Black Women paved the way for VP Harris
January 20 is an important date in the US political calendar. For more than 80 years now, the winner of the American Presidential elections has been sworn in on that date, provided it is a weekday. In 2009 the traditional inauguration of the President took on special significance in that for the first and only time so far, a black man, Barack Obama, was sworn in to the highest office in the USA.
On Wednesday January 20, 2021, the date took on another special significance. It marked the departure from office of one of the worst Presidents in US history, the disgraced Donald Trump, in spite of his frantic efforts to remain in power in defiance of the expressed will of the American voters, a President who spurred on a failed coup even against the government he headed.
But there was more to it than the unceremonious departure of Trump. It was another historic day for black political advancement in that a Black woman, Kamala Harris, was sworn in as Vice President, becoming the first black woman to achieve that status, following her electoral triumph as running mate to the new President, Joe Biden in November.
Harris, of Jamaican and Indian parentage, has represented her state California in the US Senate since 2017. As Vice President she has had to resign her senate position but will now formally head that institution, including having the right to a casting vote if there is a tie in votes in the Senate.
Her victory marks yet another forward step for black women in the USA. Kamala’s elevation did not come by chance. Generations of courageous black women have paved the way for her, defying racism, persecution and brutality to mobilize women, black and white, in the drive to get black people , black women in particular, the right to be registered to vote and to use that right to advance their cause and that of black people as a whole.
It is an indictment of US democracy that that battle is still taking place in many US states today. It took dedicated efforts from many of these women, exemplified by Stacey Abrams, the first black woman to contest the election for Governor of the southern state of Georgia in 2018, to register large numbers of blacks for the 2020 elections. Her efforts paid off and not only did Biden win the presidency but both Georgia senatorial seats fell to the Democrats just one day before the Trump-inspired insurrection on January 6.
Abrams and the new Vice-President are successors to a long line of black female freedom-fighters, dating back to slavery. Women like Sojourner Truth waged courageous campaigns against slavery in the nineteenth century incurring the wrath and repression of the slave-owners, racists and bigots. In the 20th century, black women like Ida Wells fought for the right to vote and suffered because of it.
The tradition has continued right down the line, with heroic women in the civil rights movement –women like Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer, and Amelia Boynton of the famous quote, “A voteless people is a hopeless people”. She became the first woman to run for Congress in 1964, inspiring Shirley Chisholm, the first elected black Congresswoman in 1968. And, let us not forget Angela Davis, associated with the Black Panther party, relentlessly persecuted but who contested the US Vice Presidency for the Communist party of the USA.
So Kamala Harris stands on rich traditions of struggle. It is left to be seen how she will advance the worthy causes of her predecessors.