Students Say “Yea!” to Mock Senate
December 21, 2015
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“The American people elected you, are you up to the job?” a staffer at the Edward M. Kennedy Foundation asked the group of Steve Moynihan’s AP government students, decked out in their business casual on December 10, 2015. The doors open on a vast room filled with desks lined up facing a large ornate desk and two podiums, a hush comes across the group. From the high ceiling, rich blue carpeting, gold sconces, marble pillars, down to the gold bald eagle above the words “E Pluribus Unum,” it’s easy to be fooled for a moment into thinking that this really is the Senate chambers in Washington, D.C.
Moynihan’s AP government class voyaged to the Edward M. Kennedy Foundation’s Senate simulation to participate in an all-day activity that would let them experience the everyday life of a US Senator. The mission of the EMK Foundation is to give students a better understanding and appreciation of how the Senate works, for they soon will be the ones filling the real Senate chambers. And what better way to get a teenager’s attention than by an interactive activity that gives them the chance to express their opinion? Each student is equipped with a tablet that gives them background on the beliefs, political party, and state of the Senator they will be playing that day based on real current Senate members. They have to keep three things in mind throughout the activity: the interests of their political parties, the interest of their state, and their own personal interests.
To prepare for the simulation, Moynihan’s classes have been studying the inner-workings of the Senate and other curriculum to help ensure they were familiar with the language and how the simulation would work. “I’ve been on an educator curriculum committee since 2013, and we helped advise the people who created the program on what sort of content and nomenclature they should include, so I’m very excited to get to experience it with my government kids,” Moynihan shared.
The issue covered during the simulation was the renewal of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act was passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks which gave agencies,(such as the FBI or the CIA), the ability to increase surveillance on American citizens to prevent another terrorist attack on US soil. The Senators were split into four subcommittees: two of which would elect a new Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State and begin thinking of the provisions (restrictions) to be added to the Patriot Act, and the other two would begin to brainstorm any amendments (changes) to be added to the Patriot Act.
The four groups met and discussed the pros and cons of every provision and amendment that could be proposed to the Patriot Act. Because every decision the Senate makes is very complex and thorough, this part took about an hour and a half. “I’ve learned how extensive and how much of a process it is for any legislation to pass in this country,” senior Ben Falacci commented.
Senior Norah Murphy said, “It’s easy to think Senators sit around all day and say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ but it turns out there’s a lot more to it.”
Finally, the big moment of voting on the amendments and provisions arrived. Senior Matt Donovan was chosen to represent the Republicans on why the sunset clause should not be adopted into the Patriot (allowing the act to continue without an end-date). Despite starting his speech before being recognized by the Vice-President (as is Senate tradition), Donovan delivered a passionate and persuasive speech, throwing out quotable lines such as: “Congress, the slowest body since my grandfather,” ending his speech with an emphatic “and if you don’t agree, you can walk the plank!” He drove his point home, and successfully too, because the sunset clause was not adopted into the Patriot Act.
Next up was Robbie Welsh (Republican and pro-funding) and Ryan Dombrowski, (Democrat and anti-funding) to present the opposing viewpoints on the possible amendment of extending funding on drone research. In the end, the Republican mindset won out and the extended funding amendment was added to the Patriot Act.
After the final “Yea,” loud cheers from the Republicans and Democrats alike rang through the chambers. The votes were in: the Patriot Act had been passed.
If the EMK Foundation’s goal is to interest and educate teenagers about the Senate, they’ve succeeded. “A lot of work goes into the Senate, a lot of behind the scenes stuff like speeches and committees and subcommittees, so I have a greater appreciation now. It was interactive and a fun environment; I liked that I was able to throw a few jokes in there,” Senior Matt Donovan commented about the day.
After this experience, seniors Saàrah Murphy and Lexi O’Brien would love to be US Senators. “Oh, that would be a dream! It was so engaging and I would love to do something good for the world,” Murphy confided. “It was really fun; it was a very cool experience. I would like to be a Senator, if I could pull it off,” O’Brien joked.