Tomorrow is the inauguration of the new President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. She becomes the first woman in that position, with an Indian mother and a Jamaican father.
It is an important moment for many people in the United States. Also for Virginia Ali, the 87-year-old co-founder of the famous Ben‘s Chili Bowl restaurant in Washington. “Women’s rights were never a priority. It is a milestone to welcome the first female vice president, who will also be the first vice president of color,” says Ali. “Harris is an example for all young women and girls. If you go to school, do your best and work hard, anything is possible.”
When Biden presented Harris as his running mate, he dwell on the symbolism of the moment, and on her merits. “She‘s smart, tough, and experienced. She has proven herself as a champion of this country.”
Ben’s Chili Bowl was founded in 1958 in the black district of Shaw. For those doors, Ali has seen history take place. At the height of the race riots in 1968, when the surrounding neighbourhood went up in flames, the restaurant remained open. It became a place where both police officers and black activists gathered to eat amidst the turmoil. When Ali met Luther King, then in a segregated city, she never expected a black president to come to power, and now also the first female vice president. “I feel privileged to be able to experience this.”
Harris‘s parents are two non-Western migrants, an Indian mother and Jamaican father, who were activists during the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Harris studied at Howard University, a famous black university near Ben’s Chili Bowl. In the restaurant, the walls are wallpapered with photos of politicians, actors and other influential figures. “I‘m sure she was here in her college days, and we expect to see her again.”
Harris became a San Francisco District Attorney after her law school. Later, she became Attorney General for the State of California. Because she was often the first black woman in these positions, she was often asked by reporters to talk about it. “Then I often thought: ‘I‘m so happy to talk about the economy’, ‘Harris said in a speech. “Because every issue is a question for black women. And problems for black women are problems for everyone.”
‘One step away from presidency‘
America has gone through a turbulent year marked by the protests of Black Lives Matter and the pandemic that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Despite calls for the coronacrisis not to come to the inauguration, Black Lives Matter activist Julian Johnson has travelled from Minnesota to Washington.
He hopes that the country will open up a new chapter with the presidency of Biden. Democrats have a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This makes it easier for Biden to implement new legislation, an advantage that President Obama no longer had in his last term.
“ Racism is still alive today,” says Johnson. “The black man is still at the bottom of the ladder.” Now that Harris is being inaugurated, he is relieved: “It shows that the glass ceiling has been shattered. She’s one step away from the presidency, that‘s great!”
Biden hinted that after his four-year term, he will not be running again. Harris is expected to follow in his footsteps as presidential candidate.
Ali refers to Martin Luther King’s dream, with the message that no one should be judged by his skin color. “I remain hopeful that one day this will become a reality. We will have to come together as one people.”
Watch a video portrait of Kamala Harris here: