As the students as the young leaders here know, the legacy of this extraordinary place of education in America has produced leaders who have gone on to be not only national leaders but global leaders.
And I'm reminded in particular this afternoon of two of those leaders, the late, great John Lewis, and, of course, the phenomenal Diane Nash and what they learned and then taught was that if one is to understand that you are born a leader and it is just a matter of when you decide to kick that in, then you know that we will see leadership at every stage of life if people choose to turn that on.
And we have seen that here in Tennessee over the last couple of weeks. We have seen over 7000 students and young leaders go to the Capitol to talk about what John Lewis and Diane Nash talked about, the importance of freedom, the importance of liberty, the importance of respecting the right of all people to live, where they receive dignity, where they live in a place that they can be free from harm.
And so we are here understanding the broad shoulders upon which we all stand those fighters for freedom and liberty and justice. Those fighters who understand the truth must never be stifled or silenced when it is on behalf of the people.
And so I want to start by recognizing that Tennessee three we are here because they and their colleagues, the Democratic Caucus of the state legislature.
And I'd ask you to stand as well, please, because they chose to show courage in the face of an extreme tragedy, which is that 11 days ago, six people, three educators and three babies, nine years old, were murdered senselessly due to gun violence.
They chose to lead and show courage to say that a democracy allows for places where the people's voice will be heard and honored and respected.
And they understood the importance, these three, of standing to say the people will not be silenced, to say that a democracy hears the cries, hears the pleas, who hears the demands of its people. Who say the children should be able to live and be safe and go to school and not be in fear.
They said, we understand when we took an oath to represent the people who elected us our right, that we speak on behalf of them. It wasn't about the three of these leaders.
It was about who they were representing. It's about whose voices they were channeling.
Understand that. And is that not what a democracy allows.
A democracy says you don't silence the people. You do not stifle the people. You don't turn off their microphones when they are speaking. What life and liberty that is not what or the does and understand.
So they turned off the microphones. They tried to tell them to sit down and be quiet, but they understood that the voices must be heard. Yes, so think about this. In order to make sure the voices were represented in that place where elected leaders are supposed to lead in a democracy. These leaders have to get a bullhorn set to get a bullhorn to be heard.
Well, you know what? That happens in a democracy, too. That happens in a democracy, too. If the students demand, if the mom's demand, if the people's demand is not being heard by those who should listen and care.
And contemplate and reflect and think about; maybe I should give this a moment to listen, give it a fair chance to be heard. If I feel like I'm so right, shouldn't I have the courage to debate it?
Make your case.
Make your case.
You don't turn off the microphones.
And then they do that. And then, guess what? Because you know what? Can't have those voices in that room. Challenging notions about who should say what and when and where.
Oh, let's expel them. Can you imagine? Let's get rid of them entirely. Let's remove them.
Not only for that moment. But remove these people who have been elected to represent the people and let us decide who should represent the people.
What is that?
That is not a democracy.
That is not a democracy.
You can't walk around with your lapel pin and you're not representing the values that we hold dear as Americans. You can't walk around and talk about protocol. Protocol and procedures were devised to require and allow and encourage debate and discussion.
And, yes, dissension. Let these so-called leaders try to shut it down instead. But we're not having that. We're not having that.
And so the thousands of young leaders who descended on the Capitol and continue to organize, continue to require that the voices be heard because let's understand, the underlying issue is about fighting for the safety of our children. Saying that, you know, our babies are going to school. It's been years now since they're taught to read and write and hide in a closet and be quiet. If there is a mass shooter at their school, where our children who have God's capacity to learn and lead, who go to school in fear, if their back is to the back of the door, that they don't know what might be coming through the door.
Our children are being traumatized right now by this fear. Parents are wondering and asking and praying every time they send their child to school or take their child to school that their baby might come home safe. Think about the underlying issue.
You know, some things are up for partisan debate.
And they will be because that is also a sign of a democracy.
But on the issue of smart gun safety laws, background checks of all the policy is really pretty straightforward. It's to say you might want to know before someone buys a gun, whether they've been found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know, you might want to know if someone has shown themselves to be violent before they can go and buy a gun. You just might want to know. It’'s reasonable. The mayor talked about red flag laws when we know and when a community or a family knows. Shouldn't we listen?
Shouldn't we listen to assault weapons or these are weapons of war, right? These are weapons that were designed to kill a lot of people. Quickly. No place on the streets of the civil society.
Part of the underlying point is let's not fall for the false choice.
We suggest you're either in favor of the Second Amendment or you want reasonable gun safety laws. We can and should do both. Don't fall for the false choice.
So the underlying issue is one that we are witnessing over and over again.
This community experienced it firsthand. Just 11 days ago. I have been to Atlanta, I have been to Buffalo, I have been to Highland Park and Monterey Park just in the last several months.
You know, and and the thing is, is that it's not like we're trying to figure out how we should deal with a policy around smart gun safety laws. The ideas are there. The issue which gets back to these three is that we need leaders who have the courage to act at statehouses and in Washington, D.C., in the United States Congress, have the courage to act instead of the cowardice, to not allow debate and to not allow a discussion on the marriage piece of what is at stake courage.
You can't call yourself a leader if you don't have the courage to know what is right and act on it, regardless of the popularity of the moment. So I'm going to close with this point.
I do believe that every generation has its calling and that there are moments in time that find you and require and depend on your leadership. And so in particular, to all the young leaders here, this issue is going to require your leadership. It is.
I spent time as the United States Senate senator in the United States Congress. Before that, I was an attorney general leading the second largest department of Justice in the United States.
I'm now vice president of the United States. And I'm telling you and I'm sharing that with you.
I'm sharing that with you. The young leaders here to tell you, we need you. We need you every moment every movement in my perspective that has been about progress in our country was led by the young leaders like John Lewis and Diane Nash.
And so we are going to be depending on you in solidarity with the work we will all do.
In our respective positions to lead. You speak with such clarity and you speak by telling the truth through a lived experience. Your voices are part of the conscience of our country. When we need in these moments, in time, people who have something in them that is about empathy, about care, about a sense of responsibility for their brother and sister, we need you all, and your leadership in this movement is going to impact people that you may never meet.
People who may never know your name, but because of your leadership, they will forever be benefited.
So I say all that to say we will not be defeated yet.
We will not be deterred.
We will not throw up our hands.
when it is time to roll up our sleeves.
We will fight.
We will lead.
We will speak with truth.
We will speak about freedom and justice.
And we will march on.
YouTube. (2023). YouTube. Retrieved April 17, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IG_yyofT58s.