Edmund Pettus Bridge
Selma, Alabama 

2:50 P.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Can we give it up for Azali?  (Applause.)  Oh, indeed, our hopes and dreams are alive and well.

Good afternoon, everyone.  Good afternoon.  Please have a seat.

I’ll tell you, when I listen to Azali, I know the future of our country is bright.

So, it is so good to be back in Selma, and I want to say on behalf of the Second Gentleman and me, it is a privilege to be with so many extraordinary leaders — members of Congress, members of our administration, dedicated activists, and dear friends.

So, before I begin today, I must address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  (Applause.)  What we are seeing every day in Gaza is devastating.  We have seen reports of families eating leaves or animal feed, women giving birth to malnourished babies with little or no medical care, and children dying from malnutrition and dehydration.

As I have said many times, too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.  And just a few days ago, we saw hungry, desperate people approach aid trucks, simply trying to secure food for their families after weeks of nearly no aid reaching Northern Gaza.  And they were met with gunfire and chaos.

Our hearts break for the victims of that horrific tragedy and for all the innocent people in Gaza who are suffering from what is clearly a humanitarian catastrophe.  (Applause.)

People in Gaza are starving.  The conditions are inhumane.  And our common humanity compels us to act.

As President Joe Biden said on Friday, the United States is committed to urgently get more lifesaving assistance to innocent Palestinians in need.

Yesterday, the Department of Defense carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian assistance, and the United States will continue these airdrops.  And we will work on a new route by sea to deliver aid.

And the Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid.  (Applause.)  No excuses.  They must open new border crossings.  They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid.  They must ensure humanitarian personnel, sites, and convoys are not targeted.  And they must work to restore basic services and promote order in Gaza so more food, water, and fuel can reach those in need.

As I have said repeatedly since October 7th, Israel has a right to defend itself.  And President Joe Biden and I are unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security. 

Hamas cannot control Gaza, and the threat Hamas poses to the people of Israel must be eliminated.  Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that has vowed to repeat October 7th again and again until Israel is annihilated.

Hamas has shown no regard for innocent life, including for the people of Gaza, who have suffered under its rule for almost two decades.  And Hamas still holds dozens of hostages, for nearly 150 days now — innocent men and women, including American citizens, who were brutally taken from their homes and from a concert.

I will repeat: The threat of — Hamas poses to the people of Israel must be eliminated.  And given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire — (applause) — for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table.

This will get the hostages out and get a significant amount of aid in.  This would allow us to build something more enduring to ensure Israel is more secure and to respect the right of the Palestinian people to dignity, freedom, and self-determination.  (Applause.)

Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire.  Well, there is a deal on the table.  And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal.

Let’s get a ceasefire.  Let’s reunite the hostages with their families.  And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza.  (Applause.)

I will now address the occasion for our gathering today on this hallowed ground on the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where, 59 years ago, on a cold Sunday morning, 600 brave souls set out from Selma.

Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, they marched for the freedoms that were theirs by birth and theirs by right: the freedom to vote, the freedom to live without fear of violence or intimidation, the freedom to be full and equal members of our nation.

They marched peacefully.  They knew violence against them was inevitable.  They knew they would be surrounded by troopers with nightsticks.  They knew they might be trampled by horses.  Even so, they marched forward.  (Applause.)

But they were forced to retreat.  And yet, they would not be deterred, defeated, or denied.  And they returned to this bridge while many were still bound in bandages because they knew what was on the other side: a promise of a future that was more equal, more just, and more free. 

And yes, they crossed this bridge.  And in so doing, they also built a bridge.  They brought together white Americans, Black Americans, all sorts of Americans, and ministers and rabbis, and members of L- — SCLC and SNCC, and folks of all ages and backgrounds.  (Applause.)

And less than six months later, the Voting Rights Act of 1964 [1965] was signed into law.  The story of Selma — a story of our nation.  (Applause.)

Freedom is fundamental to the promise of America.  Freedom is not to be given.  It is not to be bestowed.  It is ours by right.  (Applause.)

And the power behind the promise of freedom has always been in the faith of her people and our willingness to fight for freedom, be it on the fields of Gettysburg, in the schools of Little Rock, on the streets of Ferguson, and on this bridge right here in Selma.  (Applause.)

And today, we know our fight for freedom is not over because, in this moment, we are witnessing a full-on attack on hard-fought, hard-won freedoms, starting with the freedom that unlocks all others: the freedom to vote.  The sacred freedom to vote.

Today, in states across our nation, extremists pass laws to ban drop boxes, limit early voting, and restrict absentee ballots.  In Georgia, extremists passed a law to even make it illegal to give people food and water for standing in line to exercise their civic duty and right to vote.

I ask the friends here: Rev, whatever happened to “love thy neighbor”?  (Applause.)  The hypocrisy abounds. 

And do notice: The governor of Georgia signed that law on the 56th anniversary of this very march. 

Across our nation, extremists attack the integrity of free and fair elections, causing a rise of threats and violence against poll workers. 

In the face of these assaults on the freedom to vote and in honor of all those who crossed this bridge, President Biden and I will continue to demand that the United States Congress pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.  (Applause.)  The fight for freedom. 

Today, in states across our nation, extremists propose and pass laws that attack the freedom of a woman to make decisions about her own body — laws that would make no exception even for rape and incest. 

Here in Alabama, they attack the freedom to use IVF treatment.  Women and couples denied the ability to fulfill their dream of having a child. 

And consider the irony.  On the one hand, these extremists tell women they do not have the freedom to end an unwanted pregnancy.  And on the other hand, these extremists tell women they do not have the freedom to start a family. 

Let us 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.) 

The fight for freedom — that every person in our nation has a right to be free from the horror of gun violence.  (Applause.)  And yet, today, these extremists stand by and refuse to pass reasonable gun safety laws to keep our children and places of worship safe. 

Freedom — that every person in our nation has a right to be free to love who they love openly and with pride.  (Applause.)  And yet, just this past year, extremists have passed or proposed hundreds of laws targeting LGBTQ people. 

Freedom — that every person in our nation has the freedom to learn and acknowledge our country’s true and full history.  (Applause.)  And yet, today, extremists pass book bans — book bans, in this year of our Lord 2024 — while they also try to erase, overlook, and rewrite the ugly parts of our past. 

Fundamental freedoms under assault.  The freedom to vote.  The freedom from fear, violence, and harm.  The freedom to learn.  The freedom to control one’s own body.  And the freedom to just simply be. 

And understand the profound impact these attacks have on the next generation of our leaders.  Just last fall, 15,000 young leaders joined me during my “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour.  And, for them, these attacks on freedom are a lived experience. 

It is their lived experience that extremist leaders have intentionally closed polling places near college campuses and restricted the use of student IDs to vote, that it is Black voters and student voters who are most targeted by anti-voter laws.  (Applause.)

A lived experience that during the height of their reproductive years, the highest court in our land — the court of Thurgood and RBG — took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America so that, now, this generation has fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers. 

Their lived experience that from kindergarten to 12th grade, they have consistently had to endure active-shooter drills while extremists refuse to pass universal background checks, red flag laws, and an assault weapons ban.  (Applause.)

Our young leaders — well, they are cleareyed about what’s at stake.  And in the spirit of a young John Lewis, I know they too will not be deterred, they will not be defeated, and they will not be denied. 

So, Selma, the challenges we currently face are not unlike the challenges faced by those 600 brave souls 59 years ago.  And in this moment, we too, then, are confronted with a fundamental question: What kind of country do we want to live in? 

Do we want to live in a country of freedom, liberty, and justice — or a country of injustice, hate, and fear?

We each have the power to answer that question with our voice, with our feet, and with our vote. 

I’ll close by sharing with you: In my West Wing office in the White House — (applause) — yeah, that’s where I work — (applause) — I hung a piece of artwork that is the first thing I see when I walk into my office in the morning.  It’s a large framed photograph taken on Bloody Sunday depicting an injured Amelia Boynton receiving care at the foot of this very bridge.  And, for me, it is a daily reminder of the struggle, of the sacrifice, and of how much we owe to those who gave so much before us. 

History is a relay race.  Generations before us carried the baton.  And now, they have passed it to us. 

So, let us continue to organize.  Let us continue to fight.  And let’s us make some good trouble along the way.  (Applause.)  

God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.  Thank you all.  (Applause.)

                               END                 3:07 P.M. EST

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