Friday, July 25, 2014

The Nationalist Administration of ALA Girls Nation 2014

The votes have been cast. The tallies have been marked. The results have been announced. So now let us take the opportunity to dive a little deeper into the platform of our new fearless leaders.

First we look to education and recognize, to paraphrase Vice President Ogechi, that not all paths to success are the same. The Nationalist party sees the truth in these words and promotes vocational training as well as a decreased dependency on standardized test scores for school funding. It is not fair or realistic to ask students of varying backgrounds and socioeconomic standings to reach identical results in identical time frames without identical opportunity for learning both within and without the physical walls of the schoolroom as our president stated in her whistle stops.

Many of our senators, Federalist and Nationalist alike, come from agriculturally dependent states and, on occasion, families. For them we tackle the "big-small" issues head on. By big-small I mean big issues about physically small things. The Nationalist party will strive to educate their constituents on GMOs, protecting farm resources, and provide small farmers protection from search by large corporations.

The economic plank of our platform extends not only to opportunities at home but abroad as well. Steps will be taken to invest in the productive capacity of America and in that same stride we aim to create tax incentive structures so all start-up ventures can continue their innovation for years to come. Looking beyond our own borders our goals are to continue in the building of trade relationships with a desire for economic growth for our allies as well as ourselves in mind. The expansion of our own power generation capabilities will be accompanied by the lifting of the crude oil export ban in order to strengthen our energy sector and encourage future investments.

In continuing with the international theme presented in our Economic section the Nationalist Party moved focus to Foreign Policy. Our party has a strong and definitive position that nonintervention should be the first course of action. This would promote multilateral foreign policy efforts over unilateralism. Funds will be extended to bolster humanitarian aid in conflict zones and in post-conflict zones creating "administrative infrastructures, justice systems, and overall stability." At this juncture Economics and Foreign Policy cross. International economic development will be facilitated to decrease illicit activity and increase foreign investment.

Finally we reach the environment which is the final brick to be laid or rather plank to be platformed as the present situation commands. The movement for green energy and fewer emissions will be led by tax incentives for companies that elect to reduce emissions and for innovative manufacturers of green energy. We will look to the future with investment in renewable energy and the prohibition of oil drilling in National Parks and protected wild life areas to ensure that both our "Amber waves of grain" and "purple mountains majesty" will be here for generations to come. The Nationaliat party does stand in favor of the practice of hydraulic fracturing.

These five planks together form the 2014 Girls Nation Nationalist Party Platform. This week my faith in our generation has surged up. I feel so honored and blessed that you would all share your stories, convictions, and words with me. Congratulations to our newly elected dynamic duo President Sydney Roberts and Vice President Ogechi Obed. We know you will serve us well. Finally thank you Girls Nation Nationalists for allowing me the opportunity of chairing our our illustrious party. It has been the experience of a lifetime.


Hannah Moore
Nationalist Chairwoman

Potomac's perspective on Capitol Hill Day

Today we finally experienced one of the most anticipated days here at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation: Capitol Hill Day. For many Girls Nation senators, myself included, this is our first time in Washington D.C. To be able to have such a comprehensive and all-access trip to Capitol Hill is a blessing and more than what most of us would experience on our first trip to D.C.

Not only were we graciously given the chance to have personal meetings with our Senators, Representatives, and their staff, many Girls Nation senators were granted special access to restricted areas of the Capitol. Tennessee Girls Nation senator Rebekah Ninan said, "Our senator, Bob Corker, wasn’t available to meet with us as long as he wanted to, but with the wave of a hand he got us a tour of the Capitol!" Other Girls Nation senators spent their time after their Senator appointments touring Smithsonian museums and the Botanical Garden or getting cards at the Library of Congress.

After all of the fun, the inauguration ceremony was held. Senior Counselor Sandra Rice presided over the swearing in of Girls Nation President Sydney Roberts and Vice President Ogechi Obed; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mara Tazartus, and her eight fellow justices. The ceremony was concluded with a speech given by U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota that cannot be described as anything less than inspiring. Heitkamp told us, "You are too young to give up on your dreams. You are too young to give up."

The day was finished by a productive and encouraging senate session presided over by both Vice President Obed as well as President Pro Tem Julia Nusgart, where debate topics included net neutrality, equal pay, and recycling. It was a long day, but one full of learning, fun, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Mary Celeste Floreani, Texas

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chevy Chase: The Change Begins With You

“Who inspires you?” This is the theme of Girls Nation 2014, and the events of this Tuesday have provided us with a plethora of new answers to this question.

Our first inspirations came in the morning, with the election of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. Overall, 38 extremely qualified young women ran for these positions, presenting speeches and answering difficult questions. Their speeches and responses collectively testified to the diversity of talent and passion we have here at Girls Nation. While many of us have common interests–government, politics, and public speaking among them–we are at the same time extremely unique, with our own gifts and talents, ideas and opinions. It was simply amazing to see so many girls have the courage to try out for such high offices, and even more amazing to hear what they had to say. Thank you to all who ran, and congratulations to our four final candidates–you are all truly inspiring.

Later in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit the United States National Holocaust Museum. While “inspiration” is certainly a word that comes to mind, we also walked away with newfound compassion, understanding, and hope. Having previously known about the tragic events of the Holocaust, going in we thought we had a general idea of what to expect. The reality of the experience surpassed all expectations. History textbooks could never have the same impact as a room full of victims’ shoes; school lectures could never convey the feeling of walking through a train car that dropped off individuals at concentration camps; writing essays could never compare to actual artifacts and to picture after haunting picture. “The change begins with you” was a phrase found throughout the museum, reminding visitors that we must work to fight against hatred, prejudice, and ignorance, to ensure that a horrible tragedy like the Holocaust will never happen again. We honor the victims, the survivors, and those who risked their own lives to help other people. May we always have the courage to stand up against injustice, and to stand with the oppressed.

Finally, after returning to campus, Girls Nation was honored with a visit from holocaust survivor, Nesse Godin. You could hear a pin drop in the large auditorium, as Nesse described her experiences in Nazi controlled Lithuania and work camps. As she concluded her remarks, Nesse reminded the senators: “We cannot change what was, but we can change what is and what will be.” Nesse inspired every senator and staff member in attendance to never forget the horrors of the holocaust, and to vigilantly stand guard against discrimination, persecution, and hatred.

Senator Margaux Fontaine, RI

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“Are you hungry?” - Reflections from Walter Reed

Although these may seem like three simple words, the conversation that followed that simple question will forever leave an impact on my life. As Dean of Junior Counselors at ALA Girls Nation, this is my third year of participation in not only Girls Nation, but also the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Picnic. However, Monday night was unlike any other picnic I have ever attended.

As a staff member, my purpose at GN is to enhance and stimulate the experience of each senator. While at Walter Reed, this meant keeping an eye on the senators and allowing each one of them to interact with a wounded warrior. I saw a young man walking by the courtyard, whose eyes gazed to the sea of red polos that engulfed the area. When our eyes locked, I asked him, “Are you hungry?” Similar to most males, he quickly replied, “Of course, I’m always hungry for good barbeque.” As he walked closer, he asked if I would join him for dinner, so I complied. When we had made our way through the food line, we found two empty seats near the doors of the medical facility across the cobblestone road. As we ate dinner and discussed hobbies, interests, family, and school, I finally felt comfortable enough with the young man to ask him his age. When he replied with the age of 19, I was in absolute shock. There I sat, a twenty-year-old young woman feeling like I was in the prime of my life, and there was Patrick. Patrick was not only a young man, but he was a patriot who has dedicated his life to defending the very freedom I enjoy every single day of my life. He had a spirit that could ignite a light within anyone’s soul.

When the senators began their performance of the Armed Forces Medley, the conversation fell silent between Patrick and I while they sang. After the song had ended, I looked to Patrick and I saw the strong young warrior was filled with pride, seriousness and emotion. He proceeded to ask if our group would be returning the following day, and when I told him no, he seemed to be disappointed. After the senators sang, he asked me all types of questions about the week, my experience at GN, but perhaps most intriguing, Patrick asked me why I continue to return to Girls Nation. Although the young man asked this question out of genuine curiosity, he will never realize the impact his question made on my life.

When I think about the reasoning behind leaving my home state of Oklahoma for 10 days, hopping on a plane (only to get stranded at the airport), spending a week sleep deprived, and worrying about the safety of 98 girls, I know that I (and all other staff members) sound just a bit crazy. However, when Patrick asked me this question, I was forced to dig deep and look for the real answer. I realized that I return to ALA Girls Nation because of the senators. As a Junior Counselor, I have the unique opportunity to watch each girl grow and mature into an empowered young woman in just seven short days. I have the chance to interact with each and every senator that comes to ALA Girls Nation, and watch their lives be changed by the American Legion Auxiliary.

Patrick will never realize the impact he had on my life during our 30-minute conversation, but he left footprints on my heart. He taught me to live each day to the fullest, to never forget where I came from, laugh everyday, and always live with a smile on your face and love in your heart.

Jessie Heidlage (OK), Dean of Junior Counselors

A Perspective on Monday at ALA Girls Nation from the Community of Foggy Bottom

With the rise of the sun, the staff members and ninety-eight sleepy senators began a new day at Girls Nation. Opening with the daily flag raising ceremony, the senators were buzzing with anticipation about the day ahead of us. We started the day by taking the official 2014 Girls Nation picture. Each pair of senators was given a sign displaying the name of their respective state. Excitement was evident among the gleaming smiles of every senator in the photo with many of them describing the experience of holding their state’s sign as one of absolute pride and triumph.

Following a scrumptious breakfast, we divided into our two parties, Nationalists and Federalists, and continued working on the committees regarding our party’s platform, theme, campaign and conventions. With innumerable different upbringings and perspectives from all throughout the country, many girls explained these committees as a testament to bipartisanship that truly displayed the success that comes through compromise. Senators enjoyed creating planks for their party platform, decorations for their party rallies as well as skits and cheers designed to promote their candidates.

After learning about many aspects of our nation’s federal government, we all boarded the bus and drove to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to enjoy a barbeque with some of our country’s wounded warriors. During the bus ride, we sang funny little songs about bananas and burritos to entertain ourselves while we waited to arrive. While at Walter Reed, senators were able to interact and connect with some of the bravest men and women in our country and their families. Many of these veterans are young parents so we were also given the opportunity to entertain their young children. Girls Nation senators conducted activities including patriotic face painting, bean bag toss games, sand art and applying temporary tattoos. Conversing with the patients at Walter Reed really opened the eyes of many of us to how amazing our armed forces truly are. We came to realize that these people are such a blessing to our entire nation; the sacrifices they made are the ones that ensure our freedom every day. Additionally, it was incredibly moving to see how much our visit affected the men and women of the hospital. We sang many patriotic tunes for the veterans including the Tribute to Our Armed Forces. Singing this song was so impactful for many girls because we could see the joy it elicited when an individual heard the song for his or her branch of the military. Overall, it was an amazing experience to meet the real life heroes we hear about each day but never get to see; it made us realize how similar these people are to us and how human they truly are.

Today also marked the day of the first official session of Girls Nation Senate. We discussed three different bills and one resolution that covered many different topics including employment, congressional representation and foreign affairs. Although all of the girls here at Girls Nation know a bit about parliamentary procedure from their experiences earlier this summer, everyone’s knowledge of the topic varies since every Girls State program is run differently. The confusion that occurred today on the Senate floor acted as a driving force that united Girls Nation since everyone there was learning together. Girls were a bit nervous about speaking and debating during the Senate session but many of them joined the discussion with well-written bills and eloquent speeches. One girl even described the Senate as a culture shock because she had never been “surrounded by so much brilliance in a single room.”

Overall, it was an engaging, educational and enlightening day. It seems unlikely but somehow Girls Nation has provided us with once in a lifetime experiences and deep friendships that typically take years to acquire in a matter of days. We would like to thank the extraordinary women of the American Legion Auxiliary who made this program possible and provided us with such an amazing opportunity.

Maddy Ducharme, CA
Foggy Bottom

Monday, July 21, 2014

Alexandria: Reflections on Arlington and Girls Nation

With just one full day of Girls Nation under our belts, we have learned and experienced many military service related practices and ceremonies. From last night’s poppy ceremony, to the time we will spend with veterans in the following days, as Girls Nation senators we are encouraged to honor veterans in our own ways, here in DC and at home.

The trip to The Arlington National Cemetery was a moving, and humbling experience. Girls Nation, as part of the American Legion Auxiliary, focuses on honoring those who have served our country, through remembrance and service. We found one the most awe inspiring moments was the opportunity we had to lay handmade paper poppy corsages on the grave of a solider of our choosing. From soldier’s plots, to larger family markers, 98 girls honored over 98 amazing heroes. This idea was carried over from the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. One of our own Alexandria community members was given the honor of participating in the ceremony itself, placing a wreath that had been decorated by the Girls Nation senators the night before. Both this special ceremony and the Changing of the Guard were powerful reminders of the price of our freedom.

As our day continued on, and Senate began, we began to select leaders and discuss legislation that will shape the nation we form in this coming week. Senators have started speaking out, campaigning for elected positions and participating in Senate sessions. The Community of Alexandria has found that as we begin to voice our opinions, our diversity is just as uniting as what we have in common, and we hope the experiences we have will continue to prove this over and over again. This week we hope to make friendships that will change our lives in a positive way and that will empower us to be powerful and world changing women. We are gathered for just one week, but we are learning skills that will help shape the rest of our future. We thank the amazing women of our community, the state American Legion Auxiliary units, and the national American Legion Auxiliary for this investment in our lives, and we promise to do our very best to be the biggest dividend you will ever get back.

Alex Brock, TX and Maggie Guetersloh, NM

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The ALA Girls Nation Government Office: By the Numbers

A few numbers to give you an idea of what happens at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation:

Girls Nation Senators: 98

Girls Nation Staff members: 33

Girls Nation Government Staff members: 4

Coincidentally, the number of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 4

2014 Bills Docketed: 40

2014 Resolutions Docketed: 3

2014 Joint Resolutions Docketed: 1

Days between the first bill arriving in our hands and all the bills being finished: 42

Emails sent regarding legislation during that time: 577

Pages used to copy the bills (just on 7/17 alone): 5,600

Pages used to copy the resolutions: 392

Miles traveled by Yumi to get to Girls Nation this year (the farthest of the government staff): 2,806

Number of years ALA National President Nancy Brown-Park has been waiting to come to Girls Nation: 40

Number of times we expect to hear “Senator, you are out of order” this week: 52

Number of paper cuts the government staff averages daily: 3

Number of selfies expected to be taken by staff and senators: 2,941

Number of hours of sleep the government staff averages daily: not enough

Number of times ice cream should be available this week for the senators: 14

Number of ice cream cones we expect the PR staff to eat: 47

Number of high-fives from Sandra: 76

Number of girls who will leave on Saturday 7/26 wishing the week wasn’t over, promising to keep in touch, and desperately in need of sleep: 98

Number of staff members, glad the week is over, desperately in need of sleep, but reassured that our 98 senators will go home and change their worlds: 33 - Every last one!

Katie Cochran
Government Staff

PS – Number of shout outs to send to Addison (former Girls Nation): 1 :)