Harris’s nomination is historic: She is the first Black woman, the first Asian American woman, and the first graduate of a historically Black college or university to join a major party’s presidential ticket. If Joe Biden wins in November, she’ll be America’s first woman vice president. But this milestone is bittersweet for people like Litman, who can’t help feeling cynical after living through Donald Trump’s presidency, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic collapse that followed. “I haven’t really wrapped my head around how it will feel to watch a woman accept the nomination for vice president,” Litman told me as we sat on a bench by the river, tears welling over her black face mask. “I can’t let myself think about it. It’s too hard.”
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Since she was a little girl, Litman has been obsessed with getting women elected to national office. In high school, she wrote a paper about Geraldine Ferraro, who in 1984 became the first female major-party candidate for vice president. Litman wrote her college thesis about women running against other women. When she graduated from Northwestern University in 2012, she made every career choice with an eye toward getting a job on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. But after Clinton’s loss, she began to see the country’s focus on national elections as misguided. Litman and a fellow political operative, Ross Morales Rocketto, started Run for Something, an organization that recruits and promotes progressives under 40 who want to campaign for state or local office. The group expects to have roughly 500 candidates on ballots across the country this November, and a majority of them are women. “The possibility for one of the women that we’re working with now to become governor, to become senator, [or] to become president feels so much more realistic” than a woman winning at the national level right now, she said. “I have to imagine that in two or four or 10 years, we’ll be ready for her.”
And yet, despite her scars from 2016, Litman found herself getting her hopes up during the Democratic presidential primary. She was inspired by Kirsten Gillibrand’s short-lived campaign, which focused explicitly on promoting women and families. She loved all the selfies Elizabeth Warren took with young women, making them pinkie promise to remember that running for president is “what girls do.” But as time went on, it became clear to Litman that the Democratic nominee would once again be a man. “The day Elizabeth Warren dropped out was devastating. I cried,” Litman said. She wrote an op-ed in Cosmopolitan, cheekily titled “Stop Lying, America: You Were Never Gonna Vote for a Woman President.”
Biden seemed to realize that voters like Litman will not be thrilled to cast a ballot for yet another white guy in 2020. In March, he promised to pick a woman as his vice president. But that seemingly well-meaning gesture backfired. “Will she be short or tall, big or small, black or white, left or center? Who is to say, really,” wrote New York’s Rebecca Traister this spring. “She will be A Woman™.” Litman similarly saw Biden’s pledge as “deeply fucked up.” By declaring he would pick a woman from the outset, Biden opened the way for his opponents to claim that his running mate was on the ticket just “because she’s a lady, and not because she’s good at her job,” Litman told me. Now Litman fears that Harris will have to endure a fall full of racist and sexist attacks, only to risk being blamed by the pundit class if Biden loses. “I think it’s going to be miserable for her, miserable for her staff,” Litman said. “I wouldn’t wish that job on my worst enemy.”