Democratic VP Pick Talks Civil Rights and Voting

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) — Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine underscored his civil rights background and discussed racism and the necessity of voting at the Progressive National Baptist Convention on Thursday.
     Kaine, a 58-year-old Catholic and U.S. senator from Virginia, touched on supporting religious freedom, creating jobs and a livable wage, working to decrease incarceration rates, slashing gun violence, and closing the gap in trust between the public and law enforcement.
     “As they say, there are no accidents in life,” Kaine, addressing the crowd of several hundred, said in reference to the hymn playing when he walked in. The convention room was packed to standing room only.
     Democracy, Kaine said, is “the ability to choose our own leaders, rather than having someone else thrust our leaders upon us.”
     He called voting “a moral act” and also a “sacred act — whether you are religious or not.” He said he has encountered many people who have said they feel their vote is not important and asked them, “If your vote is so unimportant, why are [Republicans trying to create legislation] to keep you from voting?”
     Without naming Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump specifically, Kaine spoke of those who would elect to abolish religious freedom and who say simply that they know the future will be bright, without naming specifically what will make it so.
     “Religious liberty has served us well, but now we have a candidate who wants to punish people based on their religion,” Kaine said.
     He added, “Our strength is in our determination to seek justice.”
     Throughout his speech, Kaine underscored the 19 years he spent as a civil rights attorney, largely representing clients under the Fair Housing Act.
     He said his first client was a black woman who showed up to look at an apartment she had inquired about by phone, but when the landlord saw her in person and realized she was black he told her the apartment had just been rented.
     The woman went back to work and asked her white coworker to inquire about renting the apartment, Kaine said. The white woman did, and she was told the apartment was still available.
     He emphasized that progress takes work, but also said that by following examples of progress done well, as a nation we don’t have to “reinvent the wheel.”
     “The burden is on us, the majority, Caucasian, to put ourselves in a position where we are a minority,” Kaine said.
     “If you’re a minority, I’ve found that you have to learn the rules of the majority just to survive,” he said, adding that experimenting with perception benefits everyone.
     Living in Richmond, a city with division, Kaine said he and his wife had “decided that our work would be reconciliation.”
     Kaine said he has never experienced racial profiling the way a black person may have experienced it.
     “I’ve never been treated badly in my life because of my skin color, and that’s what makes me so focused on this type of work, and I think that’s why Hillary Clinton wanted me as her running mate,” he said.
     He said Clinton has been breaking down barriers that hold people back, like systemic racism.
     “Just making progress beyond overt feelings of racial superiority is not enough,” Kaine said. “It’s important for us to get out of our comfort zones.”
     Clinton has made clear that taking on these inequities is one of the most important issues going forward, Kaine said.
     “Her opponent just says, when asked about the details: ‘Believe me,'” he said. “One of the good thing about the Clinton-Kaine ticket, is we don’t even have to come up with these ideas [of racial and social equality.]”
     Kaine said he would like to focus on creating jobs and a livable minimum wage, targeting poor communities and creating positive change, and limiting college debt.
     “We need to make a significant effort to make college debt free,” Kaine said.
     And “as powerful as colleges are, we probably do a disservice to our kids if we tell them college is the only way,” he said, mentioning the possibility of creating more apprenticeships and changing public perception about them.
     Kaine spoke of incarceration, saying “action has been slow,” and that one of his goals is to “dismantle the school to prison pipeline and to cut maximum sentences.”
     Finally, he touched on the sore topic of law enforcement and community policing.
     “We need to work to close the gulf between law enforcement and our communities,” Kaine said. “The good news is we don’t have to recreate the wheel. Let’s look at communities that do it right.”
     He pointed to communities across America continue to invest in infrastructure and training, even if they might struggle with budget concerns
     The senator also spoke of police accountability and the necessity for statistics, a painfully timely topic following the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling, a black man, who was shot by white cops outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge on July 5.
     Sterling’s death was followed by the massacres of three Baton Rouge-area police officers at the hands of Gavin Long, 29, a former Marine who had had enough with police killings and decided to take matters into his own hands.
     “We count very carefully the number of police who are killed in the line of duty, and we should,” Kaine said, noting that police killings have steadily declined since the 1970s. “But in terms of people killed by police, we don’t even measure it. It’s like it doesn’t even matter.”     
     He said it does matter and we have to begin to treat it like it does.
     “You can support the Second Amendment, that’s fine, but we have to be able to keep reasonable rules,” Kaine said to cheering and applause.      
     Kaine spoke at the 55th annual Progressive National Baptist Convention. The PNBC was founded during the civil rights movement. It has a membership of about 1.5 million people nationally, and 2.5 million globally, according to a press release from the church.
     Following Kaine’s speech, PNBC President Dr. James C. Perkins joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson in speaking on voter engagement.

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