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Harris urges Black women to vote in the ‘most existential, consequential’ election in speech to AKA convention

<i>Edmund D. Fountain/Reuters via CNN Newsource</i><br/>US Vice President Kamala Harris
Edmund D. Fountain/Reuters via CNN Newsource
US Vice President Kamala Harris

By Michael Williams, Priscilla Alvarez, Nicquel Terry Ellis and Ebony Davis, CNN

Washington (CNN) — Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday delivered the keynote speech at Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.’s biennial convention, issuing a call to action for Black women voters as she seeks to mobilize the key demographic amid a crucial week for the Biden-Harris reelection campaign.

“I do believe this is the most existential, consequential and important election of our lifetimes, sorors. Sorors, this is a serious matter,” Harris said to thousands of her sorority sisters at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.

“And so, in this moment, once again, our nation is counting on the leaders in this room to guide us forward, to energize, organize and mobilize, to register folks to vote and to get them to the polls in November, because we know when we organize, mountains move. When we mobilize, nations change, and when we vote, we make history,” she added.

The ties between Harris and AKA, the oldest historically Black sorority in the country, run deep. Harris was a member of the sorority during her time at Howard University, and her sorority sisters have been among some of her most ardent and vocal supporters throughout her political career, especially when she was campaigning for president four years ago before Biden chose her to run alongside him when he clinched the nomination.

Black women have been credited with helping propel Biden to the presidency in 2020, and they have been the most consistently supportive bloc for Biden since his time as Barack Obama’s vice president. But the timing of this year’s address at AKA’s 71st Boule is especially crucial, as Biden has seen lagging support due to his handling of Israel’s war in Gaza, persistent concerns about the 81-year-old president’s age and mental acuity and continued worries about the shape of the economy.

Harris’ appearance comes as she’s traveling to several states this week, including Nevada and North Carolina, following Biden’s poor debate performance and hoping to rally key constituencies including Black, female and young voters.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.’s Boule is held every two years and invites members from around the world to convene for certification training, forums, workshops, community service projects and other events. In a post on Instagram, the sorority said Harris would be addressing more than 20,000 members in Dallas for her keynote speech.

The post cited one of the sorority’s key program initiatives, which is “Advocating for Social Justice.” That initiative encompasses voter education, voter registration, mobilization and candidate forums.

“The keynote address by Harris allows us to continue the efforts of our international program initiative ‘Advocate for Social Justice,’” the sorority wrote. “Alpha Kappa Alpha stands in the gap to empower and equip communities with knowledge, support, and tools through advocacy and social justice.”

Harris said AKA is “a big part of me” and underlined the role Black women played in Biden’s victory to the White House in the last election.

“The leaders of Alpha Kappa Alpha have stood up, spoken out, and done the work to build a brighter future for our nation, including, of course, in 2020, when, during the height of a pandemic, you helped elect Joe Biden president of the United States, and me as the first woman elected vice president of the United States,” she said.

Some sorority members attending Boule said Tuesday they were eager to hear the vice president speak.

Glenda Baskin Glover, the former international president and CEO of AKA, said she hopes Harris discusses the Biden administration’s record on supporting abortion rights, HBCU funding and student loan forgiveness.

Glover, who is the former president of Tennessee State University and sits on Biden’s HBCU Advisory Board, said Harris’ speech will be critical to mobilizing sorority members to vote.

“Educational rights are on the ballot and a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body, that is definitely on the ballot,” Glover said. “She can tell us what the Biden administration has done over the last three and half years to uplift women and minorities.”

Janae Dandridge, an AKA member from Detroit, said she believes Harris and the Biden administration understand the voting power of the sorority.

Dandridge said Harris will need to speak about unifying the country in this divisive political climate, reproductive rights and the importance of fighting for social justice if she wants to build confidence in the Biden campaign.

“I think at the end of the day, our organization is so large … and it’s such a powerful body of women located all over the country and the world who can get out and vote,” Dandridge said. “And it’s not just us, we have family members and friends who can be force multipliers in getting other people out to vote. We can make a difference for the election.”

AKA is an international organization made up of more than 360,000 graduate and undergraduate members. It is the oldest Greek-letter organization created by Black college-educated women. AKA was founded in 1908 at Howard University.

Glynda Carr – a member of AKA and president of Higher Heights for America, a political organization that engages Black women in politics – said Black women should not be taken for granted in this race.

“When a Black woman is fired up about ensuring that her community, you know, has access to resources and that we’re centering the issues that we care about – she actually doesn’t go to the polls alone. I always say she brings her house to her block, her church, her sorority and her union,” Carr told CNN.

She added that Harris “needs to be fueled up with the energy … to continue to go out to fight the good fight on the issues that we care about. (It’s important that) the young undergrads here see the possibilities that exist for their leadership, right? You can’t be who you can’t see.”

The speech comes at a critical time for the vice president. While Harris has been floated as a likely candidate for nomination if Biden decides to step aside ahead of November (he has repeatedly said he would not), she has remained firmly behind the president ever since the minutes after his disastrous debate last month.

“I’m not going to spend all night with you talking about the last 90 minutes when I’ve been watching the last three-and-a-half years of performance,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper immediately after the debate.

Harris has spoken with elected officials over the last week expressing her support for the Biden-Harris ticket and calling for the party to stay united, according to a Harris aide.

On Wednesday, the vice president touted the administration’s record on several policy issues including health care and the economy, and also announced the Biden administration’s creation of national health and safety standards for maternal care during her remarks.

“For the first time, we have created national health and safety standards for maternal care. For the first time, national standards, which means nearly every hospital in our country will soon be required to provide new mothers with delivery rooms that are fully stocked with life-saving medical equipment,” Harris said.

But despite the administration’s efforts, Harris emphasized “we have more work do,” specifically around gun violence prevention, voting rights and women’s reproductive freedom.

Harris’ team has kept their heads down amid the party fallout, following a mandate from senior officials to stay the course. But that hasn’t kept some Democrats from floating her name to lead the party’s ticket.

On Sunday, during a call held by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries with House Democratic ranking members, it was generally acknowledged the nominee should be Harris, CNN previously reported.

Over the weekend, Harris made no mention of the growing concerns over Biden’s candidacy during a moderated conversation with President & CEO of Essence Ventures Caroline Wanga, instead outlining the stakes of the upcoming election and a second Trump term. She echoed that on Wednesday.

She again argued if elected, Trump would push for a national abortion ban should get reelected in November.

“We will not let him. We will not let that happen. We have worked too hard and fought too long to see our daughters throw up in a world with fewer rights than our mothers. America must trust women. America must honor individual choice. America must defend freedom,” she said.

Harris denounced Project 2025, a conservative group’s plans to radically reshape the federal government and American life should Trump win a second term.

“Trump advisors have created a 900-page blueprint of their agenda for the second term,” Harris said as the crowd notably joined her in sync calling out the name: “Project 2025.”

She continued, “It includes a plan to cut Social Security, to repeal our $35 cap on insulin, to eliminate the Department of Education and end programs like Head Start. So, let us be clear, this represents an outright attack on our children, our families and our future.”

This story has been updated with additional developments on Wednesday.

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