Like most Americans, I spent the early days of this past week worrying. Would there be violence at the Inauguration? Would armed intruders try to disrupt the ceremony? It wasn’t until after President Biden was safely sworn in that I was able to take a long, peaceful breath.
Although the ceremony was held the midst of a pandemic, as well as in the aftermath of an unprecedented assault on the U. S. Capitol, everything went well. The in-person audience was small, but the virtual audience was huge. History was made and a new team entered the White House. Life is returning to normal.
Now I’ve had a few days to savor the feeling of having a Vice President who is the first woman, the first Black person, and the first Indian American to hold that office. It is time for us to rejoice and to pay homage to some of the pioneers who paved the way for that innovation.
I am not alone in celebrating the foremothers who provided models for Kamala Harris. Many women at the Inauguration ceremony wore purple, a color that has become associated with women in government. And, according to the New York Times, Representative Barbara Lee of California wore a pearl necklace which once belonged to Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman who was a serious candidate for the presidency.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm made history by becoming the first Black woman to be elected to Congress. Once there, she made her mark by refusing to be quiet and follow the dictates of politicians in her party. She fought to serve her constituents by supporting bills to provide federal funds for childcare facilities, and she opposed the Vietnam War writing “Unless we start to fight and defeat the enemies in our own country, poverty and racism, and make our talk of equality and opportunity ring true, we are exposed in the eyes of the world as hypocrites when we talk about making people free.”
When she was unable to change the focus of the country through legislation, Shirley Chisholm decided to run for President. Her 1972 campaign was not taken seriously by political leaders. She spent very little money on the campaign and was not able to hire strong staff for her efforts. The country was not ready for an African American president and especially not for one who was a woman. Despite her failure to gain support for her nomination, (Senator George McGovern became the Democratic candidate.) Chisholm continued to be an active member of Congress until 1982 when she retired.
Shirley Chisholm continues to be an inspiration to Kamala Harris and all the other women who are moving into public office in the country. Because of her strength and courage America’s government has become more representative of all the people of the country. This week is a good time to remember and honor her.