Vice President-Elect Harris wore a white pantsuit on the night that she and Joe Biden celebrated their victory. She wore it to recognize the 72 years that Suffragettes worked, organized, lobbied, were incarcerated, marched, demonstrated, and even participated in hunger strikes so that women could vote. Many Suffragettes did not live long enough to vote. To honor Susan B. Anthony, on every election day, voters paste their “I Voted” stickers on her gravestone in Rochester NY.
As I cheered Vice President Elect Harris’s victory, I wondered how many other amendments had paved the way for that night.
With the exception of President Obama, all presidents and vice presidents met the framers’ original intentions of what a leader should be…white and male (and often, privileged).
Kamala Harris’s victory reminded me of my favorite quote by Sir Isaac Newton.
“If I can see far, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”
Many amendments to the Constitution were necessary for her to be up on that podium. The most important amendments were the 15th and the 19th. The 15th gave Black men the right to vote (or more specifically, prohibited states from refusing voting rights based on race) and the 19th amendment gave female US citizens the right to vote.
The journey to expand voting rights began shortly after the Constitution was ratified. The Abolitionist movement officially began in 1830. It would take a Civil War to pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. The 13th amendment abolished slavery, the 14th amendment gave citizenship to all born in the United States, and the 15th amendment prohibited states from denying voting rights based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Women’s advocates, who worked tirelessly to end slavery, expected to be rewarded with a voting rights amendment that included gender as well. However, Abolitionists were afraid that adding gender was too controversial and they asked Suffragettes to “stand down.” Frederick Douglass, a staunch supporter of women’s voting rights, finally capitulated when he recognized that adding sex could prevent the passage of the 15th amendment. The Suffragettes were angry and bitterly disappointed.
As disheartened as they were, even they would not have imagined that women would have to wait another 53 years before the 19th amendment granting them the right to vote would be passed. In fact, by the time the 19th amendment was ratified, 20 states allowed women to vote.
Biden/Harris won 57% of the female vote.
There were other amendments that aided Biden/Harris in the 2020 Presidential election. The 24th amendment abolished poll tax, allowing Black Americans to vote freely.
Biden/Harris won 87% of the Black American vote.
The 26th amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote.
Two thirds of those under 24 voted for Biden/Harris.
The 23rd amendment gave the District of Columbia Electoral College representation.
92% of DC’s residents voted for Biden/Harris, giving them 3 Electoral College votes.
The road to Vice President Kamala Harris’s election began long before her immigrant parents were born. Thousands of people dedicated their lives, especially in the Abolition and Suffrage Movements, to extend voting rights.
But you know who else needs to be celebrated? The white male voters. Their willingness to share their privileges and power to those not represented created a broader, deeper, and richer America. These men recognized that a rising tide raises all boats. It can be argued that their foresight saved the Constitution in 2020. 61% of white men voted for Trump, I am convinced that those voters could not have envisioned a failed coup attempt to overturn the election and the Constitution.
When Kamala Harris strode onto the podium in her white pantsuit, she was saluting all those who worked tirelessly to give her this opportunity and, equally important, those, like her husband, who were willing to share it.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.