Sen. Kamala Harris

Sen. Kamala Harris

Today, we celebrate our country’s first-ever National Black Voter Day — an effort to make sure that Black voters make their voices heard at the polls this year. It reflects an undeniable truth: that while Black Americans were long prohibited from exercising our fundamental right to vote, few have fought harder throughout American history to ensure that everybody can participate in our democracy.

And this year, voting is more important than ever.

The Black community understands just how critical this election is — because we are living the consequences of the last election every day. When it comes to nearly every issue that affects our lives, we have been disproportionately harmed by President Donald Trump and the failures of his administration.

A strong leader sees a challenge and takes it head on. President Trump saw a challenge and hid under the covers. From the beginning, he knew how deadly the coronavirus was — but he lied to the American people about the threat it posed and refused to contain its spread. As a result, America now has more than 6.6 million infections. More than 195,000 people have died. And Black and brown communities have been hit hardest of all. As of July, Black people accounted for nearly 60% of COVID hospitalizations here in Philadelphia — more than people of any other race or ethnicity.

And Trump’s inability to get the virus under control has led to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — a crisis that is disproportionately hurting Black families and businesses. According to one study, as of April, a staggering 40% of Black-owned businesses had shut down compared to just 17% of white-owned businesses. But few Black-owned businesses benefited from the $2 trillion rescue package Congress passed in April.

Black people are also more likely to be “essential workers,” which puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus. They are also more likely to experience chronic health conditions like diabetes, which makes them more vulnerable to complications that could worsen cases of COVID-19.

And the long unspoken truth is, these inequities were baked into our system long before this virus exploited and exacerbated them. They are the result of decades of structural racism that has limited everything from job opportunities, to access to health care, to the ability to live in safe neighborhoods with good schools, affordable housing and decent grocery stores. These inequities have robbed Black families of the opportunity to build generational wealth, and made it harder for Black entrepreneurs to access the capital they need to turn a great idea into a successful business.

At every turn, Donald Trump has made things worse. He has ignored the needs of working families and small businesses, while giving a trillion-dollar tax break that overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and big corporations. He has denied the existence of systemic racism and deliberately stoked fear to divide Americans. And nine months into this pandemic that he admitted to playing down, he still has no plan to get it under control — which means that Americans will continue to die.

Four years ago, Donald Trump demanded our vote asking “What do you have to lose?” It turns out, everything. Under four more years of a Trump administration, we stand to lose our health care. We stand to lose our homes. We stand to lose our businesses.

It’s not just our livelihoods at stake in this election. Our very lives are, too.

The only way for our economy to recover is to get this pandemic under control — which is why Joe Biden and I have a plan to deal with the virus starting on day one.

And as Joe always reminds us, returning to the status quo isn’t good enough — we need to build back better. A Biden-Harris administration will create more jobs by investing in the industries that make our economy strong, including infrastructure, clean energy, manufacturing and care work — and we will embed racial justice into the core of our agenda.

Joe and I know that small businesses are the heart of our communities. I saw it this week in Philadelphia, where I met with Ben and Robert Bynum whose restaurants have brought delicious soul food and live jazz to this city for decades. Over the past few months, they’ve watched their neighbors struggle through the pandemic, and take to the streets demanding justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. So they decided to do what they do best to ease some of the pain and suffering — serve up comfort food. Ben and Robert started The Hero Kitchen to provide hundreds of meals to front-line workers. Because they know that our neighborhood restaurants and local shops are about more than what they sell — they are the lifeblood of our communities.

If elected, Joe Biden and I will launch an initiative to invest in small businesses owned by people of color — the kind of seed funding that will attract more private investment. Experts estimate that our plan will expand access to $150 billion for small businesses in Black and brown communities.

We will build on the Affordable Care Act, protect people with preexisting conditions and make sure that everyone gets access to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and a safe and effective vaccine, free of cost. We will expand access to affordable housing and help more Black families buy homes. We will triple funding for Title I schools so that all kids have access to a world-class education. We will invest in Black, Latino, Asian American and indigenous communities. And because Joe and I know that working families are the anchor of our economy, we will do everything we can to make a middle-class life accessible to all Americans.

Make no mistake — our plans are achievable. But first, we need to vote. And we need to vote early.

And this year, there are several easy, convenient and flexible ways to vote, including vote by mail, voting early in person, or voting on Election Day. And today — National Black Voter Day — is the perfect day to make your plan to vote. Go to IWillVote.com/PA or text VOTE to 30330 today to learn about your voting choices and decide where and when to vote. Once you have a plan, make sure your friends and family have a plan to vote, too. And, if you’re able, be one of the first to cast your ballot by voting early — and encourage others to do the same.

For centuries, our ancestors fought for causes bigger than themselves — first for their freedom, and then for the right of all people to participate in our democracy. They understood that we all have an equal stake in our future — and we must have an equal say in determining its course. They understood that, in the words of our hero John Lewis, “Democracy is not a state; it is an act.”

Now, it’s up to us to act. To participate. To protect the democracy for which they sacrificed. So, let’s do right by them. Let’s do right by each other.

Let’s vote.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California is the Democratic vice presidential candidate.

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