Vice President Kamala Harris urged college students to vote and warned them about what she described as a “full-on attack” against their rights — including their ability to vote and to get an abortion — during a talk Thursday at Florida International University, the largest public university in South Florida.
“It is incumbent on us then to not passively sit by and let it happen but to stand up and fight for what we know to be right and be true,” said Harris, 58. “And one of the many ways you have to make a difference is to vote.”
“But it’s not as simple as vote and your vote will matter. You also need to know there are people who are intentionally trying to make it harder for you to vote. Understand what you’re up against,” added Harris.
She cited a law in Georgia that forbids people from giving food and water to those waiting in line to vote and one in Florida that restricts how ex-felons can vote.
During the 45-minute conversation, held at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center, located on FIU’s main campus in West Miami-Dade, moderators rapper Fat Joe and actor Anthony Ramos as well as some students asked Harris questions. It was Harris’ sixth stop in her month-long “Fight for Our Freedoms” College Tour that started Sept. 14, an effort to galvanize support among young people ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
She told the crowd that she admired those in the Generation Z because despite national challenges like the murder of George Floyd, the coronavirus pandemic and historic climatic phenomena, they’ve engaged civically. She reminded them how in the 2020 election young voters voted in record numbers. About 3,200 attended, according to FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana.
“Your generation is one of the most spectacular, special that we have seen in a long time,” she said, as they cheered.
Harris touches on gun violence, abortion
To further her point, Harris later asked those in those in the audience to raise their hand if they experienced an active shooter drill during their school years. Hundreds of arms immediately rose.
“See, I don’t think people really understand what you have been through,” she said after. “But it doesn’t have to be this way.”
She said she believed in the Second Amendment but also favored a ban on assault weapons, background checks and red flag laws.
Fred Guttenberg, an activist against gun violence whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg died in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High mass shooting in Parkland, spoke before she arrived.
He praised Harris and her allies for fighting against gun violence. He mentioned how last week, President Joe Biden announced the first-ever Office of Gun Violence Prevention and chose Harris to lead it. He also talked about the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant gun safety legislation, in nearly 30 years, which Congress passed in 2022.
“My friends, we need you,” he told the crowd. “The only way we can do more is through the vote. There’s a big election coming up, and I need every one of you right now to promise me you’re going to vote in the ‘24 election.”
Haylee Casas, a marketing sophomore at FIU, said she liked that Harris addressed abortion.
“It was very informative,” she said. “It was cool.”
During her remarks, Harris explained how last year the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and how that led to states passing laws restricting abortion. She referenced Florida passing a law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April, that would ban most abortions in the state after six weeks. She then said she wants Congress to pass a law making abortion legal.
“In this state,” Harris started then chuckled, “a six-week ban? That tells me they don’t know how a woman’s body works. Most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks.”
Diversity matters, Harris said
Casas, a 19-year-old from Miami, said she also liked that Harris sprinkled motivational phrases throughout her appearance. At one point, Harris dared the students to “dream with ambition” and pushed them to be proud of their ethnicity.
Harris, the first female vice president of the U.S., as well as the first African-American and first Asian-American vice president, told them that there would likely come a time in their lives where they would enter a courtroom, boardroom or another meeting room and they would be the only ones who looked like they do in that room.
“I am going to require you to remember you are not alone in that room,” she said. “Look around you; we’ll all be walking into that room with you.”
FIU is the country’s largest Hispanic-serving institution (HSI): about 32,000 of its 56,000 students identify as Hispanic or Latino. The government defines HSI as a college or university with an enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that’s at least 25% Hispanic.
Harris also briefly touched on how the Florida Legislature this spring passed a law that in part prevents colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
“Let’s be really clear about what they’re up to,” she said. “They’re trying to say that it’s a bad word. They’re trying to do the same thing they did with ‘woke.’ They’re trying to turn it against the people who understand exactly why it’s important.”
After the FIU talk, Harris was scheduled to speak at a Biden campaign reception at 6 p.m. in Miami Shores. She’ll return to Washington D.C. from Miami International Airport at 7 p.m.