An Open Letter to Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States
Dear Madam Vice President,
Yesterday we celebrated you at the 59th United States Presidential Inauguration. You have made history. After more than two and half centuries, you have become the first African American, first South Asian, and the first woman to serve as the Vice President of the United States. Only 108 years ago did women march for the right to vote on the very grounds you were sworn in as Vice President. And part of the day’s rituals and traditions included Amanda Gorman, a National Youth Poet Laureate, reading from her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ with power and poise, “for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.” Gorman’s moving words prompted me to think about the role history will play during your four years (at the least) as vice president.
In President Biden’s raw and hopeful inaugural address, he told all Americans, specifically the ones who voted for him and ones that did not, “democracy has prevailed” following the deadly attacks on the U.S. Capitol, only two weeks earlier on January 6. Calling out an America ravaged by a pandemic, navigating 400 years of unaddressed racism, a rising voice of white supremacists, the continued loss of the middle class, deep health care, and economic inequities, and distrust of official information through a lack of facts and even manufactured truths — a tsunami of crises. The President’s burning platform for change to the American people today was Unity- to tackle each of these large, complex issues.
Having a common purpose is essential to building momentum and moving forward. Coupled with the strength of the Biden-Harris Cabinet — intentionally compromised of meeting America’s diverse and most urgent needs, and the quick wins of today’s transformational executive orders, you are moving fast. From a first 90 days point of view, the Biden-Harris Presidency is way ahead of the game. However, the current “uncivil war” that President Biden referred to today runs deep and is not going to just disappear from today’s unifying inauguration, all-star presidential cabinet, and this afternoon’s action-oriented executive orders.
In the days following the insidious attacks on the US Capitol, Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal and former commander of American troops in Afghanistan “compared the MAGA riot to the evolution of Al-Qaeda- stating in both instances people followed a ‘powerful leader’ who ‘justified their violence’”. Further, he warned, “‘the fabric of something very dangerous has been woven’, the consequences will continue long after Trump leaves office.”
Even more firmly-rooted in America’s soil is our unaddressed slavery history and post-slavery society. In her 2020 New York Times best-selling book, Caste — The Origins of our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson argues that America was built on a caste system, and we have yet to address it. Comparing the American caste system to the era of Nazi Germany and the deeply historic India’s caste system, she leaves us hopeful that humanity can and will prevail. An America without caste is what I am hoping for. We are responsible for our own decisions and our future. And perhaps the work directed by one of Biden’s first executive orders made last night, calling for a “‘robust, interagency’ effort requiring all federal agencies to make ‘rooting out systemic racism’ central to their work” within the next 200 days is the start we need to dismantle caste in America.
Unraveling a homegrown insurgency made up of several extremist groups and an unaddressed American Caste system, amidst a devastating pandemic are monumental tasks for a newly elected President and Vice President. Yet, I remain hopeful. President Biden’s heartfelt words of unity today will enable your cabinet to lead with purpose and respect for the well-being of all Americans. Likewise, Professor Gianpiero Petriglieri argues, “Biden does the mourning himself and lets others’ talent shine and inspire. A very hopeful leadership symbolism out there today, and quite a contrast.”
And you, Madam Vice President, are a first. In honor of firsts, I am inspired by the words you shared from your mother, “you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.” Your mother arrived in the United States at the age of 19 from India, seeking a better life filled with the promise of opportunity, just like my great grandmother did from Eastern Europe as a teenager. Guided by that hope of building a better life, a building a better America — I am confident that you and the President, along with your cabinet will defeat homegrown terrorism by root and branch, and both intentionally and delicately work towards building a new narrative for American Slavery and an America where African Americans and all others have equal opportunities. History is watching us.
With deep respect and gratitude for your courage to lead us during these dark days ahead, I wish you luck during the first days of your vice presidency.
Rita D. Meyerson
Jan 21, 2021
The George Washington University & the Humanizing Initiative
I am thankful to Dr. Shaista E. Khilji for her unwavering encouragement of my personal growth towards becoming a humanistic leader and in particular for her inspiration from yesterday’s “Dear Mr. President” blog. And to the members of GW Courageous Conversations hosted by Dr. Khilji, our collective discussions humble me and push me to take more inclusive, compassionate actions towards the greater good. All errors are mine.
This article has emerged from the “Humanizing Initiative,” which seeks to humanize leaders and organizations to cultivate humanistic leadership. For more information, please refer to https://www.humanizinginitiative.com