(Accompanied by: Legislative Action Committee Chair Shevy Chaganti and At-Large Senators Nikki Bologna & Kathleen Murphy, Executive Treasurer Abby Ware, Class Council Member Liz Ramirez & Spirits and Traditions Committee Chair Jessica Morris.)
On Thursday September 8th, eight students from James Madison University’s Student Government Association traveled to D.C. to attend the White House Town Hall following President Obama’s speech on his proposed bill, The American Jobs Act. They gathered in the South Auditorium of the Eisenhower Office Building on the White House Campus with other college students to watch the speech on a large screen. The Associate Director of Public Engagement at the White House, Ronnie Cho, introduced a crowd of college students to a panel of White House policy directors to answer questions after the speech.
The Town Hall meeting can be viewed here
The following is an account from Class Council Members:
Matthew Klein (2013) and Alicia Pettis (2014)
Matthew Klein: Walking along 17th street from the metro station in the pouring rain, JMU SGA sought to make a difference in the nation’s capital. We did not know what to expect when we arrived on the White House campus, but we were wide-eyed and eager to hear the President’s speech on his proposed jobs plan. Members of the JMU student government represented our school from the front row and as the President approached the stand, the room was silent. The anticipated agenda: The American Jobs Act.
Alicia Pettis: The trip began with flood warnings and intense rain, and led us to a Town Hall made up of college students with the intent of listening to some of the most influential people in our nation. I was ready to learn more about the jobs plan I had heard so much about during my internship on Capitol Hill this past summer. We were all a little nervous about being part of such an important time in President Obama’s term and specifically how this bill will affect us after our expected graduation. I had no idea what was waiting for us as we passed through intense security and finally were able to listen to the President’s address to a joint session of Congress. We watched the large screen as the cabinet members poured onto the floor, followed by the President. Once at the Speaker’s desk, he began his address.
The idea behind the Jobs Act is to create jobs and in turn stimulate the struggling economy. Every student was jotting down both intriguing and puzzling ideas from the speech to turn into questions for the panel to discuss at the conclusion of the speech. The most exciting part of the American Jobs Act for me was to hear about the plans for innovation and modernization. To me, it seems as though America’s cities are aging and structural improvements need to be made. Along with infrastructure, our transportation systems also seems to reside decades in the past. The bipartisan effort to make advances as a nation is the best approach to spur jobs and educate future generations.
In his clear, deep voice, the President articulated the purpose for this bill: “The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours.” He explained his reasoning for each point in his jobs plan with certainty. He ended many points with the repeated message: “You should pass this jobs plan right away,” helping to emphasize the urgency of passing the bill. One of my favorite moments, and apparently a popular twitter trend was when he explained that this jobs bill was “simple math.” His delivery was humorous where needed, yet to the point; we need jobs.
The next question to ask was how this was going to affect the rest of James Madison University and myself as a student and future employee. Job prospects for new graduates are not encouraging especially when looking in the their field of study. The President announced that under the American Jobs Act long-term unemployed workers would have better opportunities to receive employment. Although focusing on the long-term unemployed is understandable from a global perspective, I wondered what effect this would have on those first entering the job market. As full-time students, we would not benefit from his proposal for promoting jobs. Throughout the President’s speech, I was waiting to hear about initiatives that would apply to and help younger individuals who are seeking their first real job.
After hearing a lot of information and ideas thrown at us, we all tried to decipher how we felt. The main question on our minds was, “How does this affect me as a college student?” For me, education is the one opportunity that we have to overcome inequality in our nation, yet we as Americans, have fallen behind in our commitment to youth. From this belief, I related mostly to President Obama’s reinvestment in education. The plan:
- provides a $30 billion investment in modernizing at least 35,000 public schools and community colleges;
- gives $30 billion to prevent layoffs of teachers and other educators; and
- focuses on programs that support STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
The unemployment rate for our age group is double the national percentage. The President set forth a plan that will encourage the economy to hire more employees. By stimulating our stagnate economy through tax breaks for small businesses, young entrepreneurs receive assistance in starting their own businesses. The careers we are looking forward to might just hinge upon passing this bill.
Throughout our experience at the White House, there seemed to be an emphasis on social media. The panel pulled questions to answer from live feeds on Facebook, Twitter, and the White House webpage. We were all encouraged to tweet (with appropriate hashtags of course) and post comments about the event before and after the speech.
Personally, I am a huge social media enthusiast, and this unexpected twist to the experience was a unique and intriguing one. I appreciated the concentration on appealing to the crowd of young college students.
The role of social media in our trip was heavy. Not only were we encouraged to tweet during the town hall, which had questions coming in from twitter users, but we were given special hash tags to use, #AtTheWH and #JobsNow. Here is some interesting info that I retweeted from Macon Phillips, the Director of New Media for the White House Administration.
Overall the experience brought us insight into how the decisions made in Washington, D.C. could reflect upon our own college campus. We realized that we have a voice, despite our age, and we are the ones who have to BE THE CHANGE. Not only did we revel in our newly found importance, but we also felt inspired to make a change at JMU. SGA united through the opportunity to witness an important moment that will have a lasting impact on our near future.
We hope you all take a look at the American Jobs Act put forth by our President and seriously consider the impact this bill will have on you.
The following is a copy of the bill
Here is the Video link