Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate – June 2015

Toured the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, dedicated to “educating the public about the important role of the Senate in our government, encouraging participatory democracy, invigorating civil discourse, and inspiring the next generation of citizens and leaders to engage in the civic life of their communities.” Now that’s a mission – can all U.S. senators be required to attend!?

The entrance way is flanked by columns representing every state, in the order of their admission to the Union.

IMG_6051It’s next to the JFK Presidential Library, on Columbia Point, by UMass/Boston. Visitors receive a touchpad, with content to supplement the tour. There are sections in the Institute exploring the history of the Senate, every Senate over time (like who served with whom), and every Senator who’s ever served. Then there are sections exploring some of the great issues facing the Senate.

The centerpiece is the recreation of the U.S. Senate chamber, from the ancient desks and chairs to the carpet, podium, and decor. Impressive and humbling! You get to sit at a desk, and they frequently hold mock-debates on bills currently before the Senate. [double-click any photo to enlarge]

Visitors play the role of Senator-in-Training, and can participate in the debate. We were in on the debate discussing an actual bill to standardize protocols nationwide for how to address concussions in high school sports. The official speakers fell, as you’d expect, along traditional party lines – the “Republican” spoke about states’ and community rights to determine what’s best for their own people; the “Democrat” noted that in some communities, it’s the coach (with vested interest) who decides whether a player is fit to return to the game. Some visitors gave speeches, then we voted on our touchpads – and voted FOR national standards.

The most moving exhibit is the recreation of Senator Kennedy’s offices – with all his memorabilia, family photos, books, and his own paintings. The bronze busts of his assassinated brothers on the mantlepiece – I can’t imagine how the murders of two of his big brothers, after the death of his oldest brother, must have pained, inspired, and weighed on him constantly.

We left the Institute and headed downtown, to visit his mom’s park, the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Stopped at the Chinatown garden to see the new sheep sculpture installation. Also saw a seagull enjoying a lobster dinner.

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