Oprah Winfrey on Kamala Harris’ Historic Victory — ‘I Wish Maya Angelou Were Alive to See It’
"I think what she means for women of the world is so extraordinary," Winfrey tells PEOPLE. "For women here in the United States, we can't even measure it"
The TV mogul spoke with PEOPLE on Monday, just days after Harris was projected to become the first woman vice-president as well as the first Black or Asian person to hold the office.
"I think what she means for women of the world is so extraordinary. For women here in the United States, we can't even measure it," Winfrey says. "Because to see someone who looks like you in this role, you see what's possible for yourself. Period."
That's not all.
"And the generational impact: You can't put a price on it. You can't put a measurement on it," Winfrey, 66, continues. "I'm just hoping we get through the inauguration and turn the page on this really challenging time for democracy."
Winfrey, who in the lead-up to the election organized a major voter education initiative, specifically spotlighted one voting bloc for backing Harris and Democratic nominee Joe Biden over Donald Trump.
"I felt like democracy was on a cliff, and Black women helped pull it back from the edge," she says.
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Harris took the stage to give her victory speech Saturday night, clad in a suffragette white-pantsuit.
Acknowledging the "grief, sorrow, and pain," of the past year (which has been shadowed by a global pandemic as well as national unrest over police misconduct), the California senator, 56, spoke of the importance of looking toward the future while remembering the past.
"All the women who have worked to secure and protect the right to vote for over a century 100 years ago with the 19th Amendment, 55 years ago with the Voting Rights Act and now in 2020 with a new generation of women in our country who cast their ballots and continued the fight for their fundamental right to vote and be heard," Harris said. "Tonight, I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been. And I stand on their shoulders."
Watching the speech on television, Winfrey couldn't help but feel emotional for what the moment signified, she says.
"Wasn't that something? I must say I had a little water running, too," she says. "I got a text from Tyler Perry saying, 'I know you somewhere in the corner crying, as I am.' "
The women who were invoked in Harris' victory speech — and their dreams, realized — were also on Winfrey's mind.
"I was thinking the other day, 'I wish Maya [Angelou] were alive to see it,' " Winfrey says, referring to the revered writer-poet and activist who died in 2014. "But maybe she's working it on the other side. Because there's no way to measure the what the election of Kamala Harris means for all women, all colors, everywhere."
The election was significant beyond Harris' win, says Winfrey, because of what the Biden-Harris ticket embodies to her.
"This election was one of the most important I've ever been alive to witness," she says. "For me, what was really at stake, beyond all of the policy issues, was character and decency ... and that's what I was voting for."
Winfrey — who this year launched "OWN Your Vote", a bipartisan campaign to encourage Black women to get to the polls — says Biden's character was on display in a phone call they had a few weeks before the election with the now-president elect.
"He was kind enough to call and thank me. I kept thinking, 'He's going to ask for something.' I was waiting. Twenty-seven minutes later, it was just a thank you for what you're doing in terms of voting support and calling people," Winfrey says. "I could not believe it that this man, with everything going on, had 27 minutes to call. My respect for Joe Biden went tenfold over that."
During their conversation, Winfrey asked the former vice president how he might accomplish his campaign's signature vow, to heal the soul of the nation after a year of such division and despair.
"He said, 'We're going to do this one person at a time. It's every act of goodness and every act of kindness,' " Winfrey says. "When you see the leaves are cluttering your neighbor's gutter and you go over and get the leaves out of your neighbor's gutter, or you see the mail is stacking up … Anytime you can do something that says, 'I see you as another human being, that's how you do it. We're going to do it one person at a time.' "
Winfrey's get-out-the-vote initiative saw her engaging with voters across seven swing states in town hall-style events, one of which featured Harris. The campaign also included the direct mail of voting information to Black women in key cities like Milwaukee and Atlanta.
Their turnout, according to vote totals so far, played an integral role in Democrats winning the presidency.
"We are so delighted to see that Black women literally changed this country. They came out to vote in Milwaukee, Atlanta, Philadelphia and they swung this election," Winfrey says. "We were honored to play a part in that. "
Winfrey cast her own vote by mail. As vote-counting continued days after Election Day, she prepared for the results by reading poetry (Mary Oliver's Devotions) and taking walks with her cocker spaniel, Sadie.
"I was trying to prepare my heart for the outcome, whatever it was going to be, and was ready to continue working on justice and kindness for people and to move forward," she says. "My spiritual practice really got [me] through this time."
On Saturday morning, the Associated Press and the major TV networks were able to project that Biden and Harris had won the election. (Trump has since refused to concede, pressing as-yet-unsuccessful legal challenges and calling for recounts.)
Winfrey recalls how she learned the news of Biden's win: "Saturday morning I knew something must have happened because my phone started going off. So I turned on the TV on Saturday and watched Gayle."
Though she's joyful, Winfrey admits that the contentious election season has made her bittersweet for her eponymous talk show, which ended in 2011 after 25 seasons.
"At times like these, I've never missed The Oprah Show more," she says. "Nowhere is there a platform to talk through this moment, and allow people to see and hear each other in a way that would lessen the divide. I've never missed it more than during this past election season."
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