Kamala Harris became the first Black woman and first Asian-American woman to accept a Vice Presidential nomination Wednesday night, in a third night of Democratic convention programming that was largely centered on the accomplishments and priorities of Democratic women.
“I keep thinking about that 25-year-old Indian woman—all of five feet tall—who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California,” Senator Harris said. “On that day, she probably could have never imagined that I would be standing before you now speaking these words: I accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States of America.”
Featuring appearances from Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Senator Elizabeth Warren, the night was at once galvanizing and bittersweet. It was a triumphant moment in honor of Senator Harris, who made history as the first woman of color on a major Presidential ticket. But it was also a reminder of how many talented women have sought political power in the century since women seized the right to vote, and how often that power seemed to slip just out of their grasp.
For those who watched the Democratic convention in 2016, there were painful moments of deja vu, as yet another woman stepped into the general election, cheered by all the others who had tried and failed before her. Fresh memories– Hillary Clinton’s white pantsuit, the Women’s March, Elizabeth Warren’s Aunt Bee– were quickly absorbed into the long history of women’s struggle, alongside images of Shirley Chisholm and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
And between the rah-rah rhetoric about progress and history, the night included an ominous and urgent speech from former President Obama, who barely mentioned women at all, instead warning that the very nature of American democracy is at stake in November.
The night kicked off with an emphasis on gun violence prevention, an issue that has particularly galvanized women. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured when she was shot in the head at close range in 2011, appeared in a stirring video about grit and resilience, which included snippets of her practicing her words before she could deliver them. There was a soaring video about how how Biden championed women’s issues in the Senate with the Violence Against Women Act (which conveniently failed to mention the related 1994 crime bill, or Biden’s widely criticized handling of the Anita Hill hearings.) There was another segment about the history of women in politics, from the Suffragettes to the Women’s March, that felt at once inspiring and eerily similar to similar videos that had appeared during the 2016 convention, when Clinton was nominated for President.
Hillary Clinton herself appeared, wearing Suffragette white, to deliver a brave and bracing speech that at once heartened her supporters and reminded them of how easily victory could be snatched away. “Remember: Joe and Kamala can win 3 million more votes and still lose,” Clinton said. “Take. It. From. Me.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren, the woman who made it the farthest in the primary, delivered a video speech from a pre-school classroom about the importance of childcare policy, which included a brief mention of her now-famous Aunt Bee, who stepped in to help with Warren’s children so she could continue to work. “It’s time to recognize that childcare is part of the basic infrastructure of this nation,” she said. “It’s infrastructure for families.”
The evening also included a grave warning from former President Barack Obama. Sounding darker and more emotional than he has in recent appearances, Obama spoked of President Trump as incapable of the job. “For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves,” he said. “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”
He then warned against the despair and cynicism that understandably dissuades some voters. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win,” he said. “That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”
The night ended with Senator Harris accepting the nomination speaking to a nearly empty convention hall, speaking to a sea of state marker signs with nobody there to hold them. “Years from now, this moment will have passed. And our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us: Where were you when the stakes were so high?” she said.
“They will ask us, what was it like? And we will tell them. We will tell them, not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did.”