CBS News projected Saturday, making Kamala Harris the vice president-elect. Her next position reads as a litany of firsts: she will be the first woman vice president, the first Black vice president, the first Asian American vice president and the first Democratic vice president from the West Coast.
Harris’ ascension to the second-highest elected office of the land comes 100 years after the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, and 55 years after the Voting Rights Act codified voting protections for Black Americans. It is also just over 52 years since Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress on November 5, 1968. Only two Black women — including Harris — have ever been elected to the U.S. Senate, and no Black woman has ever served as a state governor.
“It’s a really emotional victory for many of us,” said Aimee Allison, the founder of She The People, an organization that seeks to engage and support women of color in politics. “Her appeal goes far beyond ousting Trump. Her presence in the White House is fulfilling a promise to move towards a better future, one with racial and gender justice.”
In many ways, Harris’ election as vice president represents the achievement of the American dream, as she is the daughter of a mother who emigrated from India and a Jamaican immigrant father. She attended Howard University, a prominent historically Black university, and is a proud member of the all-Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha.
“I think what Kamala Harris means to a lot of people, as a child of immigrants, as an Indian American, as a Black American, as a woman — we can’t underestimate the significance,” said Christina Greer, a professor of political science at Fordham University.
Since she was elected senator in 2016, Harris has carved a place for herself as one of the most incisive questioners in the Senate, displaying the tactics she employed as district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California in grilling Trump nominees. She was a rival of Biden’s in the Democratic primary before dropping out of the race.
Black Americans in particular helped Biden and Harris to victory, as they were pushed to the top in critical swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania by voters in urban areas with large Black populations. Absentee ballots counted last in Georgia and Pennsylvania in particular, came from metro centers like Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Greer noted Biden chose Harris as his running mate in part to gain support from Black women voters, who consistently support the Democratic Party in large numbers.
“Part of the reason why Biden chose Harris was to signal to Black women, who have been the most dedicated Democratic supporters, that he understood our significance and our value,” said Greer.
Democrats have particularly credited Stacey Abrams, the Georgia-based voting rights activist and former state representative who ran for governor in 2018, for the unexpected surge of Democratic votes in the state. Fair Fight Action, which Abrams founded, invested resources on the ground in Georgia and other states to turn out the vote.
In a tweet on Thursday, Abrams thanked some of the organizers and groups who had invested in turning Georgia blue, such as Black Voters Matter and the New Georgia Project.
“Georgia, let’s shout out those who’ve been in the trenches and deserve the plaudits for change,” Abrams wrote.
Allison said what Abrams and other Black women organizers had accomplished in Georgia was “no less than remarkable.”
“The Stacey Abrams model is one that we see as the new playbook for Democrats to win,” Allison said, meaning on-the-ground engagement of voters and focusing on turning out women of color to vote.
Allison quoted Abrams’ 2018 concession speech, when the candidate cited the Book of Esther, saying: “We were born for such a moment as this.”
“Kamala Harris was born for such a moment as this,” Allison said. “It has given me hope in this country after such a long, frightening period under Trump.”