Exhaling …

by Sharon Maeda

Exhaling … from the emotional exhaustion of the past four years. Saturday evening, after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris spoke as president and vice president elect, I joined the thousands, if not millions of Americans who finally slept through the night and woke up refreshed. 

I had written commentary before the election, waiting only to insert a paragraph with the exact results. It was a get-this-out-of-my-system litany of the dishonest, disgusting, and death-causing policies of the current president. Writing was a good release as my fingers flew over the keyboard. But I realized Emerald readers have already lived through enough political trauma. 

I ended up deleting that commentary and instead chose to focus on the fact that at last we can breathe a collective sigh of relief. We will soon have a president who is a genuine guy with an outsized level of empathy who will implement a national strategy to get control of COVID-19. Sure elected officials are politicians, but I believe Biden will never lie to us in order to line his own pockets at the expense of human lives the way our current president has. 

Exhale … and CELEBRATE! And, let’s give credit where it is due. This one is for the SISTERS! This win is about the groundwork that Women of Color have laid, beginning with the suffragist movement one hundred years ago: women suffragists of the Iroquois Confederacy, Latinx and API suffragists, to Black women like Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and Mary McLeod Bethune

When I was a UW student in the sixties, I had a dream to become a member of Congress. Though, at the time, I didn’t fully realize the significance of Patsy Takemoto Mink being the first Woman of Color elected to Congress in 1964. Decades later, as a political appointee in the Clinton Administration, I got to meet Mink, a Congresswoman who looked like me, and found myself confiding my old dream to her. Despite it being years too late for me, Mink said my dream could still be fulfilled by the next generations. 

Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968, on the heels of the assassinations of Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy and Malcolm X. Four years later, she became the first Black woman to seek the Democratic nomination for president and, this year, Kamala Harris became the second Black woman to run for the Party’s nomination. Harris did not win that nomination but, as we all know, still made history. When she stepped out on the stage Saturday night, a flood of long suppressed thoughts and emotions came rushing back to me. 

When Pramila Jayapal asked me to coordinate a press conference in 2016 to announce her candidacy for Congress, I jumped right in. In addition to being a friend and partner in good trouble, I knew she had the smarts and strategic thinking to navigate the minefields and get something done in Congress. Pramila became the first South Asian in the House the same year Kamala Harris became the first South Asian in the Senate. On Saturday, when I saw the Twitter video Pramila posted of herself dancing with joy on her porch while beating a kitchen pot, I could not stop smiling through my tears.

Congresswoman Mink had been right. The next generations are fulfilling my dream.

With the election of Joe Biden as president, I am filled with relief that our democracy will survive. With the election of Kamala Harris as vice president, I am filled with hope for the future. Harris was not my first, second, or third choice during the Democratic primary. But when she stepped up to the mic this weekend wearing her white suit — a clear nod to the suffragist foremothers a century ago — it was stunning.  She is breaking new ground as the first biracial, Black/South Asian, graduate of Howard not Harvard, female vice president-elect. It was amazing to watch her speak to all the girls and young People of Color out there who will now see someone who looks like them in the White House — and dream big in the ways I couldn’t. 

I never thought I would live to see a Black person elected president. I never thought I would live to see a woman or an Asian American elected president. But it’s all possible. And, for me, there is no question that it was the sisters who brought this country home. Stacey Abrams and all the thousands of Women of Color who went into overdrive to save our democracy can teach the high-paid K Street guys (the street in Washington D.C. where many of the country’s power brokers have offices) a real lesson. 

So, sisters, congratulations on a job well done. Let’s savor the cracks in the glass ceiling before we have to get back to work. For Breonna Taylor and Charleena Lyles, and the women who have been and will be abused, trafficked, murdered, we can’t afford to stop. But we can take our foot off the gas momentarily. For now, we can exhale. 

The Emerald’s Planning Director, Sharon Maeda, has worked for decades in communications to further the cause of justice. She’s volunteered on presidential campaigns since she was a Students for Bobby Kennedy organizer. Pre-COVID, she had planned to move to Philly to help turn Pennsylvania blue; she’s glad she wasn’t needed.

Featured image by deckerme; used here under a CC BY 2.0 license.

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