The College of Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina
3:02 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Cougars! (Laughter and applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Cougars!
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It’s so good to be here. Hi, everyone. Oh, it’s so good to be here. Thank you, both. So, let’s get into it, shall we?
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: Well, this is beautiful energy we have here for Madam Vice President. (Applause.)
And so, we’re here to have a very exciting conversation, because the Vice President has been very busy traveling to 17 states, meeting with climate activists in Colorado and gun safety advocates in Virginia. And you’ve now been to over a dozen colleges because you — you’re uplifting the voice of young people — of us, of our generation.
And so, I just want to ask: Why are you going on this “Fight for Our Freedoms” tour across the nation at such a time as this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, let me start by saying to Justin, I know that many of you probably watched his courage, along with the other Justin and Gloria — (applause) — in Tennessee. And I talk about you behind your back all the time — (laughter) — as an example of the extraordinary leadership coming out of your generation — all of you — and what it means to live at this moment in time, at the stage of life that you are in.
And for you, in particular, Justin, to be so extraordinarily courageous and selfless in how you have decided to lift up the voice and the condition of other people. So, can you please — let’s give it up for Justin. (Applause.) Truly.
And, Amelie, with all that you have going on, I mean, we have had so many conversations that have been about you using your voice, your celebrity, your fame to talk about real issues, difficult issues, and to ask and encourage people to — to be involved and engaged. And that makes all the difference in the world.
So, let’s also please thank Amelie. (Applause.) Yeah.
So, the reason I decided to do this tour, the “Fight for Our Freedoms” tour, is — well, there are a number of reasons. One, just to be very candid and direct, I want for you all — and I’m speaking to the students — I want for you to be able to live your best life.
And right now, we are at a moment in our country where, in many ways, there is an intentional, full-on attack against the freedoms and liberties that have been the basis for what I believe makes us strong and respected as a democracy. And I do believe that your generation, in particular, has already had an extraordinary life where you have been confronted with issues that many generations before you haven’t seen.
You all have only known a climate crisis. You all have only known active shooter drills. You all became aware of injustices when you witnessed what happened to George Floyd. You all, in your lifetime — and, in particular, at this stage of your life — just witnessed the highest court in our land take a constitutional right that had been recognized, such that many of you will know fewer rights than your mother or your grandmother.
And I also know that you all ain’t having that — (laughter and applause) — and that you are prepared to lead — that you are prepared to lead, and you’re not waiting on other people to finally figure it out. You are prepared to step up and do what is necessary.
And I am here, then, to applaud and encourage that and to say that our nation needs you. And I say that as Vice President of the United States. Our nation needs you.
There is not a moment in the history of the progress of our country where there has been an expansion of rights, a movement that has been about the fight for equality and liberty — not a movement that was not, in major part, led by our students.
And I think this is, again, one of those moments in the history of our nation where we not only need you, but you are going to lead the way. And when you all start voting in your numbers, so many of these things are going to take a complete turn for the better.
And so, I’m here to hear from you and to be with you to tell you that your nation appreciates you. Because you already, by the virtue of the fact that you are here at this school and you have decided already to embark on a role of leadership, you’re going to make a difference.
So, that’s why I’m doing this. (Applause.)
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: So, you all heard the call to action from our Vice President. Young people, you don’t have to wait until you graduate. It’s your time now.
And so, we’re going to take our first question — because we want to hear from you — from a student here. Madison Meeks, if you would come up and ask your question. (Applause.)
Q Hi, Madam Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, I see you. (Laughs.)
Q My name is Madison Meeks. I’m a junior biochemistry and chemistry major here at the college. I just want to say thank you, and on behalf of Cluster VI of the Significant South Atlanta region of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, I wanted to welcome you here. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q So, I have a question for you. Voting rights have become a huge issue within the past couple of major elections, meaning people and identity groups have been disproportionately affected by voting policies. What do you think about this issue, and what should be done to address it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’m so glad you asked this question, and let’s start by this. There are many ways that you will each make a difference in your community, in this country, in our world. And one of the ways you will make a difference, of the many ways, is to vote.
And so, I do encourage you to know that it is very powerful, that voice that you can express through your vote. Please — I’m going to give you a website — Vote.gov — where you can figure out if you are registered to vote and, if not, register to vote and encourage your friends and family. But it really does make a difference.
The other thing I would point out — and I think this is at the heart of that question — is there are folks who are intentionally trying to make it more difficult for you to vote in states in our country where laws have been passed saying that if — if you go to, for example, a private college, then your — your college ID is not sufficient as ID for you to vote.
In states like Georgia, where they passed laws that would say it’s against the law to offer somebody food and water when they are standing in line to vote, what happened to “Love thy neighbor”? The hypocrisy abounds, by the way.
In 2020, in the height of a pandemic, young voters voted in historically record numbers. And it’s because you voted — in fact, maybe I can see a show of hands. Who here voted in 2020 or in 2022?
Okay. You made a difference. Because you voted in 2020, Joe Biden is President and I am Vice President of the United States. (Applause.)
Because you voted, we were able to finally cap the cost of insulin for our seniors at $35 a month. (Applause.)
We were finally able to say Medicare can negotiate against the big pharmaceutical companies. (Applause.)
Because you voted, in spite of all of the folks that are denying the significance and seriousness and immediacy of the climate crisis, we were able to pass the most comprehensive climate bill that now is going to put $1 trillion on the streets of America to invest in a clean energy economy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in solar and wind turbines — because you voted. (Applause.)
Because you voted and said, “Student loan debt is no joke, and we need to deal with that,” we were able to put in place a policy that would give forgiveness of up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. Sadly, the Supreme Court has disagreed with us, but we keep fighting on that, so much so that we have now just recently announced over $100 million, by my last estimate, of student loan forgiveness for student loan debt. (Applause.)
And I could go on and on. But, again, understand that we will always plead — and many of us have talked for years about the importance of voting because, of course, people marched, fought, bled, and died for our right to vote for many of us — in fact, everybody here on one level or another or your relative.
But there’s not only that reason. The other reason is this: Don’t let anyone ever silence you.
Right now, in South Carolina, we are looking at a situation where state legislators basically passed a law that would try to dilute the Black vote in the state.
Now, I can’t talk about the case. Just as a point of reference.
But let me just say this: Let’s understand that it is wrong that any elected official would try to choose who can vote for them when it should be the voter who chooses who represents them. (Applause.)
So, I would say that — look, when we’re talking about voting, it’s critically important. They say that young people won’t vote. They try to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter, and know that that is just not true. It is part of the voice that you exercise every day. And it is critically important.
And, again, I will say, when you all start voting in your numbers, these issues — like what we’re doing about the climate crisis, what we’re doing about freedom and liberty, choice, protection of all people’s rights, LGBTQ rights, people’s rights that are about freedom — we’re going to see a sea change for the better. (Applause.)
MS. ZILBER: So, Madam Vice President, you very briefly just mentioned LGBTQ+ rights. And, you know, so much of our optimism as young people is marred by this fear that we are going to lose our fundamental rights.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. ZILBER: And I can’t help but think of the 556 anti-trans bills that have been introduced this year alone.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
MS. ZILBER: Not to mention the 27, I believe, that have been introduced before Congress. And, you know, the LGBTQ+ community really is one of the primary targets of this crusade of hate. And you have not shied away from this throughout your career. You have shown up for the LGBTQ+ community.
And throughout your college tour travels, you have no doubt come across many different people. And I’m wondering what you have seen and what you can say to help us feel like we can keep fighting and fight stronger.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Amelie. And you’ve been a great and courageous voice on this.
First of all, I strongly believe no one should be made to fight alone. We are all in this together.
You know, there are some powerful forces right now that are really trying to divide our country. They’re trying to distract us by — by suggesting we should go backward instead of forward. And so, the first point I would make is: We are all in this together, and no one should be made to fight alone. And no one should allow these haters to try and make people feel they’re alone.
You’re right in terms of my background. I — I was very proud back in 2004 — some of you weren’t even born. I know. (Laughter.) Back in the old days — 2004 — I performed some of the first same-sex marriages in our country. In 2004, there were a whole lot of people saying “That shouldn’t be done. It’s not right.” (Applause.) You know, people said, “Oh, they’re not ready for this yet.”
But you see, I grew up the child of parents who met when they were active in the Civil Rights Movement, when they were marching and shouting for freedom and equality. And I come at this issue, then, with a very strong and profound belief that this is about the freedom to be.
You know, when we’re talking about the fight for our freedoms, like — just to break it down for a moment, it’s the freedom to love who you love openly. It is the freedom to make decisions about your own body. It is the freedom to have access to the ballot box. It is the freedom and the right to have access to opportunity. And — but fundamentally, a lot of this fight for freedoms is about the right that people should have the freedom to just be — to just be, and be free from hate, free from attack, free from bullying, free from harm.
And so, I look at this issue of what’s happening, in terms of these attacks on our LGBTQ+ community, and I also think about it, then, in terms of 2004. So, next year, it’s actually going to be 20 years ago. And then I contrast that with, now, that was not very long ago in the life of a human being who was deprived of those rights. Okay?
And I think about it in the context of what’s happening in places like Florida right now. This “Don’t Say Gay” law.
And here’s how I think about it, because I would encourage the students, when you are learning policy in class, to always step back and think, “How will this affect a real person?”
So, here’s how I think about this issue. The young teachers in Florida are in their 20s. And if they are in a same-sex relationship, they are literally afraid to put a photograph of themselves and their partner up for fear they may lose their job, because they decided to take on one of the most noble professions anyone could engage in, which is to teach other people’s children. (Applause.)
And we don’t pay them enough as it is. (Applause.)
So, I think about it that way.
I think about it in terms of what we have seen as a rise in hate crime, people living in fear to just be. And it’s very real, and we have to — we have to band together and speak up.
So, I’ll tell you one of the things about me. So, I’m kind of a nerd on certain levels about certain things. So, here’s one reveal. I love Venn diagrams. (Laughter.) I love Venn diagrams. I’m telling you, whenever I’m facing, like, a conflict and I need to sort it out, give me a Venn diagram every day of the week. Right?
So, I asked my team — I said, “Let’s — let’s do a Venn diagram. Show me from which states are we seeing attacks on voting rights, LGBTQ rights, and reproductive health rights?” And you would not be surprised to know there was a significant overlap. And so, that’s scary and obviously troubling.
But there’s — there’s also a bright side to — to that knowledge that we have, which is, “Great. Coalition-building opportunity.” Let’s bring together all the folks who have been fighting for voting rights and the folks who have been fighting for LGBTQ rights and the folks who have been fighting for reproductive health rights. Let’s bring everybody together because we got a lot in common, and there is strength in unity
especially in this environment where people are trying to divide us as Americans. That’s how I think about it. (Applause.)
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: Wow. There is strength in unity. There is strength in unity.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: In Tennessee, we say, “Y’all means all.” (Laughter.)
All right. We have another question. I want to uplift another student here to ask a question. Andrew Baxley? (Applause.)
Q My name is Andrew. I am the President of the College Democrats here at the College of Charleston. I just want to say — (applause) — it is an honor and a pleasure to be speaking with you today. Thank you for your service and all that you do for this country.
My question is: My friend Ava is worried about her right to seek reproductive healthcare in her future as a South Carolina resident, a Republican majority state. Why should someone like Ava trust you and President Biden to secure these fundamental rights — human rights?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
Q And what are the steps your administration is actively taking to secure these fundamental human rights?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. This is great. (Applause.)
Let me just start by saying I think it’s really important that you asked that question on behalf of Ava. Because that speaks to the solidarity and the importance of everyone understanding this affects everyone, regardless of your gender. And it is about fundamental rights. (Applause.)
So, let’s contextualize it. And then I will tell you: President Biden and I are fighting in every way. But let’s contextualize it.
So, just over a year ago, we witnessed the highest court in our land take a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America. And, thereafter, states around our country, including this one, passed laws to restrict the ability of an individual to make decisions about her own body and her own future.
And, again, I say: Let’s understand this is not just an intellectual discussion. This is not just an academic discussion. Since that case came down from the Supreme Court last year, every day in America, people are silently suffering.
Because here’s what’s been happening. There are being laws that are proposed and passed that, for example, make no exception for rape or incest.
Now, we’re going to have real talk here. Okay? Everybody here is grown. So, I’m going to give you — I’ll share with you a personal story.
When I was in high school, I learned that my best friend was being molested by her stepfather. And I said to her, “Well, then you have to come live with us.” I called my mother, and my mother said, “Yes, she has to come stay with us,” and she did.
As many of you know, I started my career as a prosecutor. And one of the main reasons I did is because I wanted to specialize and deal with crimes against women and children. And I did specialize in those cases the b- — for the majority of my career as a prosecutor.
So, on this issue — no exception for rape or incest — understand what that means. It is these so-called leaders, these extremists, saying to a survivor of an act of violence to their body, a violation to their body, that she does not have the authority and ability to decide what happens to her body next. That is immoral. That is immoral.
And on this subject of access to reproductive care, to abortion care, let us all 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. (Applause.)
If she chooses, she will make that decision with her pastor, her priest, her rabbi. But she is smart enough to know what is in her own best interest, instead of having a bunch of these folks up in these state capitols trying to tell her what to do — (applause) — when if, in fact, you look closely at some of these laws, it becomes clear that these state legislators don’t even know how a woman’s body works. (Applause.)
Take a look at what’s happening here as evidence of that — passing laws to tell her what she can do before she probably even knows she’s pregnant.
So, on this issue, it is a real issue affecting real people in real time in our nation. And we have to understand the urgency of our action to put back into law the rights that the Court took away. And to do that, we have to elect people to the United States Congress, because they — who — just simply have to agree that they may have their personal beliefs, but agree that the government shouldn’t be telling folks what to do.
If we have that number in the majority, then we can pass a law that puts back in place the protections under the case that was called Roe v. Wade. And Joe Biden has been clear: He will sign it.
Elections matter. Elections matter.
So, us being in place, the work we have done as an administration has also been about saying to all these states, “You cannot deprive people of emergency care.”
Because, sadly, too many folks — I have met many — had to go to the emergency room. This one young woman I met from Texas, she was suffering a miscarriage, went to the — to the hospital for help with a procedure. They denied her because they were so worried they were going to get sued. She then left. She came back: “Please help me.” Denied. It was only when she contracted sepsis that they helped her.
So, the issue about the — the restriction and enforcing the restriction — nobody should be denied access to emergency care is something we are pushing; access to contraception and making sure that we ensure that folks have ac- — access to contraception.
But, ultimately, what the court took away, Congress can put back in place. And so, elections matter, which means your vote matters. (Applause.)
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: So, Madam Vice President, I’m going to ask a question about something that is very personal to us in Nashville. We are just blocks away from Mother Emanuel, where nine precious lives were taken in a mass shooting. In the past few months, we’ve seen shootings at a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida. We’ve seen shootings at a university in North Carolina.
Gun violence is the number one cause of death of children in this nation. And, you know, it was really beautiful — I was at the White House with y’all recently when you — you announced the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, something that young people have been asking for. And it was a beautiful day, but it was also a very somber day because all the families from Uvalde to Nashville were gathered there.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: And, you know — you know what happened in our state. In fact, you came to Tennessee when we were expelled for demanding my colleagues to act on this crisis of gun violence that is plaguing our nation.
And so, you know, I’m so excited to see that you are leading this Office of Gun Violence Prevention that is taking this issue like a national emergency —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: — like a crisis.
And so, my question is: What else can we do to address this preventable crisis —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: — of gun violence in our nation?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, again, I — I just would emphasize the earlier point about the fact that not only are there things that we know we have yet to accomplish as a country in terms of progress, but it is also important to understand where there are purposeful and intentional efforts to obstruct that progress.
And Justin’s case that the — the three of you is a perfect example. Many of you, I’m sure, remember and know: They were simply, as elected representatives in an official session of that elected body, attempting to have a debate on the issue of gun violence. And the so-called leaders of that body turned off their microphones.
This is not even, like, a metaphor, like, “Oh, don’t turn off my microphone,” when you actually don’t have a microphone. They actually had microphones. (Laughs.) And these so-called leaders turned them off.
Now, what I loved about it is y’all were like, “All right. Anybody got a bullhorn?” (Laughs.) That was fantastic.
But there are people who are intentionally standing in the way of just what is reasonable.
So, I’d like to start by — I’m just going to ask you to do me this one favor, the students who are here. Raise your hand if at any point from kindergarten to 12th grade, when you were in school, you had to go through an active shooter drill. Raise your hand and hold it up.
I would ask the older adults to look around the room, and I’d ask the press to take note. Because — thank you, guys — I — I think that older adults don’t fully understand what you guys have been through. I really do.
I once had a conversation with a student who — on this subject — said to me, “Yeah, I don’t really like to go to fifth period.”
I said, “Why, sweetheart?”
“Well, because in fifth period, in that classroom, there’s no closet to hide in.”
So, our students, our young leaders, who are supposed to be in this environment where we are feeding their God-given capacity to learn and to explore and to wonder, and some part of their brain is afraid that somebody might bust through the door with a gun. It’s just not right.
Like, Justin, you said: It’s the leading cause of death of children in our country right now — gun violence — leading cau- — not some form of cancer, car accidents. Gun violence is the leading cause of death of children in America. One in five Americans has a family member who was killed by a gun. The trauma — not to mention that is undiagnosed and untreated — that the American people are living with on this issue.
And to your point: It is a false choice that the obstructionists try to push to say you’re either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone’s guns away. I am absolutely in favor of the Second Amendment. And I believe we need an assault weapons ban. And we need background checks — (applause) — universal background checks and red flag laws.
It’s — it’s just reasonable. It’s just reasonable. You just 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 — it’s just reasonable.
And here’s the thing on this issue and so many of the issues we are discussing that I would like to emphasize, especially to the young leaders here: It does not have to be this way. It does not have to be this way. (Applause.)
We once had an assault weapons ban. It expired. But it does not have to be this way that we don’t ban weapons of war from the streets of a civil society.
And so, how do we achieve change? Well, one, let’s be clear that it is about local, state, and federal elections. But it is truly within the power of elected representatives to do something about this. And ultimately, it’s got to be the United States Congress, because we have some states who have leaders who have been successful in passing reasonable gun safety laws. But if we don’t have some kind of overall approach, then, you know, guns can obviously — assault weapons can obviously, you know, pass through state lines.
So, a big part of this is elections matter.
But, again, I’m going to repeat myself: When you guys start voting in your numbers, because for this — this — for this issue, with so many, this is not an intellectual issue for you. It is a lived experience. You guys are going to make a big difference. (Applause.)
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: Wow. From Charleston to Covenant Elementary in Nashville, it does not have to be this way.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE JONES: Thank you.
We’re going to take one more student question from Tyler Gadson. Is Tyler here? (Applause.)
Q Greetings and welcome to Charleston. My name is Tyler Gadson. I am the basileus of the Beta Mu Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated; a student athlete; academic mentor; student ambassador; as well as a Bonner Leader intern.
My question for you today is about climate change. And it is: What specific policies and initiatives is the government implementing to address the immediate as well as long-term impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, which is what we see here in Charleston weekly, and even extreme weather events? And how are these being funded as well as supported?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Now, this is a wonderful question. And thank you for your leadership in so many capacities. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.
So, again, I’m — you know, there was a time in the not-so-distant past where we had to fight the deniers. And now, you know, you just can’t turn on any form of news without — with — and deny what we’re seeing from, you know, my home state of — wh- — where we’re seeing wildfires to up the — the Eastern Seaboard and — and in the South, what we’re seeing in terms of floods and — and extraordinary, extreme weather events that are decimating communities.
And so, I think we have finally come to the point where there is some consensus that this is a real issue and that it is an urgent issue. Because the clock is not just ticking on this; it is banging.
What we are seeing and witnessing in our own time in terms of the acceleration of this issue, whether it was here in South Carolina — remember the smoke from the Canadian wildfires? — what we have seen in terms of flooding, which — which has an extraordinary impact, especially on low-income communities who don’t have the — the capital and — and the ability, then, to recover as quickly.
So, the harm is very real, and the fact of extreme weather is very real. The fact of the connection between that and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the fact of the connection between human behaviors and greenhouse gas emissions, I do believe most people would agree is — is — cannot be denied at this point.
I think where the tension comes is in the sense of urgency and the commitment to do something and — and be active and serious about it.
Again, when President Biden and I came in, we decided to — to infuse a whole lot of resources and just leapfrog into this issue. We put $1 trillion, which is a historic amount of money, into what we knew to do around resilience. So, helping communities — because now it’s kind of predictable, who’s going to have the extreme weather — helping them build up so that when the extreme weather happens, they won’t be decimated and they can recover. Adaptation, same kind of thing.
But, also, an investment in things like electric vehicles, an investment in wind turbines and solar paneling, an investment in, for example, HVAC systems — so we have a whole pl- — a system that we’ve rolled out where homeowners and renters can get credit for a new HVAC system that is lower energy, and it actually improves the quality of the air that people are breathing.
So, these are some of the things we can do. But we have to do it with a great — a greater sense of urgency.
And I will say also that there are forces that don’t want this to happen too quickly. And, in particular, the big oil companies who are very invested in a business model where they have made a ton of dough off of the status quo. And a transition into a new approach means that it’s disrupting their business model.
And, you know — so, you know, we all here know what gaslighting means. But, also, you know, we — we can talk about — you know, there is the — the whole expression that’s about what’s happening in terms of — I think it’s “greenlighting” — but trying to suggest that they are doing something — so the — you can see a commercial, like on YouTube or wherever, where it — “brought to you by this oil company,” and they’ll show you, like, birds and grass. (Laughs.) “We care about the environment.”
But then if you look at where they’re putting their money or putting their — their projections in terms of their investments, I think it’s questionable whether they’re doing it with the same sense of urgency about getting us to the point that we will have a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and that we accelerate the transition.
The other point I will make here is it is a false choice to say that we either care about reducing the climate crisis or the economy. We can do both, and we’re proving we can. What we have done in investing this $1 trillion has been about the creation over — of over 800,000 new manufacturing jobs in the country, in large part because of what we’re doing around infrastructure — (applause) — and what we are doing to build up a clean energy economy.
When we talk about the — the growth of a clean energy economy, there are so many of the professions and the skills that were required before that transfer immediately. You can’t build up infrastructure around the climate crisis without electricians, without bricklayers, without all of the folks who have the skills that have been building up for years that are at the highest level of skill to do the work we need to do to actually reinforce our country and the world. So, I would add that.
And then my final point here is that we should always keep in mind also the issue of environmental justice, which is, while the climate crisis impacts everyone, it does not do so equally. If we are talking about low-income communities, communities of color, immigrant communities, we see a higher impact because those communities just don’t have the same resources to either be resilient or build back up after devastation.
And so, we need to take that into account. We talked about — and I know that — that — that the College of Charleston is very committed to DEI. You know, again, these forces, you know, coming out of Florida and other places that would say DEI is a bad thing, they’re trying to do what they did with “woke” — with DEI — and say that it is somehow a bad thing to care about and talk about diversity and equity and inclusion.
Well, on the environmental justice point, it’s all about equity. And here’s the — here’s — I’ll simplify what this means. Equity is this: It’s saying, yeah, we’d all agree that equality should be the goal, but if we think that by giving everyone an equal amount, we’re going to achieve equal outcomes, it doesn’t take into account not everybody starts out on the same base.
So, equity is about saying, let’s give some consideration to that point, that not everyone starts out on the same base, but we do want everyone to have an equal opportunity to compete, and then the best will excel, but equal opportunity to compete.
And a lot of what underlies the — the EJ, which is the environmental justice movement, is about equity and equitable outcomes.
So, thank you for that question. (Applause.)
MS. ZILBER: So, we are heading into our last question. I want to say thank you for your candor, your authenticity, and for your heart in this conversation. It is abundantly clear how much you believe in the power of young people. And I think it just means so much more than you know to all of us.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you.
MS. ZILBER: So, our last question is: We’re in a room with so many impassioned young people, our future leaders, here and on this campus. What is your last advice to us?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, well, I’ve got lots of advice. How long do you have? (Laughs.)
Let me start with this. So, we talked a little bit earlier about what’s happening in this environment right now. And, you know — and I am traveling the country, and I’m traveling the world. And one of the things that I see happening that gives me great concern is there’s almost this perversion about how we define strength, where some would suggest that it’s a sign of strength based on who you beat down, instead of what I believe to be the true measure of strength, which is who you lift up.
Some who would suggest that it is a sign of weakness to have some level of concern and compassion and care about the suffering of other people, when, in fact, I believe — that’s called empathy, and I do believe that the best and greatest leaders possess that quality, where they have some level of concern and care for the suffering of other people.
So, as you continue in your roles of leadership, I would advise that we have the ability to see it when we see it and know what’s happening and call it out.
I would encourage you each to know that you must have ambition, and it’s a good thing. I encourage you to have ambition. I encourage you to see what is possible and what can be, unburdened by what has been.
I would encourage you to believe in what will make us great and strong as a nation through the lens of having some concern about our neighbor.
I would encourage you to not listen when somebody says, “Well, nobody like you” or “You’re too young” or “Nobody like you has done something like that before.” I would encourage you not to listen to that. I will tell you I eat “no” for breakfast. (Laughter.) I don’t hear “no,” and I encourage you not to hear it. (Applause.)
And I guess the final point I would make is this. So, as Vice President, I have now met with over 100 world leaders: presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, and kings. When we, as the United States of America, walk in those rooms, we walk in those rooms chin up, shoulders back, with the self-appointed and earned authority to talk about the importance of democracies, rule of law, human rights.
But here’s the thing about being a role model, which everyone here knows: When you’re a role model, people watch what you do to see if it matches what you say.
My great concern and fear, among the many, about what is at stake is that somewhere there are authoritarian, so-called leaders, dictators, who are looking at their people — looking, for example, maybe at the young women of their nation who are fighting for just the right to be educated. And they’re saying to those who are fighting for liberty and freedom and equality and fairness and justice, “Well, you want to hold out the United States as your example? Look what’s happening over there right now.”
And I say this to say that you all being engaged in fighting for fundamental freedoms is about your personal rights and future, your family, your neighbor. And it’s going to have an impact on people around the world, very potentially — people you will never meet, people who may never know your name — but because of your activism and your engagement, will forever be benefited.
So, the advice there is know the power that you each have as individuals and the ferocious power you have as a community, as a collective, as a coalition to make a difference.
And for all of those reasons, I thank you, I applaud you, and your nation is counting on you.
Thank you all.
END 3:49 P.M. EDT
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