Carnegie Hall New York, New York
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hello everybody. (Applause.) Good evening, NAN. Good evening.
I want to acknowledge the dignitaries who occupy this beautiful and historic space, which is everyone who is seated right now. (Applause.)
Also, I want to acknowledge the Governor Kathy Hochul, the Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin — (applause); Comptroller Tom DiNapoli; the Attorney General Letitia James — (applause); the members of Congress, including Kirsten Gillibrand; Mayor Bill DeBlasio — (applause); and all of the state and local elected officials who are here.
It is so wonderful for us all to be together to celebrate 30 years of the National Action Network — (applause) — and the 67th birthday of Reverend Al Sharpton. (Applause.)
Rev, I cannot thank you enough for your years of leadership and your years of friendship. You know, one of my very fondest memories of Rev was the day that his beloved grandson, Marcus Al, was born. Because I spoke to him — not Marcus Al. (Laughter.) I spoke to Rev that day.
And, you know, we saw the video. He knows how to shout. He knows how to march. He knows how to fight. But that day, it was always who Rev has always been at his core, and he expressed such joy and pride in the birth of that child — (applause) — which is an expression of his joy and pride in who we can be.
And that day, Rev, you literally held the future in your hands when you held that baby boy.
So, to Rev, I say: No matter where you are, no matter what you are doing, you have fought for our nation’s future, you have fought for our nation’s people. And as we celebrate your work tonight, I think about what you have said about yourself: that your reach extends “from the streets to the suites.” (Applause.)
And that is Rev’s gift, because he understands the power of the people and how to put pressure on the people in power. (Applause.)
He understands, as does NAN: We all have a role to play to create change in our country. So, Rev, I thank you for all that you do.
And, NAN, the truth is — and you all know it, we all know it: Nothing we have achieved in these last 30 years has come without a fight. And right now, our nation needs us all to continue to play that important role. We need to keep fighting.
We are gathered this evening at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. We are nearly two years into the pandemic. There has been so much loss — loss of lives and livelihoods and a loss of normalcy.
But the pandemic has also presented us with something: an opportunity. Because, you see, the pandemic has shined a light for more people to see what we have known for a long time, which are the longstanding fractures and the fissures in our systems and our structures.
The eyes of America are more open to the problems that we have always known to exist. The people of America are demanding solutions that we have been fighting for for years.
And so, we have the opportunity now to change the systems that are not working, to challenge the status quo that has never worked. And in so doing, we have the opportunity now to strengthen our nation.
But here is what I know to be true: Yes, America is driven by the ambition and aspiration of her people, but we also know that systemic inequities continue to hold people back from achieving all they can. (Applause.)
I believe that when we challenge the status quo, when we change our systems, we can give all people the choices and the chance to determine their own future. And that is how we win the fight for our nation’s future.
So, last week, our administration announced our Build Back Better framework. This framework is a statement of our belief as an administration — a statement that equity must be at the very center of economic policy; that equity demands that every child must have the opportunity to reach their God-given potential — (applause); and, with this framework, that every three- and four-year-old child in America will have access to preschool at no cost. (Applause.)
Equity demands that every family must be able to afford to have a roof over their heads. (Applause.)
And so, with this framework, we will make the single-biggest investment in affordable housing in history. (Applause.)
Equity demands that Black, brown, and poor communities should not have to drink water out of lead pipes. (Applause.)
And so, we will advance environmental justice and invest in our nation’s infrastructure.
And because we know that our HBCUs have been — (applause) — and are and will be critical to our nation’s future, with this framework, we will also make an historic investment in these historic institutions. (Applause.)
At its core, the Build Back Better framework is about giving people the power to build a better life for themselves, for their families, and for their community.
Now, the President and I are confident that this framework will pass. The American people have waited long enough, and Congress must vote on the Build Back Better framework and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. (Applause.)
And finally, NAN, so when we look to the next 30 years, I do think, Rev, of Marcus Al and all of our grandchildren who are here or not yet here — (applause) — and I think about what they will think about what we did in this moment.
I believe that they will look back and agree that one of the most important issues before us now is voting rights. (Applause.) Because if we are going to truly give people the choices and the chance to determine their own future, we must protect the right of all people to raise their voice through their vote. (Applause.)
And we know our history well: Fannie Lou Hamer — (applause) — Diane Nash, C.T. Vivian, John Lewis. (Applause.) These were some of the icons, the trailblazers, the visionaries who forced our nation to be more perfect, who understood that the path to a more perfect Union is made through an expansion of rights and the protection of rights. (Applause.)
But decades later, after these heroes fought to protect our right to vote, we are in a very different moment, an alarming moment, a consequential moment.
And in this moment, be familiar with some other names: Governor Greg Abbott, Governor Ron DeSantis, Shelby v. Holder, Brnovich v. DNC. These are the decisionmakers and the decisions
that are undoing the legacy of our heroes. We cannot let this happen on our watch. (Applause.)
And let’s put this in context. So, in 2020, thanks to NAN and so many of the leaders who are here every day, more voters in 2020 turned out than ever before. What a beautiful sight that was to see. (Applause.) What a beautiful sight that was to see.
Then, in 2021, states across our nation started passing anti-voter laws. And the purpose of these laws is no secret. They are in reaction to the 2020 turnout. They are an extension of the “Big Lie.” (Applause.)
Well, here’s the truth: There was not rampant fraud; the people voted. (Applause.) And the results were certified by state after state and reaffirmed by court after court. (Applause.)
The “Big Lie” is not anything but a lie. (Applause.)
And at the same time, we know that the roots of these anti-voter laws go far back — far back as our founding. These laws are designed to make it more difficult for people to vote so that they won’t vote.
And that is why Congress must pass the Freedom to Vote Act
and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — (applause) — to ensure that Americans are able to exercise their fundamental right to vote no matter who they are, no matter where they live.
Now, we know that Senate Republicans have, so far, refused to even debate the Freedom to Vote Act. But their unwillingness
will not stop our will. (Applause.)
Like Fannie Lou Hamer, like Ms. Nash, like Reverend Vivian, like Congressman Lewis, like the heroes whose names we may never know, we must not give up. (Applause.) We will not give in. And we must keep fighting on economic justice, on voting rights, on police reform, on environmental justice. On all those issues and more, we must keep fighting and we will. (Applause.)
And, NAN, I don’t need to tell you, because it’s in the founding of this organization and your middle name: This is a moment for action. (Applause.) And whether we take an oath of office or we take to the streets, we all have an important role to play.
When people get out to the polls, as they will tomorrow; when people go out to march, I do not see that as a threat to our democracy. I see that as a mark of our democracy. (Applause.)
So, NAN, keep on working, keep on fighting. And together, I know that we will win for our future. (Applause.)
Thank you. May God bless you, and may God bless America. Thank you all. (Applause.)