Scenes from quarantine – Day 148:
Every single time I have found her name on a ballot, I have checked the little box beside it. Today, as my knitting needles click-clacked and I sunk into thought about my plight, the world’s plight, my phone buzzed and the screen lit up. “Biden picks Kamala Harris as VP nominee”.
Within an hour, my social media had lit up in similar manner. Friends changed their avatars to the Biden/Harris campaign logo. Friends shared one or another article with the news, thin biographies of California’s junior senator hastily tacked on. Friends spoke out, for or against. For a woman who has spent the better part of the decade stepping into the spotlight, today it shined white hot on her.
And while I felt a brief moment of happiness for us, my heart quietly broke for Kamala Harris.
For weeks she has been in a rarified company. Weeks ago, maybe months ago now in our pandemic blur, Biden promised that he would pick a woman as his running mate and the events of this summer brought loud calls that he should select a woman of color. Susan Rice, Stacey Abrams, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Val Demmings, Tammy Duckworth, Gretchen Whitmer, even (to our surprise) our very own Congressional Representative Karen Bass, all found themselves on the short list and spent the summer unceremoniously shoved under a microscope so the nation could occupy itself studying their careers and lives closely, magnifying every flaw.
“He might pick Kamala Harris.”
A sigh. Then, slowly, ever so patiently, he explains it to me. “Kamala has never been able to execute. He should pick Elizabeth Warren. She has a strong record and clear plan and could make real contributions to his platform.”
“…but he might pick Kamala Harris.”
A sigh. “Kamala attacked him brutally in the debates. (Wait? What?? I didn’t watch the debate…did she have a bat’leth? Please tell me it was notable because she had a bat’leth.) That was too embarrassing. (So…no bat’leth, then.) Gretchen Whitmer has proven herself capable of managing a crisis by her mitigation of the pandemic in the face of state-wide resistance.”
“…but he might pick Kamala Harris.”
A sigh. “Kamala is too closely affiliated with law enforcement from her time with the district attorney. Susan Rice has the same amount of experience but without all the baggage.”
I did not delve deeply into the issue, did not defend my stance loudly or passionately. I knew it was not my choice to make, nor his choice either. We could argue until the moon fell from the sky and it would not change the outcome one whit.
Truthfully, absolutely any of these women would be not only adequate, but exceptional as vice-president. Absolutely any of them would be exceptional as president. Compared to the national leadership we have now, the differences between them are about as consequential as Nancy Pelosi’s mask color of the day. But now, Kamala Harris has been chosen, Kamala Harris has been thrust alone into the middle of what will be a very long, very ruthless battle, one where we know the other side will use absolutely every dirty trick they can to gain the slimmest advantage. And even if this were not the case, as she stands beside the respectable elder statesman who is her running mate, America will do its very best to tear her apart.
I’m sure she expects it. I do. Across countless lifetimes, women and people of color have always had to do much more, work much harder and longer, fail at nothing, and be unquestionably extraordinary to be seen as almost adequate among the white men who should be their peers.
In debates, Elizabeth Warren was criticized for coming across as a “schoolmarm”. I was quick to observe that there isn’t even an equivalent male counterpart to lob as an accusation at the other participants. What was even the complaint there? That she came across as too knowledgeable? That she wasn’t fashionably dressed enough as she spoke? That she had the audacity to speak up when she had something to say?
Stacey Abrams “didn’t have enough experience. The only thing she’s really done was lose an election.” Because Barack Obama had decades of political experience when he ran for, and won, the presidency, right? Even if Stacey Abrams’ decade in the state legislature counts for nothing, a year and a half of experience as the governor of Georgia would have been very compelling if that election had not been boldly stolen away from her.
By contrast, “nobody has heard of Karen Bass.” Being Speaker of the California State Assembly apparently wasn’t noteworthy, nor was being a Congresswoman in the United States House of Representatives for a decade now, or being the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Seven years ago, our family had visited Washington D.C. and it was through our Congresswoman’s office that we were able to get tickets to tour the Capitol. Because security was tight, we were turned away at the entrance for the set of knitting needles I carried in my purse. A congressional aide was quick to assure us we could return to Congresswoman Bass’s office to leave my knitting there and that she (the aide) would escort us back to the Capitol through the Representatives’ own special tunnel. After what seemed like miles of walking, we were silently ushered into the upper galleries with a spectacular view of the Congressional floor. There were only a handful of representatives down there, debating a bill on energy efficiency. A woman stood up and proposed an amendment to the bill to eliminate fracking in the small town of Culver City. Our Culver City! It was our very own representative, Karen Bass, working hard for the interests of her constituency. I was so excited and after we quietly exited the galleries, I pulled my children to the side and smiled broadly at them. “Remember what you saw today, children. THAT was democracy at work.”
In this country, it has always been too hard to open the door to women, to offer them positions of leadership and over and over again, women who have had that door open the slightest crack have seen it slammed shut in front of them. Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Geraldine Ferraro, and many more all the way back to my son’s favorite female politician, Victoria Woodhull (who ran for our highest office under the Equal Rights Party despite being six months too young to be inaugurated had she won and who made Frederick Douglass her running mate without his consent, or, apparently, his knowledge). The barriers for women of color have been even greater.
Most women, myself included, have watched this process from our earliest memories and now are quick to shy away from the toxic work environments, endless criticism, rampant misogyny, and from having the privilege of hearing endlessly about how nothing we do is ever quite enough. The few women who have stepped forward, dared to show ambition and determination, yes even the ones who have fumbled their way through, they are remarkable. They have, without exception, seen a world in need of change and have stepped forward to bring that change. They are worthy of being leaders.
So we now turn our eyes to Kamala Harris. She steps forward into a nation and a world in turmoil and in the best possible outcome is offering to take on an incredibly difficult job. As the spotlight shines on her, don’t yell about her knobby knees, her awkward youth (we’ve all had awkward youths), do not cry and rail because her experiences were different than yours, that the choices she made in those moments were not the ones you would have made. She will not be perfect, nobody is, but she will do her very best and her best is pretty damn amazing.
We have crushed so many women for having the audacity of wanting to lead. Let’s see what happens when we actually offer one our sincere support.
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