I woke up this morning with a deep appreciation of the significance of this day. It is a day won not by any one person, but with the tireless effort of generations of Black women and women of color who have worked to make this moment possible. They are the women whose spirits I lifted up as I watched Sen. Kamala Harris accept the nomination for vice president of the United States at the Democratic National Convention tonight – planting her flag in history as the first woman of color at the top of the ticket.
Kamala Harris is my senator. And from my vantage point from our hometown Oakland, California, I watched her rise to statewide office and then the Senate, buoyed by a multiracial coalition of voters — Black, Latino, Asian American, immigrant, and white. She’s been part of the retelling of the story of Black women and women of color in the tumultuous years since the 2016 election.
Two years ago at the Netroots Nation conference in New Orleans, she took the stage alongside women of color leaders from the key swing states — women such as DeJuana Thomspon with Woke Vote, Tram Nguyen with New Majority, and Crystal Zermeno of Texas Organizing Project. These women are changing the face of politics in each of their states, inspiring the audience of 2,000 change-makers to believe in and follow women of color, who can no longer be hidden figures in American politics.
When Kamala took the stage as the keynote speaker that day she raised both arms up, looked out to the cheering crowd, and said, “I just passed these not so hidden figures!” Then and there, she recognized us and we saw her. I knew that our time was now. Eight months later, she joined the She the People presidential forum in an auditorium at Texas Southern University, an HBCU like her alma mater Howard. The forum was the first time in history that presidential primary candidates were asked why women of color should support them. Kamala was in her element. This was magic. The power of a constituency met the power of her candidacy.
Tonight’s history-making moment, seeing her take to that podium, surrounded by a flurry of American flags is why I founded She the People, an organization whose mission is not just to change the face of politics, but more importantly to change the heart of it. Women of color have suffered the consequences of a political system that has overlooked and underserved us. We understand the pain because we’ve lived it and because of this fundamental truth, we are prepared to govern with empathy, love and justice.
Let’s look at where we are in this country today. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse and flawed justice system all disproportionately impact our Black and brown communities. These crises consistently and mercilessly claim the lives of our people. Amongst the most pressing needs is to reimagine our justice system, to ensure racial justice is a first principle of American democracy, and restore confidence in the office and trust in a government that will serve the people. American democracy is not about one person, and tonight it is clear that it is about millions of us, about generations of us, about the past, present and future.
Kamala Harris understands this because she represents so many of us. Her story began with two immigrants — her mother from India, and her father from Jamaica. Both shared a dream of a new and better life. Central to that dream is their daughter, who is both Black and Asian American. Her identity has allowed her to understand the complex and nuanced intersections of people of color, racial identities and politics. Who she is and what she has become are a symbol and a celebration of America’s greatest promise. She is uniquely qualified and prepared to meet this moment to lead the country.
When I heard the news that Kamala was chosen as the vice presidential candidate, I was on the phone with a reporter explaining that women of color across the country were saying that a woman of color on the ticket was the only way to win back the White House — the only way to energize women of color voters, given the enormous power of our voting bloc.
After years of making the case for women of color leadership, the announcement of Kamala on the Biden ticket still took my breath away. This wasn’t just about numbers and strategy. This had suddenly become very personal. As a biracial Black woman who grew up looking for belonging, I felt validated. I felt heard and valued. I was seeing the reality of a community united by love and justice. Kamala represents me and my American experience. And now America is finally acknowledging all of us.
“We’ve gotta do the work to fulfill that promise of equal justice under law. Because, none of us are free...until all of us are free...We’re at an inflection point,” Kamala said in tonight’s speech. “The constant chaos leaves us adrift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid, The callousness makes us feel alone. It’s a lot. And here’s the thing: We can do better and deserve so much more.”
We deserve women of color representing us at all levels.
So tonight we exhale, but tomorrow, we get ready to take a deep breath in — because this is just the beginning.
Aimee Allison is Founder and President of She the People, a national network of women of color in politics.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images