Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
12:42 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for your leadership, for your vision, for your warmth, and for your love on this day we celebrate Dr. King and this monument to him. Love is pervasive all around us right now.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, thank you for what you are doing. I have known the Speaker for a very long time, having started my elected career in San Francisco. She has always been who she is today: a fighter for working people and a voice for those who must be seen and known, and to whom all deserve the kind of dignity that God intended. (Applause.) Thank you.
Chairwoman Joyce Beatty and my — I will call you, still, my colleagues at the Congressional Black Caucus. (Laughs.) Thank you all for your leadership.
And to the King family — Martin Luther King III, Dexter Scott King, and Bernice King — for their commitment to carry on the legacy of their family multigenerational legacy. (Applause.)
And to everyone here today, thank you. There are so many leaders who are here.
And as we all know, this monument has, in many ways, been distinguished from almost every other monument — in fact, every other monument along this beautiful Tidal Basin — because this monument, for most of us here, is dedicated to a man who lived among us. Many of us were alive when Dr. King lived.
This monument, whatever your age, is dedicated to a man whose voice we can still hear, whose words still echo not only across this city, but throughout our country and our world.
Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was a prophet. He was a prophet in that he saw the present exactly as it was, being clear-eyed, and he saw the future as it could be. And he pushed our nation toward that future.
And it’s important to remember: Dr. King pushed even as, on a daily basis, his character was being maligned. He pushed even as his family, on a daily basis, was being threatened. He pushed even as his very life was in jeopardy. And toward what would be the end of that short life, he pushed even harder, drawing a straight line between racial injustice and economic injustice; demanding more for Black people, for people of color, for working people, for all people.
And it may not sound radical now; it was radical then.
So, as we remember his life and celebrate the anniversary of this beautiful memorial, let us be guided by those same connections he made as they exist today. Racial injustice today is inextricably linked to economic injustice, to the impact of the climate crisis, to the impact of COVID-19, and to the threats to our democracy.
And I believe then, knowing and seeing that, the path forward is clear: We must put people to work in good union jobs — (applause) — and invest in the care — the childcare, the home care — that people need to be able to go to work. We must reform our criminal justice system and our immigration system. (Applause.) We must defend and strengthen the right that unlocks all other rights: the right to vote. (Applause.)
And as we all know, in 2013, the Voting Rights Act that Dr. King and so many others fought for was gutted by the Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder. That decision opened the floodgates for the anti-voter laws we see being passed in states throughout our country today.
And to be sure, we should not have to keep fighting so hard to secure our fundamental rights. But fight we must, and fight we will. (Applause.)
So, right now, there are two bills in front of the United States Congress that would help to restore the Voting Rights Act and strengthen the right to vote for all Americans: The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. These two bills are among the broadest efforts to protect and strengthen the right to vote since Dr. King died.
But yesterday, as Senate Democrats voted to advance the Freedom to Vote Act, Senate Republicans voted against even debating it — even debating it — as though it’s not a debatable point. They refused to even come to the table to talk about it.
Well, today, I am reminded of the words — we all are — the many words we’ve heard, including from our young leaders; the words of Dr. King’s partner in that struggle, Coretta Scott King. And she said — and I will paraphrase: “Freedom is never really won. You earn it and [you] win it [with] every generation.”
With their sweat, with their tears, and with their blood, the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and the coalition they built won the Voting Rights Act. These were young men and women. After all, we remember Dr. King was only 39 years old when he died.
And yet, they knew their power. They knew that there is real power when your cause is just. (Applause.) And they used, then, that power to push Democrats and Republicans to pass that landmark bill.
So, today, as a nation, we must summon our own power. As leaders, we must leverage our own power. And we all have a role to play, and the President and I are clear on ours: We are and we must be unwavering in this fight. And we must use our voice to call out any effort to obstruct justice — (applause) — and to call for justice everywhere.
Remember — and Dr. King knew this — America is not defined by her perfection. America is defined by our commitment to perfecting. (Applause.) And in our nation, that will forever be the work forward.
As Dr. King did, we must keep believing a better future is possible. And as Dr. King did, we must keep pushing toward that future. So, as I have the great honor of introducing our President, let me end today by recognizing the impact that this memorial has had.
For 10 years — think about it — for a decade, visitors from all over the world have come to this very place. The words that are etched in these walls now etched in their hearts — and on their smartphones. (Laughter.)
The history that is told here, because of this place, is now a part of their own.
And I know that when they leave here, they do so determined to do their part to build a better future.
So, on behalf of our nation, on behalf of our world, thank you all for making this memorial possible.
And now, it is my great and distinct honor to introduce a phenomenal leader who was here when this memorial was first unveiled — a leader who I know, because I see it every day, draws so much inspiration and reminds so many of the work and the words of Dr. King — our President of the United States, Joe Biden. (Applause.)
12:53 P.M. EDT