Boston Convention and Exhibition Center
7:14 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everyone. (Applause.) Good evening.
MS. CAMPBELL: Hi.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, General.
MS. CAMPBELL: Hi, Vice President. I will tell you, I was remarking to my team that I feel like Oprah. (Laughter.) It’s — it’s an honor and a privilege to have you, of course. And — and let me get my — my questions in order.
And we can start with — with so many different things. But as you crisscross the country — and, of course, you’re meeting with Americans in every community, of every demographic. And you’re seeing that it is really important, as Mr. Russell just said, civic engagement and the importance of our voices. What does that look like to you? What does it feel like? And why is that important in this particular moment in time?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me start by saying as a lifetime member of the NAACP — (applause) — I am just filled with joy and — and humbled to be with all of these incredible leaders who are here — gathered here in Boston 40 years after the last gathering in this historic city, being hosted by the historic chapter that is here and with an historic figure and a dear friend, the General of the State of Massachusetts, Andrea Campbell. (Applause.)
So I do want to start with that and also, in that way, recognize on those points that there is so much that we have achieved and so much to celebrate. And we are in a moment where there is a full-on attempt to attack hard-fought and hard-won rights and freedoms and liberty.
And what I know about the leaders who are here is that the members of the NAACP are up to the challenge to fight for these hard-won rights and freedoms. And we know every day we must be vigilant in protecting that which we have achieved and keeping our eyes on our vision — our collective vision of how we can continue to strengthen our nation.
MS. CAMPBELL: I — we could go in so many different directions. But because you talked about just fundamental rights and how many of them, of course, are under attack, you have been a fighter — a forceful fighter and leader for fundamental rights and, of course, our right to do whatever we like with our own body. You have been on the frontlines when protecting our reproductive rights and, of course, justice in all of its forms.
In this particular moment, as we look at, of course, our history but, most importantly, the attack on these rights, how do you see it? And what do we need to be doing to protect those rights?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Register to vote and then vote. (Laughs.) (Applause.)
And, again, let me thank the leaders who are here. Just let us reflect on what the folks here accomplished in 2020. We were in the height of a pandemic. There was an extraordinary amount of loss: loss of life, loss of community, loss of normalcy, people lost their jobs.
And in the midst of all of that, the leaders who are here gathered the courage and the optimism to talk with neighbors and friends and relatives and colleagues and to remind them of the power of their voice through their vote and achieved historic outcomes.
We had a record voter turnout for African Americans in 2020. We had a record turnout of young voters in 2020, thanks to the work of everyone here. (Applause.) The NAACP, by some calculations, turned out hundreds of thousands of votes alone just based on your organizing and activism.
And let’s reflect on what that has meant. Well, one thing is it scared some people. And it is by no coincidence that immediately thereafter you started seeing extremist so-called leaders passing laws restricting voting days, making it more difficult to vote, banning drop boxes, shortening the amount of time people could vote ahead of the election, passing a law making it illegal to give somebody food and water while they are standing in line to exercise their civic responsibility and duty.
Let us also mention the hypocrisy. Don’t these people really believe the words about “love thy neighbor”?
And what we have seen after 2020 is some people got scared, but a whole lot of other people got empowered. Because of what you did in 2020, Joe Biden got elected President of the United States and I got elected the first Black woman to be Vice President of the United States. (Applause.) Because people voted.
And what happened? Well, let’s think about it. Before, we knew that our seniors — and Black folks are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes — before, we knew that our seniors were making difficult decisions about whether they could put food on their table or fill a doctor’s prescription which would save their life. And because you voted, we have now capped the cost of insulin at $35 a month for our seniors. (Applause.)
Because of that election and people voted, we have now capped the annual cost of prescription medication for seniors at $2,000 a year, because you organized and led and reminded people their voice matters.
Think about it. Before, so many people in so many places around our country, including right here in Boston, were talking about how we need to stop and end those lead pipes, because the water coming out of those lead pipes is toxic and it’s harming the health of our babies and impacting their ability to learn.
And for years, folks had been talking from the community about this and saying, “You know, I may not be a doctor, but I’m not stupid. I know what is happening.” And because people voted, the President and I, with your support and help, will now get rid of all lead pipes in America over the next eight years. (Applause.)
Before, our small businesses, which are part of the lifeblood — the economic lifeblood, the cultural lifeblood — of our communities, were saying, you know, for minority-owned businesses, it’s hard to get access to capital. But because people voted and said small businesses are a priority, we have now, since we’ve been in office, increased to the highest rate the number of small businesses that have crin- — been created in any two-year period. And Black businesses are helping to propel those numbers. (Applause.)
The work we’ve done has been about saying that we need to hear the cries of families who know that the United States of America, one of the wealthiest countries in the world has highest — has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality. And because folks voted and we were able to be there, we elevated the issue of maternal mortality — and particularly Black maternal mortality, because in this country, Black women are three to four times more likely to die in connection with childbirth than other women. And we said, “We’ve got to address this.”
And because we are doing that, we see, for example, that in states before we started, only three of the states extended Medicaid coverage for postpartum care from 2 months to 12 months. And we issued the call and the challenge, and now 35 states have postpartum care up to 12 months.
MS. CAMPBELL: Right. That’s right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And I’ll be calling out the states that haven’t, I’ll let y’all know. (Laughter.)
MS. CAMPBELL: And — and I love, you know, how you — you did this, of course, on the trail, you and the President, talking about the things that matter to folks — economics, affordability — and making what we do relevant to their daily life.
And particularly on maternal health, because I sit here standing on your shoulders as a former attorney general and the first Black woman elected in that role in the country —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. CAMPBELL: — we have been prioritizing — I know. You can clap on that. She was the first. (Applause.) And then we have AG Tish James in New York —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right. And then —
MS. CAMPBELL: And then me. There’s only three.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: There’s only three —
MS. CAMPBELL: There’s only three.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — ever.
MS. CAMPBELL: Only three Black elected AGs. And more to come. Right? More to come.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
MS. CAMPBELL: More to come.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
MS. CAMPBELL: But that maternal health piece is critical. And even in our office, we launched a maternal health grant specifically looking at funding folks on the ground who are closing these gaps —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. CAMPBELL: — looking at ways in which we can take an issue and a problem and apply our tools across all levels of government. So just kudos to you on the leadership.
But as we talk about life and young people and babies, I’m going to pivot to gun violence —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. CAMPBELL: — which we know is a major epidemic in this country. I can’t imagine what it feels like to get the calls from every part of the state when it comes to another mass shooting or another life lost.
So I’d love for you to take a moment and an opportunity to talk about the work you’re doing to end gun violence and what folks here could be doing as well, particularly those — I know there are folks in the audience who do — do this work every day, breaking cycles of violence in community. And they are community-based. Each of us has a role. But I would love for you to talk about that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, as you know, because you do get those calls in the middle of the night, every life lost is one life too many. And the way that it also, in terms of that loss, reverberates through families and communities — and the resulting trauma, often undiagnosed and untreated, being the lingering effect of it all.
And it’s important when we talk about what makes for smart and reasonable gun policy to recognize it is about mass shootings, and it is about everyday gun violence that is happening in America. Gun violence is now the number one cause of death of children in America — not some health disease — gun violence is the number one cause of death for children in America.
One in five Americans know somebody who was killed by a gun. Talk about the trauma that communities are experiencing.
So here’s the thing: On this issue, first of all, it is a false choice that some would push to say you either support the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone’s guns away. That’s a false choice. The reality is that we need reasonable gun safety laws. (Applause.) For example, assault weapons — assault weapons are by design used to kill a lot of human beings quickly. There is no place for an assault weapon on the streets of civil America. (Applause.)
We need to renew the assault weapons ban. We need to have universal background checks. Why? It’s reasonable to say that we might want to know if somebody is — been found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others before they could buy a lethal weapon. It’s just reasonable. You might want to know that. You might want to know if someone has committed a crime of great violence before you let them buy a gun. It’s just reasonable.
So part of it is that we have to fight back against those who would say this false choice, because I support the Second Amendment; I also support reasonable gun safety laws. And here’s what we need to do: vote. It gets back to voting because the problem we are facing is we’ve got people in the United States Congress who walk around with their fancy lapel pins and their staff running behind them all over the place, and they don’t have the courage to stand up and say, “We need to deal with this issue as a matter of safety and the health and well-being of the American people and pass reasonable gun safety laws, pass an assault weapons ban, pass universal background checks.”
Now, I will say that without Congress having acted among some of these other issues, we have, through our administration — and the President has been a great leader on this — been able to pass some of the most significant gun safety legislation in 30 years. And that relates to some level of what we can do around some level of background checks and — and all of that.
But it’s not enough. We need to have Congress to be prepared to deal with the big issues and do it in a way that is just about saving lives. And it’s just reasonable.
MS. CAMPBELL: And I just want to echo a point, because it’s been a theme throughout this entire conference: civic engagement, voting. And let me tell you, there are folks probably in this room who are not registered to vote. Go get registered to vote. (Applause.) You can clap on that. It’s important.
And if you are under the age of 18, well, get prepared to get ready to vote. And most importantly, if you are registered to vote — because there are a sizable number of people who are registered to vote but who don’t take any action on Election Day — it is critical. It is absolutely critical.
And like everyone has said, if you want policymakers who align with, say, your lived experience, who share your values, who operate with a sense of integrity and intentionality to get things done, they don’t get there by accident. They’re placed there by people who vote. And so I’m going to keep stressing that as a theme that keeps coming up.
One of the things I want to ask you about, because you — you bring this up — the extremist so-called leaders —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
MS. CAMPBELL: That’s a recurring thing.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As I call them.
MS. CAMPBELL: As you call them. You know, as people leave here, as they move on when we wrap up this conference next week, what do you want to — what do you want them to be thinking about as they go back to their respective communities, as they continue, of course, to be a part of the NAACP? As they continue to do the work in partnership and solidarity, what do you want them to be thinking about? What do you want them to be taking action on, other than voting, of course?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it’s very important to just see what is happening now and be clear-eyed about it.
Many people know that — that story about the two pots of water and the two frogs. So here’s how it goes: Two pots of water. In one pot, you start to slowly — you drop the frog in it, and you tar- — start to slowly turn up the heat. And that frog will start getting used to the heat as it goes up, and eventually the pot of water will start boiling and that frog will perish. In the other pot, you first turn up the heat so the water is boiling, you drop that frog in it, that frog is going to jump right out. Let’s not be that first frog. Let’s not be that first frog. (Applause.)
We’ve got to see what is afoot. There is a national agenda afoot to attack voting rights, to attack the freedom of people to make — and for women to make decisions about their own body. And you mentioned that earlier. And I just want to emphasize: The highest court in our land, the court of Thurgood just took a constitutional right from the women of America. A right that had been recognized.
And on this point, I think it’s so important to acknowledge and 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.) She can choose to make that decision with her pastor, her priest, her rabbi, but the government should not be telling her what to do.
You look at what’s happening on — it’s the attack on LGBTQ folks. You look what’s happening in book bans. You look at this ridiculous thing that is happening in Florida where they dare to suggest that enslaved people benefited from slavery.
We got to pay attention because they actually thought they were going to get away with that. They actually thought they were going to get away with that. So I asked all the leaders here, as you return home after this wonderful convening and this opportunity to — for fellowship that — pay attention to the details of what’s happening in your community, in your state legislatures.
I mean, I went down to Tennessee to go be with the Tennessee Three the day after those two young leaders — (applause) — the Justins and — and Gloria. I know everyone here was paying attention.
I mean, imagine. These three are elected officials in their state legislature. They are in a session — they’re in official session in the state legislature. And these three are trying to debate the — the issue of gun violence because their constituents, the three of them, are crying out for some leadership and some help.
And so, these leaders are channeling the voices of the people. And these extremists cut off their microphone. This is not a metaphor where somebody tried to shut you up. They literally cut off their microphone.
But, see, here’s what I love about those three. They were like, “All right. Anybody got a bullhorn?”
MS. CAMPBELL: Yep, that’s right. (Laughter.) (Inaudible.) That’s right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And they pulled out that bullhorn because they would not be quiet and they will not be quieted.
MS. CAMPBELL: That’s right.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And so, as we go back home, let us remember all that is at stake in that the activism and the organizing makes a difference and it matters. And sometimes you feel like you’re up against just so much that is wrong and it’s — it’s unbelievable and it can be tiring. But we know we stand on the shoulders of people who did not tire because we know it is worth it. And we know when we fight, we win. (Applause.) When we fight, we win.
MS. CAMPBELL: When we fight, we win. And — and other folks have been talking about it. You named it at the beginning: the power of the Black vote —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. CAMPBELL: — the power of Black engagement, the power of Black folks running for office —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.
MS. CAMPBELL: — the power of us bringing our full stories and lived experiences into every space. And sometimes it’s a lived experience that’s never shared or even at the table.
And as we work hard — and all of us in this room are doing this in our own right — to dismantle systems, to tell the truth about the history of this country —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
MS. CAMPBELL: — to name the racial disparities that still exist, including in Massachusetts — we are a progressive commonwealth, but we still have racial disparities —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. CAMPBELL: — in every system. In our housing system, we still have work to do. In our environmental system, we still have work to do.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. CAMPBELL: Our prison system, our educational system. The list is long.
One of those I do want to talk about, because I know some of the folks who are in this space — as we talked about gun violence, family violence, trauma, prison reform, criminal legal reform —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. CAMPBELL: — many folks who are not here with us at this conference is because they’re incarcerated.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right.
MS. CAMPBELL: Whether as adults or as juveniles, the cradle-to-prison pipeline is very real.
So how do we dismantle those systems during a time when our courts are taking away rights? And I just have to insert a point which you made. Regardless of how you feel about the right to choose or not, if they can come for that civil right, you better be careful because they can come for any other civil right. Any other civil right. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s right. That’s right.
MS. CAMPBELL: So stop being distracted and truly pay attention, because there is an organized plan.
But as we do this work, we want to mobilize all of our people, including those people who are behind the wall, including those folks who have a voice and something to bring to the table in leadership, what does that look like from the administration’s perspective? What does that look like from your perspective? And you’ve been doing this work for some time.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there’s a lot that has to be done and needs to be done. One of it is we have to deal with, to your point, what we need to do to reform the criminal justice system, which is something I’ve been working on my entire career, as you know. And it includes what we need to do, for example, with the pipeline, and that is about restructuring and thinking about how we restructure, how we think about what causes people to enter the system and addressing those things before it becomes something we react to thereafter.
For example, the issue of trauma. I have worked for years on the issue of undiagnosed and untreated trauma among our children. Let’s recognize, for example, poverty is trauma-inducing. Let us recognize all of the — (applause) — the contributors. And we need to address it with intervention that is about having an approach that is about lifting folks up and having some level of concern and empathy for their experience.
I think one of the issues that we’re facing is there’s a — this perversion that’s happening around what does strong leadership look like and this suggestion that it’s a sign of strong leaders to beat people down, when, in fact, the true strength of a leader is they who lift people up and — (applause) — and have empathy and have some level of concern and care for the suffering of other people, as opposed to these so-called extremist leaders who — who act as though empathy as a sign of weakness.
But back to the point of what we need to do to reform the system, it’s about putting resources into communities. It’s about addressing issues like access to capital. It’s about addressing issues like access to pathways towards intergenerational wealth, which includes the ability to own a home, the ability to start a business, the ability to relieve student loan debt, which is something we’ve been working on and will continue to fight for. (Applause.)
There is the piece of it that’s about what we need to do around police reform. And that is — you know, I strongly believe it should be thought of as a civil right for all people to be safe, including safe from the people sworn to protect us. And we should think about how we work toward, then, safety in a way that we address it from all directions.
And then, of course, there’s what we need to do that is about really having a commitment to access to opportunity. And again, that’s where we have to be clear-eyed. The Supreme Court just demolished — just basically did away with affirmative action, which was all about access to opportunity. The fight that has been the fight of the people who are the founders of the NAACP was a fight that was about freedom, about equality, about liberty, and about access to opportunity. And there are people who are intentionally trying to destroy access to opportunity for those who have been left out or overlooked.
You look at what’s happening with these so-called leaders who are trying to say that diversity and equity and inclusion is somehow a bad thing. Let us not let them get away with that. They’re trying to get rid of DEI programs so that corporations will stop paying attention to who they’re hiring and promoting, will stop paying attention to who gets accepted to schools, thinking about the issue of equity.
So, all of these factors are connected.
MS. CAMPBELL: Connected.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And to care about one is to also have the responsibility to see it in the context of the others.
MS. CAMPBELL: And I think stressing the intersectionality of all these issues —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Indeed.
MS. CAMPBELL: — our community is dealing with so much, and has been, because the systems were designed in such a way to exclude, to marginalize, to oppress — and specifically Black people. Right?
This history that we often don’t want people to learn about — and, frankly, even some of the history I needed to learn, I didn’t learn in my public school education, I didn’t learn at — I learned some of it maybe at Princeton. But when I was at UCLA law school, critical race theory was in the building, and looking at ways in which our legal systems and other systems were designed to exclude.
And so, we have an obligation not only to know that history, but to use every tool that we have in our power to dismantle these systems, not just reimagine them, but take real action to close these gaps. And the power is with us.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right.
MS. CAMPBELL: I know we only have you for a short period of time, because I could be here all day (inaudible).
But I just want to end with this because — “Mom…” — I said, “Mom, what…” — you know, my biological parents are deceased, but my mom is my aunt. And I said, “Mom, what would you want to ask the Vice President?” And she said — and I thought she was going to come with a deep question about the Supreme Court or affirmative action, but her question was, “Oh, does she bake?” (Laughter.) “Does she cook?” (Laughs.) “What does she do?”
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’m a very good cook, thank you very much. (Laughs.)
MS. CAMPBELL: So, I don’t know if Mom is watching this or not. They were at a jazz festival earlier in Cambridge. But she was like, “Does she bake? Does she cook? What does she do to sustain self and to just be?”
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am — I must admit — and I think there are plenty of people here who would say this about themselves, so I’m not going to feel immodest. I am a very good cook. (Laughs.) (Applause.) And I love to cook.
And these days, I’m really traveling a lot. I — you know, I was in Iowa yesterday. (Applause.) I’m going to be back at Florida next week. (Laughs.)
MS. CAMPBELL: People in the back.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But Sunday family dinner is — is the thing I really try to hold on to the most. And that’s when I cook. And whoever is around — the kids’ family, bring your friends, whoever is around. But that’s — that’s probably my favorite time to cook to just hold on to that.
But, yes, I cook. I’m not much of a baker.
MS. CAMPBELL: She’s a baker. (Laughs.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But I’m more — yeah. But I admire — I admire that. But I’m a good coo- — I’m a really good cook. (Laughs.)
MS. CAMPBELL: I am not, but I appreciate that. I want some of your food.
We have a short period of time. So, I just — before you go off to the next thing, and before I invite the audience to give a round of applause — because we could have talked about many issues, frankly, and we never have enough time to get to everything. But I think what we all understand, when you are the first, serving at the national level, it is a significant responsibility and weight on your shoulder.
We were remarking, you know, “They’re coming for us.” And what that means is that you have to sustain yourself; of course, be protected; but also do the work.
And so, as we go into this round of applause for our Vice President, really thinking about what elected officials, particularly people of color, are going through in this moment in time — as you send her off, I ask everyone to just stand up — I’m going to do the same — and give our Vice President a round of applause for the work she does every single day. (Applause.) And thank you all for being here. Thank you.
END 7:45 P.M. EDT