Tears. Can’t stop sobbing. Weeping, laughing, pounding on kitchen counter. Crying, hand over mouth.
My Twitter feed was soaked with tears before, during and after Kamala Harris was sworn in as Vice-President of the United States on Wednesday. The first Black person, the first South Asian person, the first direct descendent of immigrants and the first woman to hold the office. It took only 245 years.
Men and women alike were moved, but for women it felt especially personal. Ms. Harris is the embodiment of female perseverance. Watching her succeed calls to mind the struggles that all women, and especially women of colour, have endured throughout human history. Women were ruminating about all the days they’ve lived limited by outside ideas. They were thrilled that Ms. Harris, who has always spoken with conviction, was at last definitively being heard.
I cried in waves. First, when Hillary Clinton arrived. These past four years have been hard on women – the misogyny both so entrenched and so casual. The unrelenting brutalization of marginalized people – not to mention of relationships, rhetoric, the press, science. The absence of beauty and grace. And this past COVID-19 year has been especially exhausting and defeating. Seeing Ms. Clinton reminded me of all we lost when she lost her presidential bid. For a minute, we all mourned that loss afresh.
That moment was necessary, but it was washed away by the sound of trumpets. I’ve heard a lot of military fanfares in my 58 years. But this fanfare, ringing in the crisp, sunlit air, was for a woman. The importance of that can’t be exaggerated. Women have been holding our breath, watching our step, keeping ourselves in check for most of history. Even Ms. Harris, in the vice-presidential debate, made sure to keep a smile on her face when she reminded Mike Pence that she was speaking. But now those horns were sounding for her.
There were a lot of women up on that U.S. Capitol stage, and you could feel the emotion among them, too. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who introduced the proceedings, could not stop smiling. Lady Gaga, wearing a wide-winged dove brooch, made long, loving eye contact with Ms. Harris before and after she sang The Star-Spangled Banner. Same for Jennifer Lopez, wearing suffragette white.
Because women have held less power, historically, they’ve learned to convey a lot through imagery, and that was certainly true Wednesday. Dr. Jill Biden in spangled Democrat blue. Ms. Harris in purple, the colour of bipartisanship, but also in honour of Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for U.S. president. Michelle Obama, hair resplendently waved, in contrast to the “I’m not going to dress up for this” ponytail she sported at Donald Trump’s inauguration. The Pledge of Allegiance recited – and signed – by a Black, female firefighter. From Georgia, the state that turned the Senate blue, thanks to the work of Stacey Abrams.
Ms. Harris swore her oath on two Bibles – one belonging to a childhood neighbour, Regina Shelton, who helped raise her; and the other to Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice, who inspired her to become a lawyer. She knows whose shoulders she stands on. She swore it to Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latinx Supreme Court justice. Justice Sotomayor mispronounced Ms. Harris’s first name, but Ms. Harris chugged right through it. She kept a straight face until almost the very end – “I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter” – but she couldn’t help but crack a smile at “enter.” And I can only imagine the thrill that Black people felt watching her bump fists with Barack Obama.
Because Mr. Trump failed to protect Americans from the COVID-19 pandemic, and then incited his followers to riot, the National Mall was empty of spectators. My heart breaks for everyone, but especially the women and children, who couldn’t be there to witness this moment in person. I would have been there, too.
But Mr. Trump’s cowardly early exit from Washington did allow another unprecedented moment to happen. On a normal inauguration day, the new president escorts the former one out, to symbolize the peaceful transfer of power. Mr. Trump skulking away meant that duty fell onto Mike Pence. Which in turn allowed Ms. Harris to be the one to walk Mr. Pence down the Capitol steps. She and her second gentleman, Doug Emhoff, paused for a moment with Mr. Pence and his wife, exchanging pleasantries. Then he was driven off. The power was transferred to her. And she lingered there, letting us all feel it.
I think so much emotion is attached to Ms. Harris, not only because she feels like the future, but because she feels like the present we should have had for so long. A South Asian, a Black woman, a woman not only with a seat at the table – but at the head of the table. A child of immigrants succeeding an administration that put immigrants in cages. A woman of colour replacing the whitest man in North America. Ms. Harris embodies what the brilliant young poet laureate Amanda Gorman spoke of: a nation not broken, merely unfinished. An equity long overdue, now maybe, finally arriving.
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