Rep. Joe Kennedy takes center stage at Biden Institute event
What was initially billed as a “youth empowerment event” quickly turned into a campaign rally for U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., as audience questions poured in for the newly-announced Senate candidate.
On stage in the Trabant Theater on Tuesday, Oct. 15 were Delaware Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, and Rep. Kennedy, along with moderator Cathy McLaughlin, the executive director of the Biden Institute.
The event began with an introduction from university President Dennis Assanis who thanked the organizers of the event for their hard work and the entire staff of the Biden Institute for sponsoring the event. Assanis then handed things off to McLaughlin, who started by celebrating the youth-led movements like March for Our Lives and the Global Climate Strike, the new voting initiatives found on campus and the diversity of the 116th Congress.
Generally, the tone of the event was optimistic, with the speakers being careful to avoid mentioning the current president. King spoke against straight-ticket voting and for voters educating themselves on their candidates. Volpe, too, encouraged involvement in the political process and self-education of the players involved.
When asked about his decision to run for the U.S. Senate, Kennedy became visibly excited, admitting it was a recent decision for him and his family. He also expressed frustration, citing the current system as what brought forth his announcement.
The representative lamented issues regarding poverty, hunger, rent prices and homelessness. Kennedy’s answer lasted almost five minutes while the audience sat in attentive silence, becoming the norm every time Kennedy spoke.
Throughout the event, King spoke on her perspective as a Republican in a largely Democratic state, stressing the importance of researching one’s candidates and being an informed voter.
Likewise, the issues Volpe consistently returned to were gun rights, climate change and mental health. He noted the massive shift in the polls of young people regarding these issues and further explained how these polls have translated into real action over the last 20 years.
While many of the audience questions surrounded general political topics or expected themes, the final question hit an emotional note when an attendee told the speakers that he had a friend who was gay, closeted and fearful of coming out. The speakers were then asked to comment on how someone in this position should go forward.
After a pause, King was the first to answer: she recommended counseling and prayer as a way to help this person deal with homophobia. Kennedy referenced national organizations with local chapters that this person could turn to, as well as telling the audience member to “be a friend” and ensure this person was getting all the support possible.
Volpe’s advice was twofold: watch the debates and be involved.
“Watch the debate tonight, regardless of [whether you’re] Republican, Independent, Democrat … and second, find a way to get involved,” Volpe said. “Whether it’s as simple as talking to your friends or parents and engaging that or volunteering.”
King reiterated Volpe’s sentiments and told students to research the candidates to ensure they made an informed decision when voting time came around.
Kennedy echoed Volpe’s and King’s points while adding another layer: to remember that there are other elections. Kennedy pushed elections for governorship, Senate, House of Representatives, state senate, state house, municipal elections, school boards and, finally, Department of Public Utilities Commissioners.
Though some of the topics covered were heavy, the overarching optimism of the talk was best expressed from Rep. Kennedy himself when discussing his time in the Peace Corps.
“In just the basic humanity that is shared across regions, time zone differences, ethnic groups, the way you were brought up,” Kennedy said. “I have yet to travel to any corner of this world where if you take a ball and throw it to a group of kids, they don’t pick it up and throw it back.”