Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin had a very important meeting in the conference room at his District Office in Warwick last Tuesday to discuss relations between Russia and Ukraine, but his audience wasn’t with his counterparts in Congress or high-ranking diplomats. It was with high school students.
In an effort to provide a unique experience for some of his younger constituents, Langevin held his first Congressional Youth Caucus (CYC), which includes 11 students from schools in the Second District. The students are all seniors or juniors, selected to participate by their schools; all have indicated an interest in history or government, with many hoping to have a career in policy or politics.
“I believe in providing as many opportunities for young people as possible,” said Langevin. “It goes back to opportunities I had as a kid.”
Langevin was first exposed to politics as a boy; his mother worked on Joe Walsh’s mayoral campaign and when he was elected, she worked within his administration. Langevin said that opportunity to interact with elected officials is likely what set him on his path of public service. He also had the opportunity to intern for and work with a number of elected officials prior to his own career.
“I saw public service and elected office as a way to give back to the community who rallied around me when I needed it most,” said Langevin. “I’ve had these experiences, seen how I benefited from them and want to give similar opportunities to today’s youth.”
Now he hopes to repay the favor to this group of students, coming from Rocky Hill School, La Salle Academy, Scituate High School, Narragansett High School, South Kingstown High School, Chariho High School, Prout School, Coventry High School, The Met School, Paul Cuffee School and Classical High School.
The Caucus has met several times with Langevin or members of his staff to discuss world issues or public policy. Langevin even took time to videoconference with the group while he was in Washington, D.C.
The students appreciate this opportunity to look at politics and government with someone who actually has an impact.
“It’s really awesome to meet a real person from the entity known as the government,” said Coventry High School junior Kathleen Croanan. “You’re meeting one person who has a vote and has an opinion. We’re a small representation of the people and he’s a representative of the government.”
Scituate High School senior Amber Lipsky, who will attend Appalachian State University in North Carolina in the fall to study biology, agreed, saying meeting with the congressman and having him ask their opinion on issues and what he should do in regards to possible policies is one of the best parts of being in the Caucus.
“I feel like we have an influence on his decision,” said Lipsky. “It makes me feel important as a teen.”
Timothy Shea, a senior at Classical High School, plans to study either economics or government at Harvard University next year. For him, being a part of the CYC has provided a valuable look behind the scenes.
“It’s a super inside look at things we see on the news, talking to someone who has an impact on what happens next,” he said.
Arianna Conte, a Johnston resident and La Sale senior, enjoyed getting to know Langevin and meeting the personality behind the stories she hears.
“I consider myself lucky to get to meet someone who, in the next election, I will be able to vote for,” said Conte, who will attend Emerson University in the fall to study political communications.
In fact, Conte, Shea and Lipsky were all excited that they would be able to vote in the next election in November. As they talked about registering, Croanan, who is not yet 18, commented how lucky they are.
“You hope you’re sparking an interest in young people,” said Langevin, adding that he hopes they are getting a sense of how the government and a congressional office operate through this firsthand experience.
At last Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the current situation between Russia and Ukraine, only a handful of caucus members were able to attend, but they still had a very detailed and fact-oriented discussion with the congressman. The students had a good deal of knowledge of the situation, from both the political and economic standpoint, because they had been discussing the topic in many of their classes, including AP Government, AP History and Political Science.
“We spent the past month basically learning about Russian history and why they’re acting this way,” said Conte.
Langevin told the students they were living through what could become a major historical event, and got them to discuss resolving the situation diplomatically versus militarily, comparisons to history, economic reasons behind Russia’s decision to annex Crimea, and the impact this could have on the United States. He even asked the group what he should do if a vote on sanctions against Russia goes through the House.
The students discussed the similarities they see between some Nazi philosophies, as well as similarities to the Cold war. “We’re considering an embargo, which was one of the first steps in World War II,” said Croanan.
Conte pointed out a three- or four-year-old article she found that had Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioning a desire to create an economic alliance with members of the former Soviet Union.
“It could be part of a bigger scheme to hold more power in that region,” she said. Conte also brought up the oil reserves in that region. “One of the underlying reasons of Russia wanting control of that region was the economic benefit.”
They all felt that Putin was looking to restore Russia to its pre-Cold War super power status but hoped that the situation could be handled diplomatically.
“No one wants to be in a war zone,” said Lipsky.
Langevin is pleased that the group is open to debating and discussing relevant issues, and that they have knowledge on not only what is going on in other parts of the world, but the impact those events can have on America.
“They are very up to speed on relevant and important issues of today,” said the congressman. “It’s a great opportunity to hear their insights and get them thinking.”
The Caucus plans to meet for a final time in May to discuss issues in education and give suggestions for next year’s program.