Comment: Once again for women, party put off; but not victory

Many women planned to attend the inauguration; covid and the Capitol coup attempt thwarted that.

By Petula Dvorak / The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Farah Mack had her hotel and her flight all booked. It was going to be her first time in the District of Columbia for an inauguration.

And it was going to be personal.

As a Black woman with Jamaican roots and a degree from a historically Black university, Mack, 47, felt a connection with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, a woman with Indian and Jamaican heritage who graduated from Howard University. And even though the novel coronavirus was going to limit the celebration, Mack wanted “to be in the space and share the energy” when such sacred history was made.

But no. The Testosterone Traitors who skipped civics class in high school and decided to air their grievances like barbarians earlier this month put a definitive end to any kind of public outdoor celebration.

And women — especially women of color — were shafted. Again.

“I finally canceled it,” Mack, a Dallas resident, said of her trip. “With covid on steroids and those people who decided to invade the Capitol, it wasn’t going to happen.”

Harris broke a cycle that lasted through 244 years and 93 male presidents and vice presidents with her historic election and, dang it, American women deserve a celebration: a dance-all-day-and-show-the-world-how-many-people-really-can-fill-the-National Mall outdoor party, an exhale after trying so many times to break that glass ceiling and seeing it finally shatter.

Now, not only was the entire National Mall closed for the celebration but D.C. also looks like a militarized zone, with 25,000 National Guard troops stationed here.

Women just don’t get a break.

Alana Harris (no relation to the vice president-elect) was hoping her 11-year-old would get a chance to witness history firsthand when the other Harris was inaugurated.

“I just kept telling my daughter … look at her, she is us!” said the 41-year-old Harris, who is African American. “This just proves that girls run and rule the world. We do it all and in heels.”

She immediately started to work on getting the two of them out of Pittsburgh and to D.C. for the inauguration; plans that have since been dashed.

“Obviously, we now see that the Trump supporters have sufficiently ruined that, and honestly it feels like just another thing they have taken from people of color,” she said.

Stacey Hilton was also planning a deeply personal trip to D.C. for this inauguration of two people whom she could relate to so well: Harris, as a strong, outspoken woman, and Joe Biden, as a man who has suffered personal loss.

In 2016, as the presidential campaign was raging, Hilton’s daughter, her only child, was killed. She plummeted into grief.

So when Biden, who lost two children, announced in 2019 that he was running for president, she finally felt a connection and a spark. She threw herself into campaign work and was known around Grand Rapids, Mich., for her signs, banners and door-to-door canvassing.

“I appreciated what Joe Biden has accomplished, knowing that he has suffered that horrible tragedy not once but twice and has still managed to get up and go out to make a difference,” Hilton said. “When he was announced as the president-elect, I had, for one moment, tears of joy. I had a sense of victory and hope.”

Like many women, Hilton — a nurse who survived covid-19 — was ready to mask up in D.C. and stand six feet apart. Now she’s staying home.

Same for Katherine Silveira, a 37-year-old teacher in Palm Desert, Calif., who was planning her first solo trip, without her spouse or her sons, to properly pay tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and celebrate Harris.

For many D.C. locals, this went from being an epic inauguration to life in a Green Zone.

Howard University was supposed to have a huge celebration in honor of Harris, its alumna. The Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters were planning on filling D.C. with their signature colors, pink and green, for the inauguration. With D.C. Mayor Murie Bowser, a Democrat, asking people not to come into D.C. at all, that plan is out.

I had plans, too. Two friends I hadn’t seen in more than a decade had been planning to come in for the inauguration. We were all going to get coronavirus tests before gathering so we could toast and celebrate together.

We thought we’d get that party four years ago, when Hillary Clinton, the first woman to lead a major ticket, appeared to be headed to the Oval Office. We know how that went.

But women got up, dusted themselves off, then went to work for the next four years, building grass-roots campaigns, educating and mentoring candidates, and bringing about a gradual but ultimately landmark change in the nation’s elected leadership: 27 percent of the 117th Congress is female, the highest it’s ever been.

And now that the public celebration we deserve is thwarted, women are making do.

There are thousands of virtual parties planned instead. Women supporting Harris are celebrating in other ways, wearing her signature pearls, her beloved Converse Chucks — some are combining the two and bedazzling the sneakers with pearls — and planning toasts with plenty of champagne.

This — not the angry, lethal, seditious raid on the Capitol — is what democracy looks like.

Mack, the woman who canceled her trip from Dallas, decided to instead create a buffet menu for her family honoring Harris’s heritage: chicken tikka masala, naan, callaloo, jerk chicken, oxtails, rice and peas cooked with coconut milk. She refuses to be sad.

“Look at it this way: It’s still historic,” she said. “Take a moment to pause, to reflect. Don’t give them any more negative energy.”

Truth. It doesn’t take a party to make history.

Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post’s local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. Before coming to The Post, she covered social issues, crime and courts.

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