I will never forget where I was for a variety of significant events in America. Some, like the assassinations of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy are burned in my brain as if by a branding iron. They brought such fear and dread that was indescribable for a child of 16 and then 21. I was in a high school algebra class when JFK was assassinated, and my teacher was not able to conjure up enough perspective to comfort me and my fellow classmates. I was in college for the following two assassinations, and it was phone calls to my father that helped me through. As a student at the University of Wisconsin in the 1960’s witnessing civil rights protests and Vietnam War riots up close and personal on our campus, those were very scary times.
And some of those significant moments in history were completely joyous. I witnessed man take first steps on the moon, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the Berlin Wall coming down, and, yes, the Beatles coming to America!
Scary times still exist today, as do joyous times. On Saturday, November 7, at 11:24 AM, I was not frightened. I was joyous, relieved, elated and hopeful. I had been watching cable news for four days straight, refusing to leave the house or the TV for fear that I would miss experiencing the moment when the first woman in our country’s history became the second most powerful person in America.
My tears flowed like so many others because decency had been restored to the office of the presidency and Kamala Harris had become the first woman vice president elect of the United States of America. Yes, she also will be the first black woman, as well as the first Asian woman, to ascend to that high office, but for me it is all about her being the first woman.
Women across American knew at that moment in history that their opportunities for being seen and being heard had just taken giant leaps forward. They likely recalled hearing Senator Harris say to a man, who had interrupted her at the vice presidential debate earlier in the Fall, “Excuse me, I am speaking. I am speaking.” And they knew that she intended to be heard. And perhaps they also knew that they would be heard by her and by so many others because of her.
100 years after women finally were given the right to vote in our great nation, Kamala Harris stepped onto the stage Sunday night in suffragette white to be recognized as “The First.” And I only can imagine that playing like a video loop in her mind were the words of her mother that she so often recites, “Kamala, you may be a first in many things. But make sure you are not the last.”
Something tells me that she will keep those words close and make sure her mother is honored in all that lies ahead for her and for us.