Speaking at this year’s National Action Network convention in New York, Vice President Kamala Harris condemned recent mass shootings, attacks on abortion rights and voting access nationwide, warning the crowd that the country’s “founding principles are under attack.”
“We all love our country,” Harris said at the annual gathering of the National Action Network, the nonprofit civil rights group founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. “That’s why we fight so hard, 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,” she continued. “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.”
Harris opened her speech by noting that the United States marked the 55th anniversary of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, telling the crowd that she had recently reflected “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.”
“In that spirit then, let us clearly understand the moment we are in,” Harris continued. “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,” the vice president said. “They ban books to attempt to erase America's full history. They attack the ability of people to love openly 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're pregnant.”
“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?” Harris asked the crowd. “Don’t fall for the ‘okey doke.’”
Sharpton formed NAN in 1991 with the spirit of Dr. King’s legacy in mind, aiming to “promote a modern civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people,” regardless of race, religion, sexuality or other factors.
Introducing the vice president, Rev. Sharpton said that Harris “embodies” the spirit of the organization.
“You on the right wing can take whatever shots you want, you can come with whatever fabricated rationale you want against this vice president,” Sharpton said. “She was built for this. She was born for this. She was raised for this. She can take every shot you shoot, because she has been through shots worse than this. She's tough enough, she’s strong enough, made the seas calm for such a time as this.”
Speaking on the topic of recent mass shootings, both Sharpton and Harris noted that the convention was taking place as the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby, was holding its convention in Indianapolis — a summit attended by several leading Republican presidential candidates.
“As we meet here in New York … there are forces meeting,” Sharpton said. “There's a convention in Indianapolis that is fighting to keep guns available to people.”
Harris lamented the fact that gun are the number one cause of death for children in the U.S. and called for Congress to pass tighter gun restrictions.
“We speak here while the NRA is holding its convention in Indiana,” Harris said. “And you know what they called it? They have called it a ‘freedom-filled weekend.’ So we must ask: Freedom for who exactly?”
“It’s not for the parents who pray that their children will come home from school safe from a classroom in Uvalde or Nashville,” Harris continued. “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.”
Harris called for commonsense gun safety reform at the federal level, adding that “the majority of NRA members support background checks for all gun purchases.”
“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,” she added. “Let us reject that false choice. We're not falling for the ‘okey doke.’”
In discussing the future of American democracy, Harris hailed her and President Joe Biden’s historic victory in 2020, as well as Democrats’ strong performance in last year’s midterms, while citing the recent expulsion by Republicans of two Democratic state lawmakers in Tennessee for their role in a gun violence protest as undemocratic.
“That was what Nashville was all about,” she said. “An attempt to silence the voices of the people.”
Harris thanked voters for their support and touted the administration’s accomplishments that those votes made possible — including a $35 monthly cap on the price of insulin for Medicare recipient and the confirmation of the first Black female Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson — while also calling for Congress to take action to address voting rights and pledging to keep fighting for issues like paid leave and canceling student debt.
In closing, Harris spoke to the young leaders in the crowd, who she said will pave the way in the civil rights movement for future generations.
“To the young leaders I say: Remember, Rev. Sharpton was only 16 when he founded his first organization,” the vice president said. “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 20s.”
“To our young leaders, I say: We hear you, we support you, and we need you,” she concluded. “We need you. We are all in this together and we need you.”