At 8:31 a.m. Pacific time on Saturday, Mika Umemura was lying in bed when she got a call from her best friend. “Have you seen the news?” she asked. Umemura quickly checked Twitter. Then she jumped out of bed and into the street.
“I just started running through my neighborhood, screaming, ‘Biden won!’ ” says Umemura, an 18-year-old living in Los Angeles County. “It’s what I needed. This is the first time in four years that I could wake up and be like, this is a good morning.”
For Umemura, who’s a Black queer woman, a repudiation of the Trump presidency felt like more than just politics. This was the first election in which she could vote, and she felt like she was voting for “something that impacts mass communities of people,” she says. It also wasn’t just that President Trump was being voted out — it was that Kamala D. Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, would be the first woman, first Black person and first Asian American elected vice president.
Running outside, it felt, finally, like Umemura was “getting the representation that I need as a person.” Soon, her little sister, who’s 4, started trailing behind her, both of them screaming, “Biden won!” Umemura got stares. But in her majority Latino community, “I think they were good stares,” she says.
About 11:30 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday, several outlets projected that former vice president Joe Biden had clinched a victory in Pennsylvania, bringing his electoral votes to the necessary 270 to win the presidency. After four days of anxiously awaiting the news — the surge in mail-in ballots due to the pandemic meant the tally took longer this year — America finally had a definitive answer.
Biden supporters took to the streets to celebrate, while others mourned the end to Trump’s time in office. But many women, and particularly women of color, were celebrating what this election could mean for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and racial justice. And that Harris would become the highest-ranking woman in the country was monumental.
“I’m just finally feeling like I have hope,” Umemura says. “There’s hope for what’s to come, and there’s joy, and there’s a sense of accountability.”
Shwetha, a 37-year-old Indian American living in the suburbs of Greensboro, N.C. — a Democratic-leaning county in a swing state that has yet to be called for either candidate — had been checking Twitter nonstop all week. CNN or MSNBC had been playing on her television, on mute, as she worked from home. Back in 2016, Shwetha, who spoke on the condition that only her first name be used because she fears professional retaliation for speaking about politics, had been walking her dog shortly after Trump was elected president. She remembers a man in a truck driving past her and yelling “Trump 2016” out the window. “It was almost as if he couldn’t say a racial slur, but he could say this,” she says. “So there’s been a certain fear in the last four years.”
Since Election Day, Shwetha says she has been afraid to go out too much. Politics are contentious where she lives in the suburbs, she says; most of her neighbors have put up Trump signs, so she refrained from putting up a Biden-Harris one. On Saturday morning, she went out to the grocery store and later took her dog for a walk. This time, when she returned home, her fiance “was jumping for joy”: The race had been called for the Biden-Harris ticket.
“It felt like the country said minorities and women don’t matter four years ago,” Shwetha says. “But Kamala Harris gave it back to us today. It feels like a personal accomplishment and validation.”
Harris’s win is indeed historic — and so is the fact that “Black women and other women of color made it happen,” says Marcela Howell, president of the advocacy organization In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. She points to Black women mobilizing the vote in Pennsylvania and Georgia — two states that went to Trump in 2016. And in Arizona and Nevada (which was called for Biden later Saturday), Latinas and Native women “came together and are giving him this victory there,” she says.
Howell says that she’d been texting with her family throughout the morning. Once the race was called, “finally I exhaled and realized, all this time since the 2016 election we’d been holding our breath,” she says. “What we’re celebrating today is our victory delivered by Black women and other women of color.”
The news wasn’t an occasion to celebrate for all women across the country. Kristan Hawkins, president of the antiabortion group Students for Life, was at home, making lunch for her kids, when she heard the news. Hawkins, who lives outside of Pittsburgh — one of the cities that helped deliver Biden a victory in Pennsylvania — had been “concerned” since Tuesday that her state would go for Biden.
The election, she says, “is not going to be over yet,” pointing to the ongoing vote count in three states: Georgia, Alaska and Arizona. (Trump has also for months promised to legally contest the results if Biden is declared the winner.) “But if December comes around and if President Trump is still at a loss, it will certainly be disappointing for the pro-life movement,” Hawkins says.
Throughout his four years in the White House, Trump has delivered on his promise to be an ally to the antiabortion movement: appointing three conservative Supreme Court justices and a “pro-life administration,” Hawkins says. She’s holding out hope that state legislatures will continue to advance antiabortion policies in various states.
“What we know 100 percent going into a Biden-Harris administration is that this is the most extreme abortion administration we’ll ever have,” she says. “So it’s important to maintain a pro-life majority in the Senate.”
For women living abroad, watching the results from afar has been a “surreal” experience. Hollis Gehrett, 29, moved to France from Eugene, Ore., right before widespread stay-at-home orders went into effect because of the coronavirus. She says the past few days have been “a roller coaster,” and that her sleep schedule shifted back to U.S. time zones. It was evening in France when the news broke; she and her partner saw the call on CNN, which they were live-streaming from their living room.
“It wasn’t so much exciting as it was a relief,” Gehrett says. “My partner and I are both queer, so there’s that side of it — our community has been attacked and attacked and attacked under this administration.”
What’s more, Gehrett has watched how the coronavirus pandemic has played out differently in France and the United States. Just last week, France went into a second nationwide lockdown as cases rose; meanwhile, the United States on Friday set another daily record of more than 128,000 new infections. Gehrett says she’s been worried about her parents back in Oregon, who are in their mid-60s and high risk. “I’m just happy to have people in charge who understand what’s at stake with the coronavirus,” she says.
Heather Jaber, 29, is usually based in Philadelphia, where she’s pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Pennsylvania. But she’s been in Beirut since July, working on field research. She’d been carefully watching the results from Pennsylvania trickle in, and on Saturday night, she and a friend toasted sips of whiskey once the state was officially called.
As a Lebanese American, though, it was “hard to celebrate,” Jaber says. She has seen how much “it matters who the president is” for people around the world, and how complicated various conflicts are in the Middle East. “I’m toasting my friend to say, ‘Oh finally, this guy is gone,’ ” Jaber says. “But at the same time, we have other fights to fight.”
Indeed, for many women, a new president and a history-making VP doesn’t necessarily mean that “the fight” — for gender equality, racial justice and more — is over.
As Gehrett puts it: “My main takeaway is that this is step one, this is not a final place. With everything — with the rise of the white supremacists in our country, LBGTQ rights being pushed down, police brutality — it’s important to remember that this is step one. And it’s a huge step. But there’s so much more work to do.”
Nautica Kramer, a 22-year-old Black woman living in Micanopy, Fla., found out about Biden’s win from her mom. On Saturday, she’d been calling her parents because she couldn’t find her debit card and thought she’d left it at their house. “Before I could even say anything, my mom’s screaming, ‘He won! Joe Biden won!' ” Kramer says. CNN had just called the race, her mom told her; her dad quickly sent a photo of the television to confirm the news.
Kramer had been anxiously awaiting the news. Biden wasn’t her “first choice” for president; nor does his win mean “everything will change overnight,” Kramer says. “But it’s restored my faith within the power of the people and our votes.”
After Kramer gets off work tonight (she’s a sales associate at a furniture store), she’s going to celebrate by “taking a couple of shots.” She’s also reflecting on the weight of the moment.
“When I was a kid, I remember wanting to become a politician,” she says. “Those dreams have changed, but I know there is a little Black girl somewhere feeling empowered. I hope that all the little Black girls see this moment and realize how powerful they are.”