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Vice President Kamala Harris encouraged young voters to harness the power of the vote and warned that democracy can “only be as strong as our willingness to fight for it” in a BET discussion on reproductive rights moderated by The 19th’s editor-at-large, Errin Haines.
Harris appeared alongside Haines and actor DeWanda Wise at Howard, her alma mater, for BET’s pre-midterms program, the “State of The Union: Reproductive Rights.”
“Many of us are children of parents who fought for civil rights and marched, including me,” Harris said. “We defined the progress of our country, in many ways, including that progress was measured by an expansion of rights. And now we are seeing, on so many issues, efforts to restrict rights.”
Harris has spearheaded the Biden administration’s messaging on reproductive rights and taken on a role as the public face of its response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade this summer, holding over 35 official events and roundtables focused on reproductive rights since May.
The vice president hit on many familiar notes from previous events on reproductive rights: She outlined the confusion around abortion laws and potential criminalization of providers, decried leaders passing strict abortion bans without exceptions as “immoral,” and tied the rollback of reproductive rights to larger questions of privacy and freedom that are coming under threat.
“This is about the government apparently deciding, in so many states, that they’re in a better position to tell her what’s in her best interest than she is to decide what is in her best interest,” Harris said. “And I say on this issue, we need to take back the flag, because this is about freedom and liberty — founding principles of our nation: freedom and liberty.”
Harris also brought out a prop she’s used in other events, a Venn diagram showing which of the states that have enacted abortion restrictions have also passed bills restricting LGBTQ+ rights and voting rights. “You would not be surprised to see there is an intersection,” she said. “See what’s at play.”
“I say to our leaders and, in particular, our young leaders: If you look at the best movements in our country that have been about progress, one of the main ingredients of those movements has been coalition building,” Harris said. “So let’s rededicate ourselves to that.”
In the days before the midterms, Harris has been stumping alongside Democrats and Democratic women running for top offices in Massachusetts, New York and Illinois. She spent the day before Election Day mobilizing Democratic candidates in her home state of California.
“I just strongly believe nobody should be made to fight alone, especially when they are fighting for their rights,” Harris said at the BET event. “And the coalition is about recognizing that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us.”
Harris later described activism around reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights and coalition building as a way of “challenging our nation to achieve its ideals.”
“And I think there could be no greater act of patriotism, as an expression of the love for our country, than to fight for our country to achieve its ideals, ideals that were based on the principle of equality and freedom, and liberty and justice,” she said.
In addition to official events on reproductive rights with lawmakers, Harris has hosted student leaders and college presidents at the White House, mobilized young voters and organizers on college campuses, and collaborated with TikTok and Instagram influencers on get-out-the-vote content.
At Howard, Wise also noted that “socio-historically in the United States, all movements have been youth movements,” pointing to Harriet Tubman as a young leader who spearheaded a powerful movement.
Harris closed out the conversation by emphasizing both the inherent fragility of democracy and the power of the vote, telling students, “Don’t let anybody take your power from you.”
“Your right to equality, your right to freedom, when they are intact, they’re strong in terms of what they give to protect and defend individual rights,” Harris said. “On the other hand, it’s very fragile, democracy. It will only be as strong as our willingness to fight for it. And so fight we must. Fight we will.”