‘Walking in shoes that are my size’: Women react to Kamala Harris’ historic win as first woman VP 

  • Zhane Beard, pictured in Amherst, talks about Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anna Bowen, owner of Strada Shoes in Northampton, talks about Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Monday. Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, will be the first woman, the first Black person, the first Indian American and the first Asian American to hold the office of vice president. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Anna Bowen, owner of Strada Shoes in Northampton, talks about Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris and her influence on fashion, Monday, Nov. 9. Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, will be the first woman, the first Black person, the first Indian American and the first Asian American to hold the office of vice president. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Laura Colmenarejo, pictured in Northampton, talks about Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris on Monday, Nov. 9. Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, will be the first woman, the first Black person, the first Indian American and the first Asian American to hold the office of vice president. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks on the third night of the Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, on August 19, 2020. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS) Win McNamee

  • Andrew Harnik Andrew Harnik

Staff Writer
Published: 11/9/2020 9:18:12 PM

AMHERST — California Sen. Kamala Harris made history over the weekend becoming the first woman elected as United States vice president and the highest-ranking woman ever in U.S. government. The daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, she is also the first Black woman and Asian American elected to the position.

Anna Bowen, the owner of Strada Shoes in Northampton, reflected on Harris’ win Monday in her store. “I knew it would mean something to me,” she said. “I didn’t know how much.”

Growing up, Bowen said, she’d always heard women could do anything, but “I’ve never actually felt it until she gave her speech,” she said, referring to Harris’ acceptance speech on Saturday night.

Bowen, who is part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, also appreciated that Biden mentioned Native American voters in his acceptance speech, saying it made her feel recognized.

Harris is “walking in shoes that are my size,” said Bowen. Harris, 56, often wears sneakers with her suits, and Bowen said she has seen a spike in sales of high-top sneakers recently. Customers have told her they were inspired by Harris’ modern style.

Susan Faludi, writer-in-residence at Smith College, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.” Faludi reacted to Harris’ win in an email to the Gazette. “Considering that Black women were absolutely instrumental to the Democratic win this election,” she wrote, “and that Black women have been at the forefront and in the trenches in turning back the Trumpian tide over and over in these last four terrible years — having a woman of color veep is not just a ‘first’ and a breakthrough; it’s an essential recognition of just who made this victory happen.”

Molly Ryan Strehorn said she cried when Biden and Harris won the election. “It’s just so important to have her visible in that position as a woman and woman of color,” she said in downtown Amherst. Strehorn also liked that during the debates, when Harris was in the running for president herself, she did not go easy on Biden. “She called him to task,” she said.

But Strehorn, a defense attorney, takes issue with work Harris has done in the past as a prosecutor. “She put a lot of people in prison,” she said. Some have criticized Harris’ record as district attorney in San Francisco and attorney general of California. Still, Strehorn hopes Harris’ direct experience in the criminal justice system can lead to better reforms in the future.

Harris’ history in California also made Zhane Beard, 21, skeptical. But Beard didn’t want that to take away from the significance of the moment — that a woman and woman of color was elected as vice president for the first time, she said as she waited for the bus in downtown Amherst. Though Beard voted for Biden and Harris, she said she would have preferred Bernie Sanders: “I didn’t celebrate Biden winning, I celebrated Trump losing.”

Samantha Graves, who was sitting outside of Bueno Y Sano on Monday afternoon, said she’s excited about Harris’ win. “I just think it’s dope,” she said. “She’s smart, she’s beautiful.”

Laura Colmenarejo, an assistant math professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who immigrated to the U.S. from Spain, couldn’t vote in the election. But she would have cast her ballot for Biden and Harris if she could have, she said. To her, Harris represents hope for the future.

That was a common refrain on Monday. “I’ve loved her from the start,” said Nanette Vonnegut outside of A.P.E. Gallery on Main Street. Vonnegut said she appreciated how firm Harris was in questioning current Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh in his confirmation hearing. Harris is “a great example for young women and girls,” she said.

Harris may bring more women into politics, said Elizabeth Sharrow, an associate professor of public policy and history at UMass.

“The research in political science does indicate that the more women politicians are made visible in news coverage, the more girls are likely to indicate an interest in political engagement and activism,” Sharrow said. “So I think there is good reason to believe that the election of Sen. Kamala Harris to the vice presidency is likely to have long-term impacts on how girls — and girls of color, in particular — orient themselves to politics.”

As Harris herself put it in her acceptance speech, as she paid respect to the generations of women who paved the way for her: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last — because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.


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