U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus on Tuesday to speak to students on the importance of voting, in commemoration of National Voter Registration Day.
Before appearing to hundreds of students gathered on Wilkins Plaza, the vice president spoke to Assistant Professor Samuel Frye’s integrative studies class, “Community, Culture and Change” as a surprise guest speaker.
“I wanted to come and talk with you because you are the leaders of today and tomorrow,” Harris said. “In the tradition of George Mason, and the leadership of students at this particular university, I am a strong believer that the most important progress that our country has made has been a function of movements, and almost every one of those movements were fueled by students.”
Harris, who was welcomed by Provost Mark Ginsberg and answered student questions following her talk, also spoke on the power of community engagement, and on protecting voting rights for all citizens.
“Some of our greatest movements [as a nation] have been built not only by community, but about a way of doing policy work and organizing that is called coalition-building, knowing that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us,” Harris said.
“One of the biggest takeaways I had from today was how [Harris] emphasized our strength in numbers,” said Sydney Howard, a junior studying social justice and human rights. “It can be discouraging to think [if] our vote matters individually, but she touched on the power we have when we stick together and the policies that we’ve already brought into fruition.”
Harris emphasized that the goal of American democracy should be unity, not uniformity, where all voices can be heard and disagreements on the issues can be explored with healthy debates.
“Your vote is an expression of your voice, and we should never support anything that would stifle somebody’s voice or take their power,” Harris said, making the case that Congress should pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
The vice president also mentioned how Mason’s efforts in registering students to vote in 2020, and subsequent polling turnout, helped pave the way for change across the nation.
“Students got out and voted, and it was powerful,” Harris said. “You have demonstrated a durability to organize the power of your vote in a climate where the right to vote is being threatened.”
“I really enjoyed hearing [the vice president] talk about how each voice matters” said McKenna Beauchamp, a senior integrative studies major. “We shouldn’t push away other people’s voices because they don’t conform to the whole idea [of a particular party].”
“I'm extremely grateful for [Harris] coming out here, just showing the students that voting is important,” said Mason Student Body President Natalia Kanos. “Her presence reassures that Mason is advancing in so many ways—it puts our university in the forefront, and I'm really excited to be part of this institution, to register people to vote, to get people out there.”
Students said the opportunity to engage with the vice president was exciting and surreal, and felt it was a unique benefit afforded to them by Mason.
“Being this close to D.C.… we have the opportunity to engage with policymakers [and] change-makers firsthand,” Howard said. “They care about the quality of our education, they want to come in and assist us in that, and it’s a great opportunity.”