Closing The Gap

'People like us can win': What Kamala Harris' historic VP role means to 6 young women in politics

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Vice President-elect Kamala Harris takes the stage before President-elect Biden addresses the nation from the Chase Center November 07, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. After four days of counting the high volume of mail-in ballots in key battleground states due to the coronavirus pandemic, the race was called for Biden after a contentious election battle against incumbent Republican President Donald Trump. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Tasos Katopodis | Getty Images News | Getty Images

On Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will stand beside him as the first woman, Black American and South Asian American to take the vice presidential oath of office.

While much attention will be given to both leaders as they work to gain control of the coronavirus pandemic and restore the economy, Harris will be placed in a special spotlight for her history-making role in the White House.

As the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, Harris has made history countless times throughout her career, including as the first Black district attorney in California, the first Black and South Asian American attorney general in California, and most recently as the first South Asian American woman and second Black woman in U.S. Senate history. Now, as she steps into another barrier-breaking role as vice president of the United States, Harris is hopeful that her legacy will create an easier pathway for the generation of women behind her.

"While I may be the first woman in this office," she said in her first speech as vice president-elect in November, "I won't be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities."

CNBC Make It spoke to six young women working in politics about what Harris' historic VP role means to them and the impact they hope her representation will have on the next wave of women running for elected office.

Shahana Hanif, 29, running for New York City Council

Shahana Hanif, candidate for New York City Council.
Photo credit: Zainab Iqbal

"Kamala Harris' victory has shown my family and community that people like us can win," says Hanif, a daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants who is running to represent Brooklyn's 39th district in the New York City Council. "Her election signals a real opportunity to change the course of our democracy — one that is multiracial and centers working-class people. It has given my community newfound enthusiasm for local and national politics, and as I face the final months of my campaign for City Council they are more galvanized than ever before."

If elected this year, Hanif would be the first Muslim woman and South Asian American person elected to the city's council. Her hope, she says, is that "Kamala's win further shows women and girls of color that there is both space for them in elected office — and more, that their voice is needed to better our democracy."

Sara Jacobs, 31, California congresswoman

Sara Jacobs attends EMILY's List's "Resist, Run, Win" Pre-Oscars Brunch on February 27, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for EMILY's List)
Rachel Murray | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

"Growing up in California I was blessed to have two female Senators and a female member of Congress representing my hometown," says Jacobs, who is the youngest California representative in Congress, representing the state's 53rd congressional district, which includes part of San Diego County. "Now I'm so excited that every young woman in America will have the same experience of seeing themselves represented in positions of power. I hope every little girl watching the inauguration knows that she is enough, just as she is. She doesn't need to change, or fit into some box of other people's expectations to be seen as a leader. And we need her voice, now more than ever."

Michelle Wu, 36, Boston City Council member

Former Boston City Council President Michelle Wu speaks with the media after announcing that she is running for Mayor of Boston in Roslindale, MA on Sept. 15, 2020.
Boston Globe | Boston Globe | Getty Images

"The inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris as the first Black and Asian American Pacific Islander woman to serve in this role shatters barriers for women and girls across the country, and connects our communities to the tables of policy-making and power," says Wu, a current Boston City Council member who is running for mayor of the city. "Growing up, I never saw women who looked like me in politics and leadership, so I never imagined the possibility of serving in office one day."

Wu, who is Boston's first Asian-American councilwoman adds, "as we've seen the face of leadership shifting to become more representative, both locally and nationally, we've also seen policies more closely match the urgency and scale of change needed in our communities. In this moment of crisis, we must continue to open the doors of government to partner with all communities and ensure that everybody has a role in shaping our collective future together."

Nadya Okamoto, 22, former candidate for city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Nadya Okamoto, PERIOD founder and former candidate for city council in Cambridge, MA.
Photo credit: Mercedes Zapata

"Watching Kamala Harris walk into the White House as a Vice President of the United States is something that I didn't expect to see in my lifetime — and it truly feels like a dream come true," says Okamoto, who ran for city council in Cambridge, Massachusetts when she was 19 and who is the founder of the organization PERIOD, which fights to end period poverty and the stigma around it. "There are so many studies that show us that women are less likely to go for jobs or run for office because they hold themselves to a higher standard of qualifications and experience than men do. And I think that this is a pivotal moment for when that changes, when young women look at the White House and see VP Harris and think 'I can do that. I can be that and I do not have to wait. I can start that journey towards my ambition today.'"

Kesha Ram, 34, Vermont state senator

Vermont State Senator Kesha Ram.
Photo credit: Ben DeFlorio

Ram, who became the first woman of color and youngest woman ever elected to the Vermont Senate in 2020, says that "it was one of the highest honors" of her life to help Harris get into the White House.

"Having served as Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris' Vermont campaign chair, I am a long-time admirer of her story, her determination and her inclusive vision of America. We must continue to break the glass ceiling and soar to unimaginable heights. To all the young women and people who have yet to see themselves represented in national leadership: dream bigger, dare greater, uplift one another and know that you are ready to lead."

Lauren Underwood, 34, Illinois congresswoman

Members-elect Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., and Colin Allred, D-Texas, arrive for New Member Orientation at the Courtyard Marriott in SE, on November 13, 2018. 
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

"It's impossible to overstate the profound importance of this historic moment for our nation," says Underwood, who serves as the U.S. Representative for Illinois' 14th congressional district, which covers the northeastern part of the state. When elected for her first term in 2019, Underwood became the youngest Black woman to serve in Congress at just 32 years old.

"For the first time, women and girls across America, and especially those who are of color, will see someone who looks like us leading our country and representing the United States on the world stage," she adds. "The crises of the past year have led us to an inflection point in our country's history that requires unique leadership and resolve. I am confident that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will bring us together as we build a brighter future."

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Check out: 5 Howard University women on Kamala Harris’ historic election and the impact of HBCUs

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Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman, person of color elected vice president