Edmund Pettus Bridge
3:34 P.M. CST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, Selma. Good afternoon. (Applause.)
Kendra, thank you for those inspiring words. In the great tradition of Alabama State, you are a leader of outstanding passion and purpose, and it is wonderful to have shared the stage with you.
So, Selma, before I begin, I want to say a few words about the situation in Ukraine. Today, the eyes of the world are on Ukraine and the brave people who are fighting to protect their country and their democracy. And their bravery is a reminder that freedom and democracy can never be taken for granted by any of us.
With that, it is a privilege to be among so many distinguished leaders, dedicated activists, friends, and American heroes — and to be with so many members of Congress, of our Cabinet, who are all representing our nation and representing our administration.
It is a particular honor to be joined by the family of Congressman John Lewis and the family of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Applause.)
So, today, we gather here on hallowed ground.
It was a chilly Sunday morning, 57 years ago, when 600 brave individuals set out from Selma. They were marching for the most fundamental right of American citizenship: The right to vote.
They knew that if they wanted true freedom, if they wanted to claim what was theirs by birth and by right, they had to march on this bridge on that day. They were prepared for the worst.
And on this bridge on that day the worst found them. Their peaceful protest was met with crushing violence. They were kneeling when the state troopers charged. They were praying when the billy clubs struck.
On this bridge on that day, those brave marchers continued to push forward to secure the freedom to vote, and they were pushed back.
Today, we stand on this bridge at a different time. We again, however, find ourselves caught in between — between injustice and justice, between disappointment and determination — still in a fight to form “a more perfect union.” And nowhere is that more clear than when it comes to the ongoing fight to secure the freedom to vote.
A record number of people cast their ballots in the 2020 elections. It was a triumph of democracy in many ways. But not everyone saw it that way. Some saw it as a threat. And so, as powerful people have done many times in our nation’s history, they launched an assault on the freedom to vote.
Across the country, states passed anti-voting laws — laws that ban drop boxes and restrict early voting; laws that make it illegal to give food and water to voters who are standing and waiting in line; laws that, put simply, make it much more difficult for people to vote with an expectation that then we will not vote. Undemocratic laws. Un-American laws.
And so, last year, we all joined together. We locked arms
and lifted our voices and fought to pass federal voting rights legislation. We brought the Freedom to Vote Act and, yes, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to the floor of the Senate.
And on the night of January 19th, every Republican senator in the United States Senate voted to block passage of this law.
Over the past few months, I have traveled our country talking with so many people about our fight — our collective fight to safeguard and strengthen the freedom to vote: faith leaders, community leaders, students, activists, and organizers. And, yes, people are tired and frustrated and, at times, scared — scared that we risk losing the rights we fought so hard to win.
I believe, at this moment, we are faced with a choice — a choice that we have faced many times before: Do we stand or do we fight?
Gathered at this bridge, reflecting on its history, yes, I know the path forward is clear.
Remember, it took three tries for the marchers to cross the bridge. It took their sweat, their tears, their blood. It took their resilience, their determination, and their courage. And, yes, it even took the protection of the National Guard and federal marshals.
In a moment of great uncertainty, those marchers pressed forward and they crossed. We must do the same. We must lock our arms and march forward. We will not let setbacks stop us.
We know that honoring the legacy of those who marched then
demands that we continue to push Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation — (applause) — and it also demands we continue to push the Senate not to allow an arcane rule to deny us this sacred right. (Applause.)
It demands we continue to lift up state legislatures that have passed pro-voter laws and that we keep fighting to prevent the passage of anti-voter laws. It demands we keep going to court to defend this sacred freedom. And it demands we register voters, volunteer as election workers, and, yes, of course, drive souls to the polls.
And none of this is new, especially to so many of you who have been in this fight for so long.
So I am here — again, here in Selma — to say thank you for your work, your sacrifice, and your dedication.
And I have come here today to also remind you that we all stand together. President Biden and I are working for this cause every day. We have put the full power of the executive branch behind our shared effort. And if we all continue to work together, to march together, to fight together, we will secure the freedom to vote. (Applause.)
Selma, the future of our democracy is being decided now by you, by us, by the people. And ultimately, you are the ones — we are the ones — who must protect the freedom to vote. And we must not stop there.
Those who marched across this bridge — yes, they marched for the freedom to vote; they also marched for all of the rights and freedoms that voting unlocks. (Applause.) They marched for economic justice, for social justice, for racial justice — (applause) — and we must do the same.
We must fight to ensure all the people of our nation — no matter where they start — have the opportunity to succeed. We must fight to move our nation forward while we reflect on why it matters.
Just think: Last week, President Biden made history when he nominated the first Black woman, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — (applause) — to the highest court in our land — the court where decisions are made about the Constitutional rights and liberties and freedoms of every American to generational effect.
And I’ll tell you what I think you know: Judge Jackson is a phenomenal jurist with a record of excellence — a record that proves her commitment not only to public service but to equal justice and equal rights.
And as she makes history, Judge Jackson, like us all, stands on the shoulders of giants. She and we are their legacy — (applause) — the legacy of those who are with us today: Annie Pearl Avery — (applause) — Charles Mauldin — (applause) — Bernard Lafayette — (applause) — Sheyann Webb-Christburg — (applause); the legacy of those who are smiling down on us: Marie Foster — (applause) — J.D. Hunter — (applause) — C.J. Adams — (applause) — Amelia Boynton Robinson — (applause) — and of all those courageous foot soldiers for freedom who named — and whose names we know and sometimes names we will not know but who lift us up nonetheless.
The last time I was in Selma was the last time Congressman John Lewis stood on this bridge. For his whole life, and especially that day, John Lewis was the embodiment of strength and resilience, the epitome of dignity, grace, and perseverance.
As he stood here that day, you could see the body that carried him across this bridge all those years ago had become fragile, but the spirit that carried him was as strong as ever. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That’s right!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: John Lewis — well, he never gave up the fight. He returned to this bridge again, and again, and again.
It is that clarity of purpose, that relentless dedication, that spirit — the spirit of Selma — that we summon today.
We will keep fighting. We will keep organizing. We will keep shouting. We will keep making good trouble. And we will march on until victory is won. (Applause.)
Thank you, all. Thank you. Thank you, all.
END 3:48 P.M. CST