As students from more than 35 universities and colleges gathered at the Harvard Kennedy School for a weekend focusing on public service and leadership, the Institute of Politics hosted Senator Edward Markey for a JFK Jr. Forum, which was moderated by former U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, focused his remarks on his just-announced Green New Deal and on the existential threat posed by global climate change. He also called for a generational shift in leadership to address the world’s most urgent issues and encouraged the gathered students ignore the current heated political atmosphere in Washington and follow the call to public service.

Markey said the Green New Deal legislative proposal calls for a 10-year plan to mobilize the country to deal with the issue of climate change and move to 100 percent renewable, clean energy.

“Failure is not an option and the rest of the world will not provide the leadership only the United States can provide,” Markey said. “You cannot tell the rest of the world what to do if you yourself are not in fact engaging in those actions.”

Markey said supporters of the plan want to mobilize “every city and town across this country” and will turn it into a voting issue if legislation is not passed.

“We can feel the green generation rising up, demanding that a solution be put in place so that we can avoid the worst, most catastrophic consequences,” Markey said.

Markey also said he would continue to fight for net neutrality, a concept he had championed as a legislator.

“In the next couple of weeks, I'm going to introduce a new law into the Senate that will put down a marker from where net neutrality should go,” he said. “I'm going to continue to fight very hard on net neutrality. It is not unlike climate change. It's a generational issue. It's what the 21st century should be about and I am not going to go away until we restore it as the law of the land.”

Turning to the idea of public service, Markey remembered the effect President John F. Kennedy’s iconic call had on him and others of his generation.

“Everyone who wasn't part of that ruling establishment from the preceding 200 years watched [Kennedy’s inauguration], and then he said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,’” Markery recounted. “That became a moment of great change in our country. It was no longer about the past; it was about the future and what we could do to make a difference in our world.”

“I decided in my third year at Boston College Law School to run for State Representative from Malden, and I continue to be the lowest paid graduate of my law school class,” Markey quipped. “But I'm a very happy person because my clients are working people who need help. …That's really what public servants do, they work for those people.”

Markey’s appearance was part of the Institute of Politics’ National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement.

Photography by Alex Wong

A Conversation with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy & Senator Ed Markey