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EXCLUSIVE: VP Kamala Harris Talks Ending Voter Suppression to Black Press  

Vice President Kamala Harris Vaccine Equity Chicago Defender

Vice President Kamala Harris made her first visit to Chicago since the 2020 election.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the National Newspaper Publishers Association about voting rights and more.

 

From protecting voting rights in America and ensuring safer roads for pedestrians to lowering insulin prices for diabetics and creating better Black maternal care — Vice President Kamala Harris addressed several hot-button issues that especially impact Black communities nationwide recently.  

During a nearly 30-minute Zoom meeting on Friday, January 14 with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), Harris outlined her wins and high-level accomplishments over the past 12 months during her historical tenure as the vice president since being elected January 20, 2021.  

The exclusive NNPA live-streamed interview also coincided with NNPA celebrating its historic 195th anniversary of the Black Press of America this year.  

Harris kicked off the interview with Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., NNPA president, and CEO, asking her to touch on the important issue of protecting and insuring voting rights in the country on the heels of the Biden-Harris administration’s visit to Atlanta this week to speak on voter suppression.   

“What message can you provide to Black America that can give a sense of hope?” Chavis asked Harris.  

Harris quoted Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young when she said that “freedom is a constant struggle” and given recent voting rights consternations and issues, it’s not time to “give up.”  

“The point is we don’t give up — that is where I am,” she said.  

Voting Rights 

Harris took on that stance after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) chose to not move forward with Biden’s plans of progressing the cause of voting rights, The Hill reported. Sinema said she is not going to vote to change the Senate’s filibuster rule (which Republicans are using to block voting rights legislation) even though she supports voting rights, according to The Hill.  

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who also says that he supports voting rights, is not interested in changing the Senate’s filibuster rule.   

The Hill reported that Sinema said that new state laws prohibiting access to voting “are symptoms” of the “more deeply rooted problem” of political divisions in the country and removing the filibuster would not make things better.  

Harris said there has been a lot of focus on Manchin and Sinema but people should also be looking at the “50 Republicans who took an oath to defend the United States.”  

She added that it’s not the “beginning of the end” when it comes to voting rights in America.  

“It’s the beginning of a movement for voting rights,” she said, adding that she has a plan of action moving forward so access to the ballot box is not obstructed. “I am bringing in folks to my office from every walk of life that will be affected. … We will continue to build a coalition around this issue. … We cannot be tired even though we are frustrated and yes disappointed and angered.”  

Across the nation, voting rights advocates have wanted federal voting protections to be put in place for a long time and the Senate is neglecting to act on two important pieces of legislation that would put those protections in place before the midterm elections, Black Information Network (BIN) reported.   

During Biden’s speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, January 11, he called out Georgia’s voter suppression law passed last year after the record voter turnout helped turn the state blue, according to BIN. The president gave remarks about the historical push for voting rights, asking the Senate to change filibuster rules to get the legislation passed. He addressed members who opposed the legislation so far, saying that history will remember their stance on the issue.   

Harris said during the interview that she has met with many world leaders who talk about the importance of democracy as opposed to autocracy, which gives absolute power to one person.  

She added that even Angela Merkel, former chancellor of Germany, sat across from Harris’ desk not too long ago and asked her, “What’s going on with voting (rights) for America?”  

Harris said that backing down from voting rights for all in America would take America off the map as a role model for what democracy looks like.  

“Part of our strength is we fight for the ideals — even though we have not reached it,” she said adding that part of democracy is for and by all the people. “Voting is one of the most important pillars of a democracy and they’re (other nations) watching.”  

A Step Forward 

Chavis also talked to Harris about playing an “enormous role” in helping usher in a bipartisan infrastructure bill.   

“How will that legislation make a difference?”  

Chavis said that the infrastructure deal involves working on expanding public transit, especially for African Americans who are four times more likely to take public transit than white workers. “It’s a big issue,” Harris said.  

Increased funding for public transit means that the Biden-Harris administration is infusing $90 billion in this sector to add more buses on city streets and adding more broadband accessibility and affordability.   

Harris said that 30 percent of Black children had no internet access, which was highlighted during the pandemic. The infrastructure deal will change those figures significantly.  

From lead pipe removal to job creation, Harris said these positive changes come with job creation and a need for skilled workers like carpenters, plumbers, and electricians.  

“A lot of good work that needs to happen … is going to happen because of this law,” Harris said.  

Harris also highlighted that since the Biden-Harris administration took the helm, 200 million Americans were fully vaccinated with 75 million receiving the booster, which is a significant role in getting the economy back on its feet. Also, 95 percent of public schools reopened, and six million jobs were created last year.  

The first-ever announcement from Harris’ camp also includes a new, national roadway safety strategy that will put $6 billion into state and local governments to improve safety on the roads and prevent car accidents and improve crosswalk safety.  

“(It’s a) very big thing when you talk about the quality of life … of communities (that) rely on public streets to get to the bus, get to church, to be safe,” Harris said, adding that she is also making strides in addressing Black maternal morality at the national level and protecting mothers’ mental and physical health. “I’m so proud (to put this issue on the) White House stage. … (It is) something that many of us know about don’t talk a lot about.” 

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