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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

Herstory Made

January 20, 2021 Philadelphia Gay News

I have waited for this Inauguration Day my entire life.

Waited to see a woman sworn in to the top of the ticket. Waited for representation after 244 years of male presidents and vice-presidents. Waited to see the history of lesbian suffragists like Susan B. Anthony in the 19th century and Jane Addams, Sophonisba Breckinridge and Anna Howard Shaw in the 20th century come to fruition.

In 1910, my then-teenaged maternal grandmother was among a group of suffragists in white dresses who chained themselves together and picketed the White House, demanding the right to vote.

I grew up in a political family. My parents were Socialist Civil Rights workers. Their involvement in groups like SNCC (Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee) and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) meant I met some of the most famous activists of the Civil Rights Movement before I was old enough to write their names on the protest signs that my father was always making in our dining room.

It meant that Black women activists were a part of my girlhood — figures I admired whose work excited me. I attended all-girls schools until college, and there my feminism was forged hot and angry.

I was too young to vote for Shirley Chisholm in 1972 when she became the first Black candidate to run for president on a major party ticket and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. But she showed me that it could happen.

In 1976, Rep. Barbara Jordan became the first woman and first Black person to deliver a keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. She showed me that lesbians had a place on the main stage.

In 1984, I cast my first presidential vote for a woman candidate and I have not forgotten the frisson I felt in the voting booth as I pulled the lever to mark Geraldine Ferraro and that guy she was running with. I still have my Ferraro T-shirt.

In 1988, I worked for the brief presidential campaign of Pat Schroeder. I cried when she cried, and it was over too soon.

In 1992, I wrote an op-ed for Newsday, the New York daily newspaper I wrote for, about how if George H. W. Bush chose Elizabeth Dole as his running mate and Bill Clinton chose Rev. Jesse Jackson as his, voters would be forced to address their misogyny and their racism to vote for their respective parties.

In 2008, I supported Hillary Clinton in the primary. I wrote about her experience and accomplishments and the breadth of her activism that had begun with Latinx farmworkers and blossomed in her work with the Children’s Defense Fund. When she went all in for Barack Obama after losing 48.0% to Obama’s 48.1% in the closest primary in my lifetime, I went all in for him, too.

In 2011, I interviewed Dr. Jill Stein during the Occupy Philadelphia encampment. I liked her immensely and thought she would grow the Green Party, something I thought Philadelphia needed. But my days of supporting fringe candidates was over. In 2016 we had a very public fight and I saw the commitment which I thought she had was only about her, not a movement.

In 2016, I reported from the floor of the sweltering Democratic National Convention in a wheelchair. It was an extraordinary event. Seeing Hillary Clinton accept the nomination — the first woman nominee of a major party in 240 years — was thrilling.

None of us were prepared for Donald Trump to win in 2016, not even Trump himself. It was written on his face as the numbers began to add up. And throughout the past four years of chaos and white nationalism, racism and misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia that have marked Trump’s presidency, I have written hundreds of articles and columns for different newspapers and magazines, here and abroad, about what Trump was doing to this country and to the world.

In January 2017, I wrote that if Hillary Clinton didn’t run again, Kamala Harris was the best choice for Democrats to beat Trump in 2020. Throughout the primary, in which there were more women candidates than ever in U.S. history, I expected Democrats to choose one of those six women. My dream ticket was Kamala Harris for president and Elizabeth Warren for vice president.

But there was no appetite for a woman nominee.

Yet it wasn’t over. Joe Biden chose Harris for his VP, a woman of half Black, half Southeast Asian descent who was only the second Black woman to serve in the Senate. He chose Harris, with her long history of support for women, LGBTQ, poor people, social justice.

When Philadelphia clinched the vote for Biden-Harris on Nov. 7, people poured into the streets in Philadelphia and throughout the country. The jubilation was palpable. We had won this thing. I was crying tears of joy — there was going to be a woman vice president. My three nieces were going to come of age with the representation I never had. The two little Black girls who live next door to me and my wife will watch someone who looks like them take the oath of office from the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor.

The past two months have been pure madness, with a near coup and an attack on the Capitol. And yet our democracy prevailed. At 9 a.m. Trump flew out of D.C. to Mar-a-Lago as Biden and Harris were at Mass in D.C. with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. What a coda on the past four years.

Before the Inauguration, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “It delights me to think that what feels historical and amazing to us today — a woman sworn in to the vice presidency — will seem normal, obvious, ‘of course’ to Kamala’s grand-nieces as they grow up. And they will be right.”

And here we are: Shirley Chisholm. Geraldine Ferraro. Hillary Clinton. That glass ceiling they all cracked has finally been broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. Herstory made.

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