Conor Moore | Staff Writer
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at FIU as part of the “Fight for our Freedoms College Tour”, in order to stir young people into the voting spirit, as well as discussing some of the most pressing issues facing American society today, such as abortion, gun violence and the right to vote.
Harris’s visit on Sep. 28 came as a surprise, as FIU did not make the original list of schools she planned to visit.
The event, hosted at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center, featured a number of prominent speakers and diverse performances before her appearance, moderated by rapper Fat Joe and Anthony Ramos, including music by Miami Senior High’s marching band and dancing by the Haitian Nancy St Leger Ensemble.
“I think that your generation is one of the most spectacular and special that we have seen in a long time,” Harris said. “You were all born knowing the climate crisis. You all were born when there was one of the worst pandemics the world has ever seen.”
“In your lifetime, you have witnessed George Floyd’s murder. In your lifetime, you growing up, had to endure drills in elementary, middle and high school, because there might be an active shooter.”
In addition, Harris addressed a felon’s right to vote. In recent years, the Florida state government disallowed a felon’s voting rights, only to have it repealed under certain conditions as part of Amendment 4.
“In the majority of states, people who have served their time have the right to vote. What happened to the concept of redemption?”, Vice President Harris said.
A student asked Harris a question regarding gun violence and how it has affected the state of Florida.
“I’d like to start by asking the students here if you would indulge me. Raise your hand and hold it up if you had to have or had an active shooter drill,” Harris said.
Nearly all students raised their hands. “I’d ask for the older adults to look around, and the media to take note,” she said. “You know, in having this conversation with young people and young leaders in our country, I can’t tell you, the kind of fear that our young people, our children are living through. The exposure to trauma, just knowing that it might happen, much less when it actually happens.”
She also mentioned the gun control laws and organizations she and President Biden have helped put into effect.
“I am in favor of the Second Amendment, and we need an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and red flag laws,” Harris said to applause.
On the topic of questions, only a small handful of students were selected to ask. Media were not given the opportunity to speak to the vice president, as the discussion was closely moderated and the event was centered more around the students rather than a typical press conference or rally.
Another important topic was that of abortion. Harris made note of Florida’s six-week abortion ban.
“In this state, 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.”
The quip received many cheers from students, many of whom feel as if their rights have been under attack by the state government.
To conclude the talk, which lasted about 45 minutes, Vice President Harris expressed her pride for America and stressed the vitality of democracy.
“As the greatest democracy in the world, showing that democracy is as strong as its people are willing to fight for it – and we are willing to do just that. And therein lies my optimism.”
FIU President Kenneth Jessell spoke about Panther Pride and how important Vice President Harris’s visit was to the university, as well as praising the recent Homecoming events.
After Jessell, gun control activist Fred Guttenberg gave an impassioned speech about the right to vote urging all young people in the room to vote.
“We will vote”, chanted Guttenberg. The audience followed suit and repeated his mantra.
Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine-Cava, also spoke, proclaiming the importance of getting involved, especially as a young person.
“The legacy that we leave as leaders now will lay the foundation for our future and the choices that we make will impact young people most of all, which is why I am so glad to see so many young leaders stepping up to the plate and so many are right here in Miami-Dade County.” said Cava.
There were also many groups on the ground who spoke to young people, one of which was Voters of Tomorrow, an organization dedicated to bringing the youth out to vote.
Jack Lobel, press secretary for the group, spoke in an interview with PantherNOW about the critical part the new generation of voters has to play in the upcoming elections.
“We are not Gen-Z focused, we’re Gen-Z led. The Vice President’s visit is important because young people feel left out of the conversation.”
Lobel also spoke at length about a partner organization, People Power for Florida, which was present on the day of the discussion.
“Our efforts are only possible because of our partners like People Power for Florida, whose work truly drove our success on the ground today,” he said.
President of Florida’s Voters for Tomorrow chapter Jayden D’Onforio spoke during an interview with PantherNOW about the significance of the Vice President’s arrival, as well as initiatives the youth can take.
“This entire College Freedoms tour, it’s an amazing thing. To see Vice President Harris meeting methodically with youth across the country is a beautiful thing. It really resonates with the importance of young voter issues. I think what we’re seeing now, particularly within the Democratic Party, is a renewed sense of organization in engaging younger voters,” said D’Onforio.
“You can also get actively involved yourself by knocking on doors, advocating for your message, doing voter registration, ballot positions, and petitioning”, he said.
“If you look at liberal messaging and then you look at conservative messaging, conservatives win that fight nine times out of 10. I think we really are seeing a tide, a turn of renewed outreach, better outreach, better messaging and an understanding of how to actually strategically reach different demographics.”
“We call micro-organizing, organizing based on demographics, not off of the general population or party. We advocate for policies that they know is on their minds, as opposed to the Republican Party and conservatives who engage in culture wars or woke.”
While the vice president’s visit was embraced warmly by hundreds, not all felt similar.
Daniel Salup-Cid and Joselyn Peña, SGA CASE senator and vice president, respectively, of the Young Democratic Socialists of America on campus, were less than enthused about the reception.
“The thing is that about this visit in particular is that I feel like it is arriving too late. We’ve been seeing these slow ripping away of freedoms. I think it’s just a little bit cynical to now come and talk about fighting for our freedoms when we’ve been doing pretty badly on the freedom part for so many years,” Salup-Cid said.
“I didn’t look for an itinerary or anything, but I was extremely surprised at how short it was,” said Peña. “Especially because we waited for two hours. It was a very short talk just like a campaign event got the impression that it was done to kind of uplift her and show her in a good light, as most campaign events with students do.”
Representatives from SGA and College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.
To end the Vice President’s visit, Fat Joe concluded with a call to action. “Go to vote.gov and make your voices heard”, he urged the audience.