With the victory of former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, community leaders across the Berkshires breathed a sigh of relief on Saturday and cheered the historic milestone of his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, who broke through the glass ceiling to ascend to the office of vice president.
But they also spoke of the work ahead — to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and move toward racial justice — and their fears for a divided country in the coming weeks and years.
“History is being made,” said Gwendolyn VanSant, founding director and CEO of BRIDGE, a Lee-based grassroots multicultural organization. “And a huge wrong is being rectified in who has been leading our country.”
VanSant said she was happy to see the country put its faith in the leadership of a Black woman, in a year when Black women, long a pillar of the Democratic party, helped drive the ticket’s success in key swing states.
“It’s powerful to see the understanding that this is the leadership we need,” she said. “That we cannot just be led by a single demographic. We must include voices that can lead us where we need to go.”
For VanSant, this victory marks a “hopeful milestone” in a long fight for equality.
“It is not time to rest,” she said. “It is time to get to work.”
Harris’ victory comes a century after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote and more than five decades after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 enfranchised many Black Americans.
“There were many women and people of color who wouldn’t have been able to vote this year were it not for [the Voting Rights Act],” said Ellen Kennedy, president of Berkshire Community College. “So I think having Harris in this role, in this moment, is just beyond thrilling for the nation.”
“Millions of women have been waiting for a moment like this since we were little girls,” said Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington in a statement to The Eagle. “That the first female Vice President Elect is a Black woman and a justice reformer makes Kamala Harris’ achievements all the more meaningful for me.”
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, a Democrat, told the Eagle she was “absolutely overjoyed” at the results.
“I am just beside myself with pride that we have our first woman as a vice president,” she said, adding that she was optimistic the new administration would bring renewed focus on the pandemic, honest communication and “a steady hand at the wheel.”
Williams College President Maud Mandel told the Eagle that, as a professor of history, she was thrilled to be “a historic witness.”
“It’s important when we can show to all the young people growing up today that everything’s open to them,” she said. “When any historic ceiling is broken, it’s a symbol of possibility.”
She only wished her mother, who once directed the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, could have seen that ceiling break. Ruth Mandel died in April.
But even as state and local leaders hailed the election as a move toward equality and unity, they expressed concerns about the challenges facing the next administration and the lasting effects of political division in the country.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who ran to the left of Biden in the Democratic primary earlier this year, said in a statement that Biden and Harris would bring “purpose and moral clarity” to the White House. But she warned that the new government should not hand power to “corporations and lobbyists” for the sake of building unity in Washington.
“Democrats are the party of ideas and opportunity,” she said. “We believe that everyone deserves a good job, a good education, and a good future. But we cannot just say it — we must show it.”
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, told The Eagle that she hoped a change in messaging at the White House would trickle down to state and local politics.
“The tone that was set the last four years has made it difficult to get the work done and bring people together,” she said. “It’s very clear that Joe Biden’s major goal is to bring people together, and he’s the person to do it.”
But she worries about how the president will respond to his loss. While she expects Biden to assume the presidency in January, she thinks “the transition will not go smoothly.”
In a statement, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey congratulated Biden and Harris and asked Americans to trust the democratic process.
“In the days ahead, there are sure to be attempts to sow confusion and cast doubt upon the election results,” she said. “We urge you: stay focused on what matters — this was a free and fair election that upheld the will of the people.”