguration Day itself, as Harris is escorted through Washington, D.C. by a small, socially distanced version of the marching band from her alma mater, Howard University, much of the focus will be on symbolism and the importance of representation.
“Here you have now this remarkable, brilliant, prepared African-American woman, South Asian woman, ready to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of Shirley Chisholm and myself and so many women of color,” California Congresswoman Barbara Lee told The New York Times. Harris has recalled being taken by her mother to see Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president, speak.
“This is exciting and is finally a breakthrough that so many of us have been waiting for,” Lee said. “And it didn’t come easy.”
Pramila Jayapal, the first South Asian woman elected to the House of Representatives and, along with Harris, another of the sorority of just 79 women of color to ever serve in Congress, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times over the summer, reflecting on how important Harris’s rise has been for her.
“Donald Trump was also elected the night Senator Harris and I were elected to Congress. I felt then an even greater responsibility to remind America of who we really are as a country: diverse, powerful in core values of family and hard work, compassionate and welcoming to immigrants,” Jayapal wrote. “Senator Harris’s multiple identities and experiences not only bring important perspectives to the table, but also allow so many others to see new possibilities for their own futures.”
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