History in the Making: Madam Vice President and Other 2020 Election Reflections from the History Design Lab Editors

By Emily Spezia-Shwiff and Meredith Warden

Photo by ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

By Emily Spezia-Shwiff

I turned eighteen less than a week after the 2016 Presidential Election. I clearly remember the day after the election: my English teacher’s expression of disbelief, fear, and sorrow to my AP Government teacher telling his teenage students that Donald Trump was the president the country chose, and there was no point in being upset about the results. Older Oberlin students describe the mood the day after the election as one of mourning, almost like someone had died. Classes were either cancelled or entirely dedicated to talking about the election. 

The day after the 2020 election felt like everyone was holding their breath, trying to hear if there was still a heartbeat. That tension remained until five days after the election when Pennsylvania was called for Joe Biden. People were relieved and relaxed for a moment. Joe Biden’s victory was a win for many, but it feels like a stepping stone when looking into the future and what still needs to be done.

 Many people have talked about crying when they heard the news. I had a tear or two fall when looking at Joe Biden at 273 electoral college votes on the New York Times website as my shoulders released four years worth of tenison. The moment I really cried was seeing Kamala Harris referred to as Madam Vice President for the first time. This moment is hugely momentous and historic. Whether or not you like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, or even the Democratic party, a Black and South Asian woman in the seat of Vice President of the United States is extraordinary. I was raised by feminists and my whole life, I have been told I am capable of doing anything. It’s one thing to be told and to know that, but it is another to see a woman doing it and leading the charge for more women to be in places they historically are not in. Kamala Harris is not only paving the way for more women to be involved in politics, but her presence in the White House also sets a precedent for women in positions of power and taking women seriously. 

I am proud that my first presidential election vote led to a woman holding the second highest seat of political power in the United States. As Madam Vice President Kamala Harris said in her victory speech, “I may be the first, but won’t be the last.”

By Meredith Warden 

I don’t think I realized just how much the Trump Presidency had affected me until after Joe Biden was elected in the 2020 election. For me, the days between Election Day and when the race was called felt like a microcosm of Trump’s whole presidency—incredibly tense, almost harrowing, and definitely surreal. I know that Trump has shifted the presidential norms a lot, but I am young enough that the first election I really remember is 2016; I don’t know what it’s like to have a political atmosphere that doesn’t seem incredibly partisan. 

Even now, Trump refuses to concede and continues to spread false claims of voter fraud, breaking yet another democratic norm and putting himself in some awful dictatorial company. And even though he has lost, I am saddened and angered to know that almost half of the country is either outwardly supportive of his white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, and general fascist tendencies, or willing to overlook all of this. As many have said before me, getting Trump out of office is not a panacea to the many, many problems our country has had since its settler-colonial inception; ousting Trump is merely the bare minimum, and his supporters and the ideology they hold will not go away once he leaves office (by free will or by force). 

Still, when the race was called, I felt a wave of relief. It seemed like our country had stepped back from the cliffside, and though we are still teetering on the edge, we’ve found our footing again. Like Emily, what moves me most is Kamala Harris as the Vice President. Harris has a controversial track record, including, among many other things, focusing on criminal justice and police reform (rather than systemic change or abolition) and defending California’s decision to deny a transgender inmate gender-affirming surgery. And, as I said earlier, getting Trump out of office does not mean all is well; we still have to hold the President and Vice President accountable for their (in)actions. 

Even so, Harris’ election is undoubtedly history in the making. As the first Black and Indian American VP, the first woman VP, and the first woman of color VP, Harris has achieved an incredibly meaningful post. She stands on the shoulders of people like Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, as well as many others. As I watched her victory speech this past Saturday, I cried because I felt not only by the historic weight of this moment but also my own response to it as a woman. I am sure that this moment is even more meaningful for Black and brown women and girls, who can look at the second most powerful position in the U.S. and see someone who looks like them. Like Emily, I am proud that my first presidential election vote helped elect Madam Vice President Kamala Harris. 

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