Northern Arizona University
1:54 P.M. MST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: NAU! (Laughs.) (Applause.)
Oh, come, let’s sit down. (Laughs.)
Good afternoon, everyone. It is so good to see everyone. Good afternoon. And to my friends, good afternoon.
MS. KUMAR: Good afternoon.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But can we just get a shout out for President Maria, who is doing extraordinary work? (Applause.)
MS. KUMAR: It is absolutely wonderful to be here in Flagstaff, Arizona with the Vice President. Madam Vice President, thank you for being here.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Of course.
MS. KUMAR: So I have to share with you, we were driving up from Phoenix yesterday, and to see the topography and the changes and then get to Flagstaff, you guys are living in a gem of a piece of America.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. (Applause.)
MS. KUMAR: You really are
And, Madam Vice President, you have been traversing all of the country talking to young people because it is a core of what we believe in democracy, is the more young people that participate, they change the country.
You’ve been to Morehouse. You’ve been to community colleges, trade schools. Now you’re here in Arizona at Northern Arizona University, an Hispanic-Serving Institution, because it was a collective effort. And as you’re traversing the country, you’re meeting with all these different individuals about the power of them and their vote.
And, you know, something that’s a fun fact that people may not know, that in 2020, young people participated in record number. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I know.
MS. KUMAR: Record number.
And instead of getting us excited and knowing that we’re going to — we’re expecting 12 million more Gen Z-ers to join the ranks of eligible voters this election. (Applause.)
Instead of every single elected official applauding that effort and recognizing the strength of our democracies by our participation — instead, we find these individuals trying to infringe on our rights.
Instead of applauding, they’re saying, “No, let’s infringe on your rights so you can’t participate.” And I think it’s because they’re scared of the power of young folks.
So, talk to us why you established this tour and why you’re here today.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. Well, first, I want to thank you guys for being with me, because this is such an important conversation that we are having. And I want to thank all of you who are here.
Let me just start with this. One of the reasons that I decided to do this tour is because of who you are, the students who are here. Yours is an extraordinary generation of people.
You know, when I think about what you have been through in your lifetime, you have only known the climate crisis. In your lifetime, you have had to endure active shooter drills. In your lifetime, you witnessed the mor- — murder of George Floyd. In your lifetime, you witnessed the highest court in our land take a constitutional right that had been recognized. In your lifetime, you endured through an historic pandemic.
And you are still standing and leading, and you are here, strong, and saying, “I’m not going to leave this stuff up to anybody else. I’m not having it. I am prepared to lead.” That is who you all are.
And so, I am here to tell you — and I say this as Vice President of the United States — your nation is counting on you. We need you. And, personally, I want for you to be able to live your best life.
In the midst — as Maria has said, in the midst of what I believe to be a full-on agenda and intention to attack fundamental rights and freedoms — hard-won, hard-fought fundamental rights and freedoms. And so, I’m doing this tour to hear from you and to talk with you about what I know you know is at stake and also to remind you that it doesn’t have to be this way.
When I talk about fundamental freedoms, fundamental rights, it is the freedom to have access to the ballot box, the freedom to love the person you love openly and with pride. (Applause.)
It is the freedom to make your — decisions about your own body and not have the government tell you what you’re supposed to. (Applause.)
It is about the freedom to live free from fear, from hate, from bigotry, from bullying. And, fundamentally, when I think about this issue about freedom, fundamentally, it is about the right to be free to just be — the freedom to just be.
So, that’s how I think about this tour. That’s how I think about what we are fighting for, not against. And that’s how I think about your generation and your leadership and why it is so important knowing that here, at this premier academic institution, you’ve already decided to lead. And of the many ways that you are going to make a difference, one of the ways is to exercise your power to vote.
So, that’s why I’m doing this. (Applause.)
MR. ELLIS: Madam Vice President, I don’t know if — if you know this — I know you have 2 billion people in your office who probably tell you 200 million things — and you retain all of it, I know, because I’ve seen — but I actually spent a lot of time in northern Arizona. I lived in Prescott, Arizona — Prescott like a biscuit — (applause) — after I graduated from college. So, I have spent some time up here with the Lumberjacks. (Applause.)
And this is a very strong community of folks and folks who come together, and I want to take this moment to make sure we throw some questions out to some students.
Julian, if you are — (applause) — Julian Bernhardt —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There. There’s Julian.
MR. ELLIS: There we go.
Q Do I get to hold this? Give me a second, I got to get situated, y’all. (Laughter.)
It’s an honor to speak to you today, Vice President Harris. Truly, I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q I have had to fight for our future in this country. From attacks on our democracy to attacks on my individual identity, this story is shared by almost everyone in this generation. However, in this fight, young voters do not feel optimistic about politics or the future. And as an activist, I tell people that hope wins. We must be hopeful about the future and the power we hold.
Can you offer some words of hope to young voters in this state about the power of their vote and how we stay optimistic about the future? (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.) Well, Julian, you are one of the reasons I am optimistic about our future. I truly — (applause) — truly — truly, I mean that. I mean that. I know what you’re doing with your leadership, and it’s extraordinary how you’re lifting up so many voices. And — and truly, this — this college tour makes me optimistic.
But, you know, I mean, on the issue of voting rights, listen, as Maria Teresa said, there is a full-on attack on voting rights. So — so let’s put it in context. And I’m just going to go recent history, 2020. How many of you voted in 2020 or 2022? (Applause.)
Because you voted, Joe Biden is President of the United States and I am Vice President of the United States. (Applause.) Because you voted. Because you voted.
Because you voted, we were able to come in office and then do things like say student loan debt is something we need to tackle because we have far too many of our students, especially first-generation college students, Pell Grant recipients, who are burdened by this debt to the point that they can’t live a life. And so, we are taking that on. The Court tried to — well, did undo what we did. We’re going to still keep fighting. But because you voted, we have engaged in loan forgiveness.
Because you voted, we have now capped the cost of insulin at $35 a month. Raise your hand if you have a — (applause) — a relative who has diabetes. Look at these numbers.
And what that means — Latinos are 60 — 70 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes; African Americans, 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. And so many of our seniors and the stories we have heard for years who have had to make a decision about whether they could pay for their insulin or pay their rent. And we, because you have voted, have now capped the cost of insulin at $35 a month.
Because you voted, we took on the issue of lead pipes, which are producing toxic water that our babies have been drinking and having an impact on their health and their ability to learn. We are now on track of getting rid of all lead pipes in our country.
Because you voted and said, “During the pandemic, it was not right that, if we didn’t have access or couldn’t afford high-speed Internet, we couldn’t do our homework.” That in the 21st century, access to high-speed Internet is not a luxury, it is a right that all people are entitled to. And because you voted, we are now on path to make sure that it is accessible and affordable to all families. (Applause.)
Because you voted, we passed the first meaningful gun safety legislation in 30 years. And I could go on and on. But it’s because you voted.
As Maria Teresa said, in 2020, we had record number of young voter turnout. And here’s the byproduct of that: It scared some people.
And so, you saw that almost immediately after that election, laws were being passed to purposely make it more difficult for people to vote. Can you imagine? Purposely trying to make it more difficult for people to exercise their civic right to have a voice in their government and the future of their country. Laws that have been passed in states like Georgia that make it illegal to give people food and water when they stand in line to vote.
The hypocrisy abounds. What happened to “love thy neighbor”? Period. (Applause.) Period.
Laws being proposed in a variety of states around our country trying to make it more difficult for students to vote, playing games with student IDs and whether — and which IDs qualify to allow you to present yourself and your eligibility to vote.
So, let’s also understand — Julian, and you raised such an important point — when we talk about the importance of voting, it is absolutely about your voice being expressed through your vote. When we talk about the importance of voting, it is important to remember that generations of people fought and some died for your right to vote.
It is also important to remember that is one of the ways that you will make a difference in our country. And it is important to remember that there are some people who are purposely trying to make it more difficult for you to vote so that you won’t vote.
And so, I’m here to say: Let’s never let anybody silence us. Let us never let anybody silence us and our power. (Applause.)
MR. ELLIS: You know, Madam Vice President, talking about that voice and not letting someone silence us, you often talk about how fundamental rights and freedoms are connected.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. ELLIS: And, you know, this makes me think of the LGBTQ community — right? — which is a community that experiences hatred and disproportionate —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Increasing.
MR. ELLIS: — attacks, increasingly, to your point.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. ELLIS: And this struggle is not new to you. This fight is not new to you. It’s something you did in the Bay.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. ELLIS: It’s something you did in Congress and now, obviously, where you sit today as Vice President.
I’m curious, as you travel the country, what are you seeing, and how can we continue to fight? And how can we continue to love thy neighbor —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MR. ELLIS: — and protect our brothers and sisters who are being attacked?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, context and to your point about my history with this work: First of all, my parents met when they were active in the Civil Rights Movement back in the day when, you know, they were out there marching and shouting for justice and for equality and for freedom. So, I grew up in that movement as a young child who they would take to the marches in a stroller. (Laughs.)
When — and I was, then, when I was District Attorney of San Francisco, proud, in 2004 — I know a lot of you were not born then. (Laughter.)
Back in the olden days in 2004, I was proud to be one of the first elected officials to perform same-sex marriages in the United States. (Applause.) Proud.
And I will tell you that that was not a politically popular thing to do with many people, including some Democrats.
I think about it now, and next year will actually be the 20th anniversary of that Valentine’s weekend when I performed those marriages. And I think of it in the context of places like Florida, with laws that are about “Do not say gay” — “Don’t say gay”; laws that are basically punishing people for being themselves and loving who they love; laws that are having an impact on teachers and telling them what they can talk about in the classroom and who they can love.
Because here’s the thing, when I think about what’s happening in Florida — so, 20 years ago next year — it’ll be the 20th anniversary. The young teachers in Florida are in their 20s, and they are afraid in this year to put up a photograph of themselves with their partner for fear they might lose their job, the job of one of the most noble things anyone can do, which is to decide to teach other people’s children. (Applause.)
And as it is, they don’t get paid enough. (Applause.)
And you lo- — you see what’s happening: the — the vilification, the intent to — you know, the book bans. Check out the book bans and — and how many of them are against either an LGBTQ+ author or have subject matter that is about LGBTQ+ subjects and people.
You look at being — the attempt to take us backward in a way that is also meant to marginalize people and make them feel small and to judge people and the hate that it is fueling. And it pains me to know that in places around our country, we have so many people who are living in fear just because of who they are in this year of our Lord, 2023.
And it’s interesting because — so, here’s one thing I’m going to share about myself: I’m kind of a geek. (Laughter.)
MS. KUMAR: Yeah.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, to that extent, one of the things I love are Venn diagrams. (Laughter and applause.) I love Venn den- — Venn diagrams.
So, the three — you can pull out a Venn diagram to help you with anything that looks like it’s in conflict, right? So, a Venn diagram — so, I asked my team, “Let’s — let’s look at from which states are we seeing attacks against LGBTQ+ people, attacks against voting rights, attacks against access to reproductive health care?” You would not be surprised to know that there’s a significant overlap.
So, part of what that then tells you — and here’s the — the optimism — about, in the midst of this, what is possible: coalition building. Bringing together all the folks who have been fighting for LGBTQ+ rights together with the people who have been fighting for years in terms of women’s health issues and reproductive health care access. All of the people who have been fighting for years on voting rights, and bringing folks together who seemingly have nothing in common, but have everything in common.
Because on this issue of the attacks against the LGBTQ+ community, part of what I have to say is I strongly believe that nobody should be made to fight alone. And it is incumbent on us who believe in the strength of diversity and the importance of unity to build coalition. Because among the intents out there in terms of the attacks on fundamental freedoms, I believe is an intent to try to divide us as a nation and to distract us from the failure of so-called leaders who ain’t doing nothing that is about uplifting our country and creating progress and the expansion of rights.
So, let’s not allow ourselves to be divided or distracted. And one of the best ways to fight against that is to build community, build coalition, including on the issue of what is happening in terms of attacks against trans folks, attacks against the LGBTQ community as a whole.
Let’s bring everybody together. Nobody should be made to fight alone. (Applause.)
MR. ELLIS: Madam Vice President, I think we’re going to hear from another Lumberjack.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay.
MR. ELLIS: Jonathan Otero. (Applause.)
Q Thank you. Thank you, Madam Vice President. To begin, I must thank you for being a true champion of young voices. As, you know, I was studying a little bit of film on a couple of the campuses you visited, and one thing that stayed consistent was to never silence our voices. And so, I thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Jonathan.
Q And I want you, as well, to honor that today. As a proud Chicano, aspiring educator, I must ask a question that relates to the lives and experiences of my students. This administration has continued to deport children and their families while simultaneously building the wall. Children continue to die at the wall because of this country’s inhumane policies, much like the policies, crimes, and committed — funded against those in Palestine. (Applause.)
Forty-seven families in Gaza have been completely removed from the Civil Registry since the bombing began, meaning genocide. These families don’t exist anymore. A U.N. school was bombed last week by Israel, killing 30 students and 11 U.N. staff. Just today, I know y’all saw the news. Today, Israel bombed the last Christian hospital in Gaza, killing over 500 doctors, children, and refugees.
You know, my grandpa, Arnold Otero, who is in the audience today, told me one thing growing up as an educator, and that is that no one can ever take away your right to education.
And so, I asked you today, Madam Vice President Harris, as an educator, why take away the life of the children in Gaza and at the border, which ultimately takes away the fundamental right of education?
Thank you. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, you’ve brought up a lot of issues, and there’s a lot to unpack.
Let us start with this. I absolutely understand and it is my lived experience with the first subject that you raised to know that this is a nation that was founded by immigrants. I am the child of a mother who came to the United States by herself when she was 19 years old, and I sit here as Vice President of the United States. I am acutely aware of the connection between immigrants and who we are as a country. And I feel very strongly about the importance of always recognizing America’s history and current responsibility to acknowledge that.
I will also say that it is important that we have a safe, orderly, and fair immigration system. When Joe Biden and I came into office, the first piece of legislation — I think it was the day after inauguration — that we proposed was pathway to citizenship.
And Republicans in Congress have purposely not picked it up because they have decided it is in their political best interest to create an issue in a way that they can then politicize and play games with — and play games with the lives of people, many of whom are fleeing or have fled harm or just a basic inability to take care of themselves and their families.
And part of our immigration system has always recognized the importance of being a place where people who have a legitimate fear of harm can receive and seek, at the very least, asylum. So, that’s how I feel on the issue of immigration.
On the issue of what is happening in the Middle East, I believe that Israelis and Palestinians both deserve peace, deserve self-determination, and deserve safety. (Applause.)
I am deeply, deeply affected, as I think we all are, by what we have seen in terms of the loss of life and the violence that has occurred when, first of all, a terrorist organization, Hamas, struck Israel in the way that it did. I think it is important to recognize also the distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, and the Palestinian people and civilians. (Applause.) And they should not be conflated.
And we must have a response to that in a way that we understand, as humans, that this suffering that is happening is something we must take seriously. So, I appreciate you raising the subject, and I appreciate your leadership.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you! Thank you!
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Stop talking and do something!
MS. KUMAR: So, I think one of the things that we have —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
MS. KUMAR: No, I think something that — one of the reasons that, from what I understand, why you’re going on tour is that you have been very specific that the Biden agenda, the Harris agenda has started but is not complete. And if you are to look around, this is the coalition that brought the Vice President and the President into office.
And if you look at — around, it’s a multicultural, intersectional group of Americans that stepped into the ring. And what makes Arizona so critical is that, in the last election — I’ll give you an example: Voto Latino helped register and turnout 32,000 voters here in Arizona. (Applause.) Nineteen thousand were first-time voters.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yep.
MS. KUMAR: And the state delivered to the Biden and Harris administration by less than 12,000 voters. So, follow with me. We’re expecting 163,000 young Latinos to turn 18 between now and the next election. And what we know is that that’s more than 10 times than the margin of victory in this state.
And we also know at Voto Latino is that the top three issues for young Latinos in Arizona is absolutely the economy, abortion access, and immigration as it relates specifically to the undocumented loved ones, DACA, essential workers, and TPS.
You have done a fabulous job with the Biden administration of addressing the top issues that young people went to the polls last time. And what I mean by that is that, for the very first time, we have over a half-a-trillion-dollar investment in climate action — climate change.
We also recognize that gun violence prevention program that you put together is also something that’s resonating deeply.
You spoke about — a little bit about student loans.
But I think on everybody’s mind is, when we hear the administration talk about how the agenda is not finished, many reasons that we saw not a red wave during the midterm elections, but an intersectional wave, particularly of young people —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. KUMAR: — getting into that ring was because they were trying to take — and, in some states, taking away — a woman’s right to choose.
So, as we get into this new election season, young voters are going to be asking these questions. What is the unfinished agenda for young voters? What is the unfinished agenda that we would like to see the administration finish? I think we heard one was immigration. The other is codifying abortion rights. What can we expect, and how — how can young people in this room help achieve the second part of what needs to be accomplished?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, one piece I will tell you is this: I’m not here to tell these young voters what they want. I’m here to listen. And that is why I appreciate a candid dialogue — (applause) — about all of the issues of the moment.
But let’s talk a bit about — to your point about the abortion issue. Part of what is at play is that — the injustice of it all, in the fact that the highest court in our land, the court of Thurgood Marshall and RBG, took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America.
And one of the things I would encourage the students here to do — I know you do it every day — is when you are being presented with policy, really think about how it affects real people every day.
So, on this issue, since that case came down just over a year ago, there are people in our nation all over our country who have been silently suffering. Because, you see, after that case came down, there are laws that have been proposed and passed, that do things like, here in Arizona, say that there’s no exception, even for rape or incest.
Now, everybody is grown here. We can have difficult conversations. So, understand what that means. And I’ll tell you in terms of a personal story.
When I was growing up, my best friend in high school, I learned, was being molested by her stepfather. And as you all know, I — I started my career as a prosecutor. That was one of the reasons why. I wanted to do the work that was about protecting women and children from harm. And so, I know those kinds of cases. I specialized in those kinds of cases.
The idea that someone would propose and pass a law that makes no exception for rape or incest means this: It means that these extremists are telling a survivor of a crime of violence to their body, a survivor of a violation to their body that what happens to their body next is not their choice. That’s immoral. It’s immoral.
What’s happening in our country is people are proposing and passing laws, these extremist so-called leaders, that are penalizing healthcare providers literally with jail time, prison time. Punishing women. Understand what it means for women who are living in these states with these laws, and understand that the majority of women who seek abortion care are mothers.
Well, hopefully, she has paid family leave, which we can’t take for granted. That’s one of the things we’ll continue to fight for. Hopefully, she has paid family leave, sick leave. Hopefully, she has affordable childcare. Can’t take that for granted. We’ve been fighting for that. Hopefully, she only works one job and not two or three.
Because what this then means is that she has to come out of pocket to figure out, one, how she’s going to have care for her children; come out of pocket with a plane, a bus, a train ticket to go to a different state where she doesn’t know anyone — the expense of it all also means she’s probably not going to be able to take a family member or a friend — to exercise a right that fundamentally she has.
And I will say, on this topic, it is important to agree: One does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held beliefs to agree the government should not be telling her what to do with her body. (Applause.)
It is fundamental. Fundamental.
And so, here’s the thing that connects it with the earlier point about voting. What we simply need are a majority of people in the United States Congress, who, whatever their personal belief, also agree the government should not be telling folks what to do with their body.
And if we have that majority, President Biden has been clear: If they propose a law that puts back in place the protections of that case, Roe v. Wade, Joe Biden will sign that into law. Elections matter.
You have here in this state an attorney general and a governor who are holding it down in spite of these people in the legislature who are trying to go against their rights. (Applause.)
Elections matter. And for anyone who’s not registered to vote, I will ask you to go to Vote.gov. See if you are registered. Tell your family members. And register to vote. For many of these cases that we are discussing, who is in elected office at a local, a state, and a federal level literally will determine the outcome of this issue.
MS. KUMAR: And I think something to really underscore is that Arizona is ground zero for our democracy. We are right now litigating before the court against the legislation that is 2492. For folks who don’t know that, they want people doing the good work on the ground to ask someone for their citizenship before they register them to vote. We’re onto them.
And that’s why it’s important when the Vice President asks for you to have conversations with your friends and family to get in the game. Because those people that are telling you that voting doesn’t matter, you better believe it that they’re sending in their voting. You better believe that they’re standing in line, because they understand that when you occupy the voting booth, you occupy the sections of power.
And this is why I think it’s so important to have conversations and to learn more about what you’re saying about a listening tour.
So, with that, I’d like to have another question from the audience. And his name is Makias Marks [ph] — Makias Marks. (Applause.)
Where are you Makias?
Q Is this on?
MS. KUMAR: Hi, Makias,
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There he is.
Q Oh, it’s all good. I get a lot that.
MS. KUMAR: No, my apologies. I did practice beforehand, and I still killed it. Sorry. (Laughs.)
Q No, I appreciate it. I appreciate it.
So, what was I going to do this? So, real quick. (Speaks in another language.) (No translation provided.) And I’m pretty sure you didn’t really catch that. So, let me translate that for you: Now tuned in to the ancestral greatest, I am near the waterborne for Edgewater. My mother’s father is Red Bottoms people, and my father’s father is the people’s coming home.
My name is Makias Marks. And, again, it’s an honor to be here with all of you. It’s a beautiful community. And Vice President, I know when I was in the photo line with you, I froze when I shook your hand. (Laughter.) I was like, “Oh, this is the Vice President.” And I was in the same line of the Hopi chairman and as well as the — thank you — as well as the Navajo Nation president. And I was just like, “Whoa, I’m actually here. I didn’t think I’d be here.” (Laughter.)
Like, some, like, snotty rez kid actually coming here to ask you a question, to shake your hand. Like, (gasps). I — I — that’s why I froze.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughs.)
Q So, thank you again, Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Of course.
Q So, this question I know reflects a lot of our communities, the communities that we come from, and as well as, like, the tribal leaderships that you’ve — you’ve met today. And I know you didn’t get to meet, like, all 14 tribes’ leadership, but I’m sure this question pertains to them.
We’re here on sacred land, and when it comes to, like, this nation going green and as well as facing, like, the climate that is changing, and it’s impacting all of us, we need to advance to make ourselves more resilient against the climate. And it impacts not only Indigenous communities, but communities of color.
So, in the statement that us going green and becoming more climate resistant, how do we protect — protect sacred sites and communities of color from the extractive industries that are coming in to mine lithium, to mine copper, to mine things that exist in our phones? How do we protect those communities of color to protect their sacred sites and to protect their homes? And whatever answer you give, I’m sure that is the answer.
So, thank you. (Laughter.) And thank you, Sarah. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Makias, thank you. Well, collectively, we’ll have the full answer. I have part of the answer.
So, first of all, it — the beginning of the conversation in terms of what’s happening with elected leadership is this. For many, many years, we had people who are obstructing any smart legislation. They were pretending that the — that the issue of the climate crisis was not real. They were literally denying it.
And, again, as with many of these issues, there is those of us who are fighting for something, and then there are — there are powerful forces often that are fighting against what we need to do in terms of progress.
But let me start with this. The Native people, the original people of this land here, this country, taught us something millennia ago that it is important for us to remember: innovative, creative practices around what we must do to honor and protect this Earth.
And when I think about the leadership that has come out of these nations, these Indian nations, around this subject, it is something I have always taken very seriously in terms of who we include at the table when we first convene the table as leaders on the issue of the climate crisis. So, I want to start with that.
Part of the issue that we also have is just dealing with the fact that this crisis is real, and we don’t have a lot of time. The clock is not just ticking; it is banging.
So, one of the points of our leadership and coming in as an administration is we took it seriously. We have now put $1 trillion into this issue over the next 10 years to build up climate resilience, adaptation, to pay attention to overlooked and underserved communities. In fact, 40 percent of our resources are going to be going there.
We are taking on the issue of environmental justice, something I have worked on for years, which is about recognizing that while the climate crisis affects everyone, it does not do so equally. For low-income communities, for communities of color, immigrant communities, they are often hit the worst. Because when you talk about the ability to build up resilience before the extreme weather events, well, the resources just aren’t there and historically haven’t been invested there.
You talk about the ability to bounce back afterward. Again, the resources haven’t been there and historically have not been there. So, whereas higher-income communities, communities with high rates of homeownership can then, if they had to — you know, the home got flooded, they’ve got insurance; they can pick things back up.
For the communities that don’t have insurance, that are renters, that are living in low-income communities, the ability to bounce back is so much slower. And what that means in terms of their lives and livelihoods is profound.
So, all of these are part of what we are doing, including investing in a clean energy economy. And that means the creation of jobs, good-paying jobs, jobs where we incorporate IBEW and the trades unions to help with the training for the folks who are going to do the work of building back up our resilience and our economy in that way.
I would also say, again, on the issue of environmental justice, that it is important to see what is happening in our country right now with some extremist leaders who are attacking DEI: diversity, equity, and inclusion. They’re doing with that the same thing that they have been attempting to do with “woke,” which is to turn it into a bad word and turn it against those of us who understand the true meaning.
You look at what’s happening in states like Florida, where they are undoing DEI — diversity, equity, and inclusion — programs, where corporations are starting to shut down a priority on those issues. Diversity is our strength as a country — always has been. Gets back to the point about immigration.
Equity — well, what is the importance of equity? It’s basic. It’s this: While we all want to fight for equality — everybody should get the same amount — that doesn’t take into account the fact not everybody starts out on the same base. (Applause.)
So, if you’re giving everybody the same amount but they didn’t start out on the same base, they’re going to end up behind. And equity says let’s pay attention to that and make up for, especially, historic issues in terms of the lack of resources being put into communities.
So, when we deal with the climate crisis, it is about what we must do with a sense of urgency, and it’s about putting the resources into it and an acknowledgement of it. It is about who’s at the table and making the decisions, and it is also about fighting against an — a parallel agenda that is about attempting to have us not prioritize or even talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. (Applause.)
MR. ELLIS: Madam Vice President, we’ve talked about a lot today: reproductive rights, voting rights, climate, immigration. As you can see, this is an insanely passionate group of young folks.
I’m curious, what would you leave them with today? What is the thing that you want all of them to, like, walk out of this room knowing and to also go, you know, turn to their neighbor and tell them? You know what I mean? What’s — what’s the word that you want — you want them to walk away with?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to — first, I want to bring up one other topic because we’ve not talked about it, and this is yet again another issue that this generation of leaders u- — uniquely understands. And it’s the issue of gun violence. (Applause.)
So, I’m going to start with this, and if the students here could indulge me, I’m going to ask you to raise your hand and hold it up for a minute if, at any time between kindergarten and 12th grade, you ever had to go through an active shooter drill.
And I’d ask the older adults to look around the room and the press to take a look at this.
Okay. You can put your hands down.
I don’t think that the people who are in a position right now in elected leadership to do something about this fully understand what you guys have been through.
You know, on this subject, I have had conversations with young students who would say to me, “Well, you know, I don’t really like going to fifth period.” “Why sweetheart?” “Well, because in that classroom, there’s no closet to hide in.”
What this generation of leaders have gone through in terms of the trauma and fear that, while they’re sitting in a classroom and their mind should be open to all that they can learn, and there’s some piece of them that also is afraid that somebody might bust through the room with a gun.
And I say this and bring this up to again reinforce that when you all start voting in your numbers, this is going to change. And part of the problem and the issue that you will provide the solution for is this: On this subject, there are people who are pushing a false choice which suggests you’re either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone’s guns away.
I’m in favor of the Second Amendment, but we need an assault weapons ban. (Applause.) We need background checks, red flag laws. It’s just reasonable. It’s just reasonable.
It’s just reasonable. It’s just reasonable that you might want to know before someone can buy a lethal weapon if they’ve been found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know. It’s reasonable.
And so, again, I say that your role of leadership is going to make all the difference on all of these issues, from climate to what we are doing around social justice policy, what we are doing around immigration policy, what we are doing around voting, what we are doing on LGBTQ rights, what we are doing about fundamental freedoms.
And so, I’ll end with answering more directly your — your question, and what gives me optimism is all of you. Because you are bold, you are smart, you are courageous, you are leaders, you are acutely aware of what is going on, what’s not right, and you have solutions.
And so, my point in being here is to lift you up to have folks understand and see and then also to remind you that you are at a very special time in your life. I mean, I’d ask you also to just look around, and you are sitting next to people who will be lifelong friends of yours. You are sitting next to people who you will be invited to their wedding, they may ask you to be godparent to their children.
I know that makes you uncomfortable, but I’m telling you it’s going to happen. (Laughter.)
It’s a very special time. It’s a very special time for you.
And I would just leave you, then, with a couple of pieces of advice. One of it is — knowing who the students at NAU are — is to say this: For many of you, you’re going to have many experiences — you may have already had — where you’re going to walk into a room — be it a meeting room, a briefing room, a boardroom — and you’re going to be the only one that looks like you in that room — (applause) — or the only one who has had your life experience.
And here’s what I want to remind you. I want to remind you to look around this auditorium and hold on to this image and know that when you walk in those rooms, you are not alone and you carry us all with you, who are applauding your presence in that room, who are expecting you to walk in, chin up, shoulders back, carrying the voice of all those who can’t be in that room at that time.
The second thing I would say to you is that there will be many times in your life when you are being told, “Oh, nobody like you has done that,” or “Oh, you’re too young,” or “They’re not ready for that,” or “It’s going to be a lot of hard work.” Don’t you ever listen to that.
I’m telling you, I eat “no” for breakfast. I don’t hear “no” until the 10th time. (Laughter and applause.)
Don’t hear “no.” Don’t ever hear “it can’t be done.” Because that gets back to the original point of this tour, which is that you have a right to live your best life, and you must know that it doesn’t have to be this way. When we see injustice, when we see those who are attacking liberty and freedom, it doesn’t have to be that way.
And then I guess my last point would be this. You know, when we talk about our freedoms and rights, as much as anything, we’re talking about the importance of democracy. And there’s a duality to democracy, the nature of it. On the one hand, when democracies are intact, they’re very strong in terms of what they do to fight for and protect freedom and rights: the freedom of expression, the freedom of association, freedom to be. They’re very strong in lifting people up with their rights.
On the other hand, democracies are very fragile. It’s only as strong as our willingness — the people’s willingness to fight for it.
And so, know that that’s where you come in. And that is why your country and we are counting on you. This is a fight that is borne out of love of country and our belief in the ideals on which our country was founded, recognizing we haven’t fully reached them yet. But it is incumbent on each of us to fight for those ideals to make them real.
And so, that’s why I’m here. And, again, I thank all of the leaders who are here for what you are doing. We are counting on you, and we are so proud of you.
Thank you. (Applause.)
END 2:47 P.M. MST