Fisk Memorial Chapel
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, hello, everybody. Hello, Nashville. (Applause.) (Laughs.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, Kamala!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I love you. (Applause.) That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m here. I love you.
Please have a seat.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I love you!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Please have a se- — (laughs) —
Mayor Cooper — Mayor Cooper, it is good to see you again. And I thank you for your leadership and the courage with which you have led for your tenure, but in particular over these last weeks. (Applause.)
The mayor met with me — every time I come. And you have been a clear voice around what smart governance can look like when people have the courage to lead. (Applause.) Thank you.
So, before I discuss the reason for our convening, I do want to mention the devastating tornadoes that have taken place in this state over the last two weeks and across this region.
Lives have been lost here in Tennessee. And as many of you know, the President — our President, Joe Biden, approved today a disaster declaration. And we will continue to support the families in the community. And our prayers and our thoughts are with all of those who have been affected.
So, we are here at Fisk University. (Applause.) We are here. And as we know —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.) I get that. I get that. As a proud HBCU graduate, I get that.
So, as the students, as the young leaders here know, the legacy of this extraordinary place of education in America has produced leaders who have gone on to be not only national leaders, but global leaders. And I’m reminded, in particular this afternoon, of two of those leaders: the late, great John Lewis — (applause) — and, of course, the phenomenal Diane Nash. (Applause.)
And what they learned and then taught was that if one is to understand that you are born a leader and it is just a matter of when you decide to kick that in, then you know that we will see leadership at every stage of life if people choose to turn that on.
And we have seen that here in Tennessee over the last couple of weeks. We have seen over 7,000 students and young leaders go to the capitol to talk about what John Lewis and Diane Nash talked about — the importance of freedom, the importance of liberty, the importance of respecting the right of all people to live where they receive dignity, where they live in a place that they can be free from harm.
And so we are here, understanding the broad shoulders upon which we all stand — those fighters for freedom and liberty and justice, those fighters who understood the truth must never be stifled or silenced when it is on behalf of the people. (Applause.)
And so I want to start by recognizing the Tennessee Three. (Applause.) Please stand. (Applause.)
We are here because they and their colleagues, the Democratic caucus of the state legislature — and I’d ask you to stand as well, please — (applause) — because they chose to show courage in the face of an extreme tragedy, which is that 11 days ago, six people — three educators and three babies, nine years old — were murdered senselessly due to gun violence.
They chose to lead and show courage to say that a democracy allows for places where the people’s voice will be heard and honored and respected. And they understood the importance, these three, of standing to say that people will not be silenced; to say that a democracy hears the cries, hears the pleas, who hears the demands of its people who say that children should be able to live and be safe and go to school and not be in fear. (Applause.)
They said, “We understand, when we took an oath to represent the people who elected us, that we speak on behalf of them.” It wasn’t about the three of these leaders; it was about who they were representing. It’s about whose voices they were channeling. (Applause.) Understand that. And is that not what a democracy allows? (Applause.)
A democracy says you don’t silence the people. You do not stifle the people. You don’t turn off their microphones when they are speaking — (applause) — about the importance of life and liberty. (Applause.) That is not what a democracy does. (Applause.)
And understand — so, they turned off the microphones. They tried to tell them to sit down and be quiet. But they understood that the voices must be heard.
So think about this: In order to make sure the voices were represented in that place where elected leaders are supposed to lead in a democracy, these leaders had to get a bullhorn. (Applause.) They had to get a bullhorn to be heard. (Applause.)
Well, you know what? That happens in a democracy too. (Applause.) That happens in a democracy too.
If the students’ demand, if the moms’ demand, if the people’s demand is not being heard by those who should listen and care and contemplate and reflect and think about “Maybe I should give this a moment to listen, give it a fair chance to be heard. If I feel like I’m so right, shouldn’t I have the courage to debate it?” (Applause.)
Make your case. Make your case. You don’t turn off the microphones.
And then they do that, and then guess what? Because you know what? Can’t have those voices in that room challenging notions about who should say what and when and where. “Let’s expel them.”
Can you imagine? “Let’s get rid of them entirely.” “Let’s remove them, not only for that moment, but remove these people who have been elected to represent the people. And let us decide who should represent the people.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That is not a democracy.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: What is that? That is not a democracy. That is not a democracy.
You can’t walk around with your lapel pin — (applause) — and you’re not representing the values that we hold dear as Americans.
You can’t walk around and talk about protocol. Protocol and procedures were devised to require and allow and encourage debate and discussion and, yes, dissension. (Applause.) But these so-called leaders tried to shut it down instead.
But we’re not having that. (Applause.) We’re not having that.
And so, the thousands of young leaders who descended on the capitol and continue to organize, continue to require that the voices be heard — because let’s understand: The underlying issue is about fighting for the safety of our children. (Applause.) Saying that, you know, our babies are going to school — it’s been years now where they’re taught to read and write and hide in a closet and be quiet if there’s a mass shooter at their school; where our children, who have God’s capacity to learn and lead, who go to school in fear if their back is to the back of the door, that they don’t know what might be coming through the door.
Our children are being traumatized by this fear. Parents are wondering and asking and praying every time they send their child to school or take their child to school that their baby might come home safe. Think about the underlying issue.
You know, some things are up for partisan debate. Sure. And they will, because that is also a sign of a democracy. But on the issue of smart gun safety laws, background checks — (applause) — background checks.
The policy is really pretty straightforward. It’s to say, you might want to know before someone buys a gun whether they’ve been found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know. (Applause.) You might want to know if someone has shown themselves to be violent before they can go and buy a gun. You just might want to know. It’s reasonable.
The mayor talked about red flag laws. When we know and when a community or a family knows, shouldn’t we listen? Shouldn’t we listen?
Assault weapons — these are weapons of war. These are weapons that were designed to kill a lot of people quickly. No place on the streets of a civil society. (Applause.)
Part of the underlying point is: Let’s not fall for the false choice, which suggests you’re either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want reasonable gun safety laws. We can and should do both. (Applause.) Don’t fall for the false choice.
So the underlying issue is one that we are witnessing over and over again. This community experienced it firsthand just 11 days ago. I have been to Atlanta, I have been to Buffalo, I have been to Highland Park and Monterey Park, just in the last several months.
You know, and — and the thing is is that it’s not like we’re trying to figure out how we should deal with a policy around smart gun safety laws. The ideas are there. The issue, which gets back to these three, is that we need leaders who have the courage to act — (applause) — at state houses and in Washington, D.C., in the United States Congress. (Applause.) Have the courage to act — (applause) — instead of the cowardice to not allow debate and to not allow a discussion on the merits of what is at stake.
Courage. You can’t call yourself a leader if you don’t have the courage to know what is right and act on it, regardless of the popularity of the moment. (Applause.)
So I’m going to close with this point. I do believe that every generation has its calling, that there are moments in time that find you and require and depend on your leadership. And so, in particular to all the young leaders here, this issue is going to require your leadership. It is.
I spent time as the United States senate- — senator in the United States Congress. Before that, I was an attorney general, leading the second-largest Department of Justice in the United States. I’m now Vice President of the United States, and I’m telling you — (applause) — and I’m sharing that with you — I’m sharing that with you, the young leaders here, to tell you we need you. We need you.
Every movement — every movement, in my perspective, that has been about progress in our country was led by the young leaders, like John Lewis and Diane Nash and you. (Applause.) The Justins. (Applause.) Every one of them.
And so we are going to be depending on you, in solidarity with the work we will all do in our respective positions, to lead.
You speak with such clarity. You speak by telling the truth through a lived experience. Your voices are part of the conscience of our country.
When we need, in these moments in time, people who have something in them that is about empathy, about care, about a sense of responsibility for their brother and sister, we need you all. And your leadership in this movement is going to impact people that you may never meet, people who may never know your name, but because of your leadership, they will forever be benefited.
So I say all that to say: We will not be defeated. We will not be deterred. (Applause.) We will not throw up our hands when it is time to roll up our sleeves. (Applause.) We will fight. We will lead. We will speak the truth. We will speak about freedom and justice. (Applause.) And we will march on. (Applause.)
All right. (Applause.)