Kamala Harris was first out on the stage in Wilmington, DE, tonight, as she and Joe Biden addressed the American people for the first time as Vice President-elect and President-elect of the United States. While Biden's speech focussed on unifying the American people and laying out key policies, Harris used her time to frame race as a mandate not only against Donald Trump, but for the upholding of democracy. Along the way, she took stock of her own place in history, as now the first woman, Black woman, and woman of South Asian descent to be elected as vice president.
Harris began her speech with a poignant quote from the late Congressman John Lewis: "Democracy is not a state, it is an act." What he meant, she explained, "is that America's democracy is not guaranteed. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it, to guard it, and never take it for granted." It was a gesture towards the struggle that many Americans went through to vote and make their voices heard this election, whether they were standing in poll lines for hours or fighting to get themselves registered.
"When our very democracy was on the ballot in this election, the very soul of America at stake, and the world watching," Harris said, "you ushered in a new day for America."
In the most emotional section of the speech, Harris focussed on her own history and that of her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris. "When she came here from India at the age of 19, she maybe didn't quite imagine this moment," Harris said. "But she believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible, and so I am thinking about her, and about the generations of women, Black women, Asian, white, Latina, Native American women, who throughout our nation's history have paved the way for this moment tonight." Black women in particular, Harris said, "are often too often overlooked, but so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy."
Drawing the speech to its powerful close, Harris turned to both President-elect Biden and the future of the country. "What a testament it is to Joe's character," she said, "that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers and select a woman as his vice president. But while I might be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last."
"Every little girl watching tonight," Harris went on, "sees that this is a country of possibilities. And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves in a way that others may not, simply because they've never seen it before. But know that we will applaud you every step of the way."