Madam Vice President
This piece was originally published on Medium in August of 2020.
It is exactly 4:00am on the morning after Joe Biden announced that he is choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate. I have been up for an hour. I have scrolled Facebook and watched Sarah Cooper’s awesome monologue from her guest host stint on Jimmy Kimmel. I have read all the tweets and retweets by the cast of Hamilton and Democratic politicians on Twitter (they’re all I follow) and I have tried, really tried to go back to sleep. After an hour, I gave up. That nagging voice that so often taunts me up and into action was getting louder and harder to ignore. I’ve got some things to say. It is 100% your choice to read or not and agree or not, and I wish reminding myself of that while still in bed worked to lull me back to sleep, but here we are.
I, along with millions of other Americans, have been waiting for weeks for the VP choice to be announced. Like many of those Americans, Joe Biden was not my first choice for President, but unlike many, my first choice was Kamala Harris. I was disappointed, but not surprised when she dropped out and thrilled when she and most of the other candidates threw their support behind Joe, because that’s how shit gets done. You put your boots on and you get to work for the guy who will get you closer to your goals. You do not sacrifice the good for the perfect. You don’t give up your dream of what you consider to be the ideal just because it didn’t happen today, you keep plugging away in every way you can. Or maybe I should say in every way that has a chance of being effective. When the announcement was made that Harris would be Biden’s VP pick, I was elated. I felt a sense of hope that I hadn’t felt in an incredibly long time. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
You may have felt differently. I get that and respect it. What I do not respect is pouring cold water on my celebration and the celebration of those millions of other Americans (many of whom, like me, share similar values, though we may diverge on how to achieve them) because you disagree. I expect to see that from Trump supporters, to see it from progressives and to see it immediately was not just disheartening, it was nearly soul-crushing. To be clear, I am talking about on my own Facebook celebration post. What people do in their own spaces is their own business and I rarely comment unless I see blatant sexism, racism or general cruelty. See how that works? Respect. Every single person in this country is free to think and vote how they want. But it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat, a progressive or a Republican whose primary goal at this point should be voting the Trumpster fire we’re currently experiencing out of office (and it should be), it’s time to get to work. And trying to…what…shame me, prove me wrong, debate with me or anyone like me is not going to get us, or you, where we want to be. Shutting up and voting is.
And here’s the funny thing. Many of the things I believe are still considered progressive and radical. A woman’s right to choose? We’re still fucking talking about that in 2020. LGBTQIA rights? Up for debate and in some cases, already gone. Voter rights and access? We’re living under an administration that is so scared of poor people and people of color having equal rights that they’re doing everything they can to restrict their access. Voter suppression is alive and well in 2020, a time when it’s more dangerous than ever, which is precisely the point.
Back in 2013, I read a book called The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker. A quick synopsis of this 800+ page read states this:
Believe it or not, today we may be living in the most peaceful moment in our species’ existence. In his gripping and controversial new work, New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows that despite the ceaseless news about war, crime, and terrorism, violence has actually been in decline over long stretches of history. Exploding myths about humankind’s inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious book continues Pinker’s exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly enlightened world.
One of my biggest takeaways from the book was a passage in which Pinker describes history as a pendulum — when it swings what is considered to be too far left or right, it inevitably swings in the opposite direction before settling itself into a more moderate middle. And that bit by bit, over the course of history, the pendulum has become more and more progressive. We generally frown upon violence as an answer, we don’t engage in corporal or capital punishment the way we did and we certainly don’t use those things as entertainment by doing things like drawing and quartering or beheading the way they did up through the 18th century. And I think of this passage every time I need to remind myself of how change comes. Big changes either come in a rush — think of the dramatic and awesome antiracism conversations and actions that are taking place right now, statues coming down, laws being put in place and then remind yourself of the cost these things are coming at. More lives lost, more black men and women punished for things I would easily get a pass on. OR, they come slowly, glacially, seemingly almost imperceptibly, and this is what Pinker is talking about. Because of that swinging pendulum, we often fail to notice how things have changed. We forget that voting rights were not equal for all (and let’s face it, still are not) until the 60’s and that this particular fight is one that has been happening since our country’s inception.
“So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane.
You want a revolution? I want a revelation
So listen to my declaration:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal”
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson,
I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel! (Work!)”
Speaking of laws — there’s a lot of talk, and has been, since she announced her bid for President about Harris’ history of harsh prosecution while working as a prosecutor in California, so I greatly appreciated this article, which points out how exaggerated these claims are. And this article on why progressives should be hopeful nails it with this passage, which though talks about Biden, clearly applies to the full ticket:
This all gets at a larger meta-point. For ambitious politicians who try to track their party’s mainstream, their actual record is sometimes not that useful an indicator of what they’ll do in higher office, because by definition they try to move with the country’s and their party’s mood. This is the optimistic case you often hear for why a Biden presidency could result in real progressive achievements. But for a historical example, consider President Lyndon Johnson. The man spent the first decades of his career opposing pretty much any and all civil rights legislation, because he was a Democratic politician from the segregationist South. During his master-of-the-Senate phase in 1957 and 1960, he helped pass bills on the issue by largely allowing them to be watered down to near meaninglessness. If you’d told activists then that LBJ was destined to be the man who muscled through legislation ending Jim Crow and guaranteeing voting rights, they’d have been very skeptical. But that’s how history worked out, partly because he was an ambitious politician who could read the room (or, you know, turn on a television).
Interestingly, I read that book during the Obama administration with the smug attitude of someone who was quite sure that the pendulum had swung exactly the right amount in exactly the direction she wanted. Little did I know what was waiting in the wings. And I will never make that mistake again. I will never sacrifice the good for some imagined perfect. And I think Kamala Harris as vice president is good. More than good, actually. I think she is representative of the diversity that makes our country the great we all thought it was…before. I think the fact that she is considered the “safe” choice is awesome. I think she will wipe the debate stage with Pence. I think more people in this country will feel represented and I think fewer people will be discriminated against with her standing behind the man who stood behind a Black man for 8 years. And quite frankly, Black women have shown up for us for YEARS, it’s time we showed up for them. AND, we have been. There are more women of color in government than ever. This is a GOOD thing. Some are more progressive than others, for sure, but any way you slice it, women of color in government roles is good for our country. Representation is important in more ways than one. This is big picture stuff. This is long haul, pendulum swinging history.
Virtually every serious presidential candidate has come out in support of Harris, most of them almost immediately. That’s because now is not the time to talk about where we deviate, it’s the time to talk about where we can be united and stand together as a country. And if you don’t want 4 more years of whatever the hell you want to call this state we’re in, then you’ll vote. Happily. Come hell or high water. Whether by mail or in-person. You will ensure that your voice is heard and know that it is representative of the millions of Americans who are not okay with how far the pendulum has swung and will help bring it back towards the middle.
And on a personal note, I am married to a Caribbean immigrant of Indian descent. A man who became a US citizen in 2013. I have never been more proud to be an American or felt more patriotic than I did that day. Surrounded by 58 people, representing 39 countries I sat and watched as they were sworn in as citizens with tears in my eyes. I watched as they all smiled and waved their little flag. I watched as their families snapped photos. I fist bumped the security guards who congratulated each and every new US VOTER and I thought history is happening…how lucky we are to be alive right now. And I hope with every fiber of my being that I get to feel this way again when the new president and vice president are sworn in January of 2021.