Kamala Harris’ achievement was built on the shoulders of those who came before

In a year marked by the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment, the nation has taken yet another step forward

In 1916, four years before many women in the United States had the right to vote, Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. After winning the election, Rankin said, “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.”

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Echoing Rankin’s words as she spoke to a large audience in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday, the night the 2020 election was called by the press, former Sen. and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last. … Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

No matter your politics, Harris’ achievement should be celebrated.

As the first female vice president-elect — and also the first woman of color poised to hold that office — Harris joins a long list of women to have been the first to accomplish incredible feats with the odds against them.

In only the past 40 years, the country has witnessed the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, the first female attorney general of the United States, the nation’s first female secretary of state, the first female speaker of the House and the first woman to receive a presidential nomination from a major political party.

Now, in a year marked by the centennial celebration of the amendment guaranteeing women the constitutional right to vote, the nation has taken yet another step toward fulfilling the ideals of freedom and equality on which it was founded.

While visiting Utah prior to the vice presidential debate in October, Sen. Harris spoke of the principles that have shaped the nation and the work still waiting to be done.

“When you think about the spirit of America, including the pioneers here, that is so much of the fabric of this nation. They were essentially immigrants. They were fleeing persecution. They were fighting for religious freedom,” Harris said while touring a historical site honoring pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Let’s put our shoulders to the wheel. Let’s do the work that is necessary and continue to fight for our ideals and our values and in this case what they fought for so many years ago, which was for freedom and to hold our country accountable for the values we say we hold dear.”

Wearing a white suit during her speech following the election — a nod to the suffragettes that came before her — Harris said, “Tonight I reflect on their struggle, their determination, and the strength of their vision to see what can be, unburdened by what has been. And I stand on their shoulders.”

Generations of women — Black women, Asian, white, Latina and Native American women — throughout this nation’s history have fought to pave the way and sacrificed to help this nation come closer to realizing the values of equality, liberty and justice for all, Harris said. 

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She stands on the shoulders of those who came before her, but so do all of us.

While many Americans will disagree with Harris on policy issues around immigration, abortion rights, health care or climate change, everyone should celebrate this moment as an important milestone in the process of becoming a more perfect union.

As suffragist Alice Paul stated in 1920, the fight for full equality is not yet won, “It has just begun.”

Harris’ words, like Paul’s, remind a nation built on the ideals of freedom, equality and progress that there is more still to be done, and there always will be.

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