As Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris delivered a victory speech the day election results were declared, Trisha Santanam reveled in something she had never seen before: “someone like me, up on that stage.”
Santanam, a 16-year-old of South Indian descent, finally felt that her family’s culture was represented at one of the highest levels of American politics. And now that Harris was there, Santanam wanted her to listen — not just to her, but to her entire generation.
“We care so much about this country,” she said. “And each decision that politicians make or the House or the Senate make will directly affect us.”
The Washington Post recently asked readers to write letters to Harris and President-elect Joe Biden ahead of the inauguration. Hundreds of readers wrote in. They asked Harris to unify the country, implored her to protect the rights of marginalized groups and reminded her that Americans are hurting in many ways.
A woman in Tennessee suggested that the future vice president start her tenure with a listening tour to ask people what they need. A high school student in California advised Harris to engage with young people on social media. A man whose family is made of “two dads and a beloved pup” asked her to uphold the right to same-sex marriage.
Many of the letter writers expressed a common theme: They enter 2021 fatigued by their struggles and nervous about the future, but buoyed by hope.
A click is all it takes to share what one thinks. Yet the more we click, the less we are noticed. My generation is using every platform we can find to voice our opinions. So listen.
Implement comprehensive gun control to protect us from school shootings. Fight for legislation that can minimize our contribution to climate change. Get covid-19 under control so that it is safe for us to learn in person again. Recognize the integrity of the news and of the student journalists, such as myself, who are trying to inform the public and our peers. Promote racial equity and give every student a fair chance to go to college. Fund mental health treatment and make it more accessible.
You represent the good that this country can do through hard work. Now it is time to work for progress and for our future. Don’t leave Gen Z behind.
— Delilah Brumer, 16, Encino, Calif.
Your parents came to the United States in search of world-class education. So did I, at about the same time. Like your parents, I worked hard to achieve my goals and I have realized many of my immigrant dreams. You are about the age of my children — two sons who have earned doctorates from prestigious universities. Thinking of you, who are now about to become vice president of this free and democratic country, brings tears of joy to my eyes. I do not presume to give you advice. What I hope is that you will continue to be the honest, open person you are and that you will continue to work for the democratic ideals on which this country was founded — freedom, equality, liberty and justice for all. You bring a unique gift — your multicultural heritage as a daughter of immigrants. I wish you success and peace. Know that I honor you and President-elect Biden for your character and willingness to take on the most difficult job in the world. With gratitude and blessings.
— Barbara Goldowsky, 84, Newton, Mass.
My hopes for your administration are many, beyond spending four years repairing all of the damage from the previous administration. I hope my family, two dads and a beloved pup will have a fierce advocate in the government to protect us from a Supreme Court who will legislate our family out of legal existence. I hope that our economy will not be restored, but be restructured, so our BIPOC citizens are financially leveled with our white citizens like myself. I hope that the word ‘integrity’ rings true throughout government’s halls once again.
I also hope that you, Vice President-elect Harris, lead us with the strength and courage you have shown us your entire life. I hope that as a woman of color, you know that millions of Americans are standing behind you and will fight with you against the sticky claws of racism that deign to drag our country, and your work, down.
— Jim Hiller, 54, Beaverton, Ore.
Acknowledge what the electorate is telling you. Four years ago, voters sent a message by electing a disruptive outsider, in effect telling D.C. that people are sick of business-as-usual. An extremist was elected in the hopes of changing the status quo. That didn’t work out to the satisfaction of the majority and change was chosen again. This time the message was mixed. The electorate said: “Remove him, but neither do we endorse a blue wave. We don’t want an extremist right, but neither do we want an extremist left.” You need to confirm that you’ve heard this, because otherwise you risk alienating half the nation, again.
Let our two major parties learn not to pander to the outlandish fringe voices because those are the very ones that sow the seeds of division. History is littered with failed dictators and their cronies who would divide the masses by pitting one side against the other. Waving a flag in one hand, a testament in the other, only to be amplified by a histrionic media disseminating more falsehood than fact. Let us reject extremist views and return to sanity.
Let’s heed the call for an American reunion and recognize that the best path forward is the one in the middle, where we find concession and conciliation through good faith negotiation. Together, we need to reembrace a common purpose and employ common sense, taking responsibility when we decide what is truth and what is fiction.
Coming together in times of crisis has always been the hallmark of American strength. Right now, our adversaries are at the gate while we face global crises on multiple fronts. We have the threats of current and future pandemics before us. Polluting the world has consequences and we’re seeing the very real ramifications of that happening all around us. Understand that this is about the preservation of our species, the rest of the planet, and the livelihood of future generations. We can be better than this. We have to be better than this.
— Tom Walsh, 63, Penngrove, Calif.
As the first elected woman to be vice president of the U.S., do not forget about the many immigrant women trying to keep their families afloat as breadwinners. Many of us wish we could afford to pursue a PhD without getting into debt but cannot because it is not affordable. Please, please do not let bipartisan political differences derail from your promises to immigrants when campaigning. As a bilingual educator, it pains me to see the suffering of many families that have been separated or mistreated because they are not lawfully in this country. I hope Mr. President Biden and you can bring change to immigration and education policies. Wish you the best!!!
— Julie Ramirez, 43, Spring, Tex.
Talk directly to “we the people,” frequently. As horrible as Trump’s Twitter rants can be, the one thing it teaches us is that he amassed power, in part, by speaking directly to his followers on an almost daily basis. We can no longer depend on occasional press conferences. President-elect Biden and you must be in constant communication with the people of this nation. And maintain inclusivity. No more cursing or talking about deplorables. Please communicate with and show you care about ALL the people. Whatever means you find to do that, I wish you well.
— Susan Pynchon, 70, DeLeon Springs, Fla.
As a trans woman, I’m frustrated with the Democratic Party, and I’m hurt. I voted for you and Biden to protect myself and my community, but I can no longer describe myself as a Democrat. Over the past year, I have seen the Democratic Party loudly proclaim that it supports trans people, appealing to identity politics, while actively supporting policies which kill people in my community every year — the Nordic model, FOSTA-SESTA, Biden’s campaign promise to flow more money to police departments, and refusal to defund the police. As attorney general, you imprisoned trans women in men’s prisons. Your office was found to have acted in violation of the Eighth Amendment when you denied Michelle Norsworthy health care. Trans activists in San Francisco routinely marched in protest of your office.
I don’t think you’re a bad person, and I don’t think Biden is either. But you have hurt a lot of trans people, and you support policies which will continue to hurt and kill us. So my advice/request — I want you and Biden to stop saying you support trans people. I want you to acknowledge the harm you’ve done. I want you to listen to trans activists, but I want you to stop speaking over them and positioning yourself as an ally. In a way, it does more harm to claim allyship and pass policy that does damage all the same than to be obviously and vocally bigoted.
On election night, as an activist, I felt a deep sense of dread. I could not celebrate. It was good that Trump was gone, yes, but I knew that fighting for trans rights instantly became much more difficult. It broke my heart to see mutual aid groups put out statements about disengagement and lower donations. I want you to make use of your time in the White House, but please stop hurting trans people while you’re at it.
— Laurel Turner, 19, Bethany, Conn.
My hope for the Biden-Harris administration is to see an improvement to the health-care system. In Texas, Obamacare is not as accessible and I would really like to see people be able to get help since Black and Latino communities were devastated by covid-19 here. I also would like to see some relief when it comes to student loan debt. I am also hopeful that this administration will be able to heal the country from the impacts of the covid crisis, and work toward uniting us on racial division and disparities.
Electing the first woman, Black woman and Asian woman as vice president was the greatest honor of my life. I have been voting since 2008 but I have never been more proud to cast a ballot with the name Kamala Harris on it. She has opened the door a bit wider than it was for women being in positions of power. When President Biden picked her as his running mate I have never felt more excited and hopeful. I have never volunteered, or donated money to a presidential campaign until this one. I stood in line two hours to cast my in-person ballot and I would have stood in line all day and night. Thank you, Madam Vice President.
— Leeanna Cassady, 31, Irving, Tex.
You [and Biden] are both intelligent, empathetic and understanding. Those are a few reasons I, and many others, worked in the trenches to get the vote out and elect you. Regardless of the madness in the White House, your election was free from fraud and counted millions of votes from people who have put their hope and trust in you.
The recent announcements for your picks to run the governmental agencies and get the machinery of our government moving again have been buffeted by opinions and pressure from organizations, some that I donate to. However, I am glad to see the steady focus on the task at hand and I support the majority of people you have tapped to lead.
I once belonged to the Republican Party. It had already shown signs of decay. It is sad that, while there are a few fiscally conservative/social moderate Republicans holding on to the party that was once “grand,” it is obvious there are not enough.
I hope that you will see that the old way of working with the GOP will work only in a limited way today. I hope you will grind through the hard decisions to right America during this abysmal time.
Best wishes in the next four years. Your job will be a heavy lift and I will pray for both of you.
— Gail Talbot, 74, Huntley, Ill.
Dear Vice President Kamala Harris,
For a long four years, the country was subjected to disjointed and self-serving antics by our leaders without compassion or decency. Please know that people are hurting — socially, economically and physically — from all backgrounds who will require patience and compassion. Fight for those who have no voice and bring back empathy. Political agendas cannot be won these days without sound bites and grandstanding, but hopefully this administration brings compassion and peace to a nation that needs it greatly. Hopefully, America can begin to be great again and recognized by other countries as a competent and resilient nation once more.
Please also understand that the election results and those who even voted for you do not mean the country is behind you. Convince us that America is in fact great by implementing holistic policies on climate, health care and education that impact everyday Americans. Corporate tax reform and other legislation on complicated intricacies go over the heads of average Americans. Focus on policies that will directly touch the lives of normal people and be transparent about it. We and the media will hold you accountable for it. Convince the public that you truly want healing through the decisions you make — only then will you earn our trust.
The American Dream has been restored again with the election. As an Asian American woman, I am incredibly proud of what you have accomplished, but am also motivated to see what more you can accomplish. Am I bitter a woman hasn’t been elected president of the United States? Yes. I trust that you’ll lay the groundwork for that and hopefully a female president will not be too far away.
Thank you for continued inspiration and positivity.
— Sarah W., 23, New York
I am so very proud of you. I hope you and President Biden can Make America a Family Again. I think our shared values and dreams can illuminate a path toward accomplishments that promote the well-being of all Americans not just a well-connected few. I hope you and President Biden will stand tall if Mr. Trump attempts to take the nation by force.
— Ed Ruth, 70, Bakersfield, Calif.
Greetings and congratulations, Vice President-elect Harris:
This election has meant the start of a new opportunity in America's leadership and engagement with our citizens, Congress and the world.
My top-of-the-list hope for you and for President-elect Biden? Listen to our citizens. Create the idea of a nonpartisan listening tour for the first year of your administration and announce it at your inauguration: “This is coming and it is about you, our citizens and it’s exciting.” This very intentional campaign can be carried out with imagination and energy in many high-tech ways, on many platforms: Digital surveys, physically distant visits to U.S. cities and rural areas, live social media events, partnerships with various national news media for town halls conversations and more. This one big idea is a jumping off place for your administration. Plus listening to your citizens increases morale, earns trust and opens doors to collaboration with Congress. Let’s do this!
— Mary Leidig, Knoxville, Tenn.
Dear Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris:
When you assume the office of vice president in January, I hope that you remember the moment you spoke those clear words of hope that echoed in every little girls’ ears. They could see a future of endless ungendered and unbiased opportunities through hopeful and eager eyes. Please remember the empty chairs of absent students, not just for one day, but forever — the parents who live with gaping holes in their lives, the teacher who wishes to turn back time and see their students’ sweet smiles again, lives taken in a heartbeat by senseless gun violence.
Do not overlook the community and support that students can bring. Though we cannot vote, our voices remain important, even if they are not always heard. Be our voice when considering the impact of covid-19 policies on school reopenings. Everyone’s situation is different, and it’s true that one choice you make can never satisfy all. But we have lost so many, and just wish to feel safe in a place that will foster learning and growth.
Though making decisions that are beneficial to students is important, protecting our environment is equally as vital to our future. We will age with our land, and soon it will be on us to protect dwindling wildlife and habitats. Please remember that the land belonged to itself, before it was ours: let it blossom, allow it to spread its beauty for centuries to come. It seems impossible to survive without oil or gas, yes. But how can we survive without nature?
The legitimacy of the study of history stems from our ability to learn from it, to not repeat past mistakes. If there’s anything we know from our history as a country, it is the importance of togetherness. In securing a positive environment for this nation, currently, it lays the groundwork for us students to make this country a better place. Though we may be young, please voice our ideas and hopes for this nation, as it will truly foster current and future prosperity.
— Trisha Santanam, 16, Greensboro, N.C.
Your administration has more pressing problems than you can hope to solve in four or even eight years. When you are making important decisions affecting more than 300 million Americans, just remember that all people want to be heard, respected and valued. If you can leave the table having given them that, you’ll do a good job even if there is disagreement.
Please don't let those who seek to harm our democracy escape justice in the name of restoring peace, moving on, healing, or any other weak justification. You must do the hard work. You and your administration owe us your vigilance, so please follow through to the bitter end.
I used to be so grateful to be born American, a white girl of privilege. Now I am ashamed of that. Food insecurity, rampant gun ownership, treating immigrants like scum, no control over social media, escalating health-care costs. It’s no wonder my family wants to move to another country where the citizens are both respected and responsible. Do you think you can lead us back to that place? I encourage you to try, harder than you’ve ever tried for anything before. I love my country, but you know what? I don’t feel safe in America.
May God watch over you and guide you in your job.
— KC Caldwell, 63, Morro Bay, Calif.
The Washington Post also asked readers to write letters to the incoming president on the eve of his inauguration. Readers expressed their hopes for the next administration and wrote of their personal sorrows.