Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel
New York, New York
12:13 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, NAN! (Applause.) Good afternoon. Please have a seat. Please have a seat.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I love you. (Applause.)
Oh, good afternoon. Well, let me start by thanking the members of our administration who are here, members of Congress who are here, members of the clergy, and all of the leaders who are here today. It is truly, truly my honor to be with everyone as we celebrate 32 years of the National Action Network. (Applause.)
Rev, I love you. (Laughter.) And I thank you on behalf of all of us — everyone — for all that you do and all that you are. And as I have said in public and in private many times: Rev, no matter where you are, you are always a voice of truth, speaking about the importance of justice for all people. You are part of the conscience of our country. And I thank you for all that you do. (Applause.)
So, as we all know, last week we marked the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And every year, NAN holds this conference in April to honor Dr. King’s legacy.
So, I’ll tell you, I have been reflecting recently that among Dr. King’s many gifts was his ability to understand the present moment in the context of a vision for a better future.
So, NAN, in that spirit then, let us clearly understand the moment we are in — a moment in which our hard-won freedoms are under attack.
Because just look at where we are. Extremists across our country attack the freedom to vote. They ban books to attempt to erase America’s full history. They attack the ability of people to love openly and with pride. They attack the freedom of a woman to make decisions about her own body instead of the government. They attack medication that for 20 years the FDA ruled as being safe.
And just yesterday, in Florida, extremists there signed a six-week ban before most women even know they are pregnant.
And, NAN, isn’t it interesting that in the midst of all these attacks on fundamental freedoms, these so-called leaders dare to tell us they are fighting for our freedoms. Don’t you find that interesting?
Some have gone so far as to name and brand their agenda the, quote, “Freedom Blueprint.”
Don’t fall for the “okey-doke.” (Laughter and applause.) Don’t fall for the “okey-doke.”
Because as we know, freedom — well, it doesn’t censor books. Freedom does not criminalize doctors and punish women. Freedom does not turn off a microphone when an elected leader is speaking. (Applause.)
And, you see, as Dr. King made clear, freedom includes the ability of all people to fully exercise their rights — rights that generations of Americans bled and died for, rights that the people in this very room continue to march and fight for.
That is our nation’s freedom blueprint. And that is what we stand for.
And I do believe that when you know what you stand for, you know what to fight for. (Applause.)
And so, NAN, two of the many important fights before us — I could go on all day if we were to articulate all of them — but two of them I’m going to talk about this afternoon.
One, the fight for our children and all people to be free from gun violence. (Applause.) And, two, the fight for freedom to fully participate in a democracy. (Applause.) Both fights fully on display these last few weeks.
So, just think: In our country, already, in the 104 days of this year, there have been more than 150 mass shootings — already this year.
Just think. You’ve seen the statistics. Gun violence is now the number-one cause for death of children in our nation. And a heartbreaking one in five Americans has lost a family member to gun violence.
And, you know, while all this violence impacts all communities in devastating ways, we know it does not do so equally. Black people are only 13 percent of America’s population but more than 60 percent of homicide victims from gun violence.
Meanwhile, as Rev said, we speak here while the NRA is holding its convention in Indiana.
Now, you know what they’ve called it? They have called it a, quote, “freedom-filled weekend.”
So, we must ask: “Freedom-filled” for who, exactly? Because it’s not for parents who pray that their children will come home from school safe from a classroom in Uvalde or Nashville. Not for those who pray that their loved ones will come home safe from a bank in Louisville, Kentucky, from a grocery store in Buffalo, or from everyday gun violence in communities across our nation.
Let us all declare: Enough is enough. (Applause.) Enough is enough.
And here’s the thing: The solutions — because there’s clearly a problem — the solutions are clear. We must have reasonable gun safety laws at the state and the federal level.
And, by the way, most gun owners agree. Even the majority of NRA members support background checks for all gun purchases.
So, let’s reject the false choice that some are pushing to suggest that you’re either in favor of upholding the Second Amendment or you’re in favor of passing reasonable gun safety laws. Let us reject that false choice. We’re not falling for the “okey-doke.”
And let us continue to demand that leaders step up and show some courage in statehouses and in the United States Congress — (applause) — to make background checks universal, repeal the liability shield that protects gun manufacturers, and to renew the assault weapons ban. (Applause.)
And I see there are a lot of cameras here, so I’ll say this. For everyone watching — (laughter and applause) — for everyone watching, please be clear: The voices of students, parents, teachers, and preachers will not be silenced, and these voices must be heard. (Applause.) These voices must be heard. They will not be discouraged or deterred, even if using a bullhorn becomes necessary! (Applause.) These voices will not be silenced.
So, it’s an issue of public safety.
And we also know, here at NAN and all over our country, I do believe, that the right to public safety is not only about the freedom to learn in a classroom without fear of an active shooter.
But it is also freedom to drive to one’s mother’s house without being killed by five lawless officers in a, quote, “SCORPIONs” unit. (Applause.)
Rev, you and I were in together in Memphis when you eulogized Tyre Nichols. And I will say today what I said that day: When we talk about public safety, was not Tyre a member of the public? Was not Tyre also entitled to the right to be safe?
And so, then, in the name of public safety, can’t we all agree that when there is biased policing and excessive force that it must be met with accountability? (Applause.)
Can’t we all agree that there is much we must do to increase public safety and that that includes the need for Congress to pass comprehensive police reform legislation? (Applause.)
The kind of commonsense reform that, by the way, many police officers themselves, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association, have called for.
So, we’re talking about members of Congress. We’re talking about statehouse legislatures. There’s a theme here: They’re all elected by the people — by the people.
And NAN, change comes in many ways. And one of the most direct is through the ballot box. (Applause.)
Because in 2020 — let’s reflect — in 2020 — and I’m looking with thanks at the leaders in this room — in 2020, because people stood in line for hours and voted, Joe Biden and I went to the White House. (Applause.)
And in 2022, because people voted, women’s reproductive freedom in every state ballot, from Kentucky to California, was protected. (Applause.)
We won races for secretary of state, attorney general, and governor.
We flipped legislative chambers in three states and expanded our majority in the United States Senate. (Applause.)
So, I say: When we vote, we win. We win. (Applause.)
And, of course, then for our right to vote to have meaning, the people we elect, the people who reflect our values and represent our voices — well, they too must be heard. That, too, is what democracy is about.
However, that too has come under attack. And that was what Nashville was all about: an attempt to silence the voices of the people.
Now, can you imagine — the voice of the people was too much for these extremists to handle. It was just too much; they couldn’t bear it.
But you see, the Tennessee Three clearly were not deterred. (Applause.)
But those extremists couldn’t handle it, so much so that they turned off the microphones. (Applause.)
But the Tennessee Three said, “All right, let’s pull out that bullhorn because we will be heard.” (Applause.) And they channeled the cries and the pleas and the demands of the people, and required that those voices be heard.
And then what happened? For only the fourth time in nearly 160 years, there was a vote there in Tennessee to expel elected legislators from their seats — two young Black men.
But 7,000 students and parents continued to march and organize and raise their voices. (Applause.) And now, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson are back in their seats! (Applause.) That’s right.
The people spoke. The people spoke.
And that, however, was just the most recent attack that we have seen in an attempt to silence the voice of the people — which, by the way, let’s all be clear and we know is an attack on democracy itself.
And just go back two years to see the pattern. We can go farther back than that, but let’s just go back two years. In 2020, NAN helped turn out record numbers of voters during the height of a pandemic. (Applause.)
A vote that you anticipated and did result in, for example, an historic $5.8 billion invested in our HBCUs. (Applause.)
A vote that resulted in the first Black woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Her name is Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Applause.)
Resulted in a cap on the insulin at $35 a month for our seniors. (Applause.)
A vote that resulted in the lowest rate of Black unemployment in the history of the United States of America.
Well, the promise — the very promise of that progress from that vote scared a whole lot of people.
And so what did they do almost immediately after the 2020 election? In states around our country, extremist so-called leaders started to ban drop boxes; reject mail-in ballots; and even make it a crime to give food and water to people standing in line to vote; proposed and passed undemocratic laws — un-American laws.
But in a democracy, there are still checks and balances. And so, to respond to these threats to democracy, because you voted in 2020 and we now have a Department of Justice that actually believes in the pursuit of justice — (applause) — we were able to double the size of the Department of Justice’s team on voting rights enforcement. Checks and balances.
Checks and balances also require that Congress do its job and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. (Applause.)
So while we are clear-eyed and see the moment we are in and, in particular, the attacks on our democracy and our foundational principles and values — while we fight off these attacks, I will also say, NAN, we must also keep our eye on the affirmative agenda. We got to do both.
Because remember: Dr. King, when he was assassinated, was on the verge of the next phase in the rights that he was fighting for all Americans that are about civil rights. And he was combining that fight for civil rights and justice with the fight for economic justice.
And as Dr. King said in Memphis, we must continue the fight for economic justice as part of our fight for civil rights.
And economic justice then, we know, is our collective commitment to equity and to make sure all people have access to opportunity. (Applause.)
It is the fight for paid leave and affordable child care; to permanently expand the Child Tax Credit; to cancel student loan debt; to provide access to capital for small-business owners and entrepreneurs; to make sure all families can buy a home; and to protect Social Security and Medicare from attack. (Applause.)
We got to keep our eye on our affirmative agenda while we are handling all those attacks. Because we will not fully, I believe, achieve the dream of freedom until it includes economic justice for all — a justice that protects the dignity of work and basic rights of all people.
So, in conclusion, NAN, there’s a lot I could say, but I’m just going to go with this. (Laughter.) I think there is one bottom line that is for sure: We all love our country. We do. We love our country. That’s why we fight so hard. (Applause.) We love our country. And we stand in the long tradition of those who have faithfully believed in the founding principles of our nation.
But at this moment, the founding principles are under attack. And I believe always and especially today that the strength of our nation depends on us each to fulfill our duty — yes, I said “our duty” — to stand and protect our democracy. (Applause.)
And so, specifically then, I will speak to the young leaders who are here. And, Rev, you are always lifting up our young leaders. (Applause.) Remember — to the young leaders I say, remember: Reverend Sharpton was only 16 when he founded his first organization, the National Youth Movement. Sixteen. (Applause.) Diane Nash was just 21 years old when she led the Nashville sit-ins. John Lewis was only 23 when he spoke during the March on Washington.
And it is no coincidence that the two expelled members of the Tennessee Three are both in their twenties. (Applause.)
So, to our young leaders, I say: We hear you. We support you. And we need you. We need you. We are all in this together, and we need you. (Applause.)
So, to everyone here, I say: Thank you. And God bless you. And God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 12:38 P.M. EDT