After a chaotic two months that culminated in a violent mob storming the US Capitol on January 6, the United States has inaugurated a new President and Vice President. The attempts to overthrow the government and subvert a free and fair election have failed, and in the most glorious of ways, we celebrated that failure by watching Kamala D. Harris get sworn in as Vice President of the United States.
In many ways, the swearing in of Kamala Harris as Vice President is the ultimate rebuke to those who stormed the capitol in the name of white supremacy, and to those who wanted to sacrifice our democracy to maintain power. It is an affirmation that although our democracy was strained, it did not break. And not only did it not break, but we even managed to push forward on the path of progress and make history.
The institutions of the United States were not designed for women, especially not women of color. These institutions and the laws that governed them were designed to keep women out of positions of power, to deny them a voice in government and agency over their own lives. It was not that long ago when a woman couldn’t open a bank account without permission from her husband or a male relative (the Equal Credit Opportunity Act changed the law in 1974 – yes you read that right, 1974!), or serve on a jury in many states (it wasn’t until 1975 when the Supreme Court ruled that women could not be excluded from jury service). And it wasn’t until 1920, over 140 years after the founding of the country, that the 19th Amendment was ratified, and women were given the right to vote (and it was even later for women of color and Native Americans). Today, even as we watch women make historic moves into leadership, women are still fighting for reproductive rights, equal pay, equal representation, and a whole host of other rights than seem like no-brainers to me.
While I have come to accept that these institutions were not created for people like me, I have also come to believe in the power of change, and the power of ordinary people to bring about that change. We have seen countless examples of that power throughout history, but also just outside our windows every day.
In the last year, despite the raging pandemic, the political turmoil, and just all around really crappy luck, ordinary people went about the work of democracy. Ordinary people registered, organized, and turned out voters. Ordinary people cast ballots in historic numbers. Ordinary people counted and recounted votes. Ordinary people put their lives on the line to defend the Capitol. Ordinary people brought to bear their power to bring about change and it was that power that was celebrated at the inauguration.
It was impossible to watch Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina justice, swear in Kamala Harris, the first woman, the first African-American, the first Asian-American, as Vice-President of the United States and not feel the weight of the moment. There is a line in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho that I often think about: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I think that is what happened yesterday. The universe, our history, our future, and especially our work, it all conspired to bring us that moment.
As I watched Justice Sotomayor and Vice President Harris, I felt very emotional. When I was a little girl, it was incredibly rare to see someone who looked like me, who looked like Justice Sotomayor or Vice President Harris, in positions of power. As a young girl, it never occurred to me that I could be a leader. I thought those positions were reserved for white men (and I was not wrong), but times are changing.
While many barriers still exist for women, increasingly, well-qualified women are filling leadership positions in every level of society, including the highest offices in government. Young girls today, and in the future, won’t have to keep their dreams small because they now have examples of what dreaming big and working hard can lead to.
I’m proud of Vice President Harris and all that she has accomplished, but I’m more proud of us, as a country, that despite opposition, we created the space for a Vice President Harris to be possible.
Dr Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Yesterday, we bent the arc toward justice, ever so slightly, but we have to remember that the work doesn’t end here. The arc bends only when we do the work to bend it. – Rappler.com
Johonna Veloso is currently working as a paralegal in Los Angeles, CA. She is also an experienced political organizer, and has worked on local and national campaigns.