By Katie Oglesby ’23
As a member of the Fielding Fellows program through the Eisenhower Institute, I traveled to Boston with the other fellows in early October to visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
We spent less than 48 hours in Boston, but saw and learned so many things in our brief time there. On the first day, we went sightseeing, and it was honestly just remarkable walking down regular streets and passing the cemetery where Paul Revere and other famous early Americans are buried. As someone from California, I’m not so used to seeing such rich history so easily.
We spent our second day in Boston at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate.
As Fielding Fellows, we are studying the executive branch. Our particular research project this year is on how the State Department can and should handle hostage crises in Iran, Russia and China. While Kennedy’s presidency was not shaped by a hostage crisis, he did have a large public face in international relations. It was especially valuable to go through the museum, watch the supplemental movies and see the relics of his presidency, thinking about the ways he handled the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. While American politics have certainly changed since the Cold War, relations with Russia are still tense.
I found the trip to the presidential library really fascinating and important, even on the domestic level, too. There was a whole section of the museum dedicated to the reaction to Kennedy’s death and the change of power that happened as a result, which was particularly interesting. I have always been curious about the way a country can be changed so suddenly by the death of its leader, and how fast other political actors must act in a time of crisis to ensure stability.
After our trip to the presidential library, we went to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate to participate in a mock Senate floor simulation. The topic of the simulation was particularly relevant for this month’s events: voting rights. We went through scenarios where we read letters from constituents who were concerned about their ability to vote, conducted an exercise in political gerrymandering (especially timely) and discussed the motion on the floor before putting it to a “formal” vote. While our simulation was much more relaxed and quick than a real discussion of a bill would be, having to consider all the different factors that go into whether a member votes on a bill beyond party politics was a great experience. It was also particularly relevant to discuss potential reforms to voting rights given the recent Midterm Elections.
Going from a presidential library to a mock Senate floor was especially interesting because it felt like a good way to reflect on the balance between branches and the importance of both in everyday politics. It was an incredible learning experience and opportunity to learn hands-on about the presidency and Senate before we dive further into our research project.