Model Delegates (March 2011)
by Matthew Moreno , age 16, Oregon
I raise my placard high into the air, vertically. It is a saggy piece of paperboard folded to make a long and skinny tent, with "Kuwait" neatly spelled out in blue lettering on the side. I glance around the small room, crammed with more than 100 international delegates seated on folding chairs. I indignantly flip through my position paper about oil prices and multinational corporations. I adjust my tie before hearing the chairperson say, "Kuwait?" I take a breath, then rise to speak.
This is one of my cherished memories from the Model United Nations (MUN) conference in Eugene, Oregon. It's a student-run, three-day event that takes place annually to simulate the real deal. For me, the MUN process started last year during a lunch meeting at school. My friend Mariah heroically battled paperwork, dues collection, and the complex logistics of taking seven high-schoolers across the state for three days. We worked on weekends and holidays at local coffee shops or in someone's kitchen (both have access to caffeine and Internet). Newcomers were initiated into researching and writing "position papers," which are essays describing a country's policies on a certain topic. We also practiced writing "resolutions," enormous run-on sentences that describe a plan of action for the UN. When writing these documents, it is surprisingly hard to accomplish something other than just pointing out that there's a problem.
After much hard (and last-minute) work, we were ready. Our entourage carpooled to Eugene, where the sidewalks were overflowing with youthful, dressed-up delegates.
The conference officially began with the opening ceremony, where all 2,000 of us piled into a dramatically darkened basketball arena with an enormous blue UN flag set behind a stage. The whole place resonated with a palpable urgency. After much gavel-banging and speech-giving, the delegates separated out into their own committees.
The committees, such as Health and Human Services, Environmental, Human Rights, Global Economics, and Global Security, mirror those in the real United Nations. The delegates in these committees, representing their assigned countries, debate topics and write resolutions. They send their finalized resolutions to a special committee called the General Assembly (GA), which has final say on all resolutions. It can either fail a resolution, killing seven hours of grueling compromise, or pass the resolution, lifting it to insurmountable glory--these resolutions are sent on to the actual UN for consideration. Depending on the outcome, the resolution's author either receives bragging rights ("Did you hear? The GA passed on of my resolutions!") or ragging rights ("The GA killed my resolution because they wanted to go to lunch!").
My committee's first topic for debate was national debt. The national debt is the amount of money a country's government has borrowed from various sources. Borrowing money can help governments take on new projects, but it can also get a government stuck under a mountain of debt that it can't repay. This is especially dangerous for lesser-developed countries. The delegates in my committee submitted resolutions to address this problem, either written beforehand or illegibly scrawled on transparencies to be displayed on an overhead projector. I submitted a resolution for a Highly Indebted Poor Countries Prevention Program (HIPCPP).
In the debate period, the real work starts. A resolution can be amended (changed) by the delegate who wrote it, or by a majority vote. These changes are negotiated during frequent caucuses (short breaks to work in groups). My resolution quickly became the favorite, so I was approached by several countries, including France and Iceland, wishing to tack on their own amendments. I accepted some of their changes, but rejected the ones I thought were too vague or not focused on the stated goals. After about seven hours, we exhaustedly finished up by voting, and my HIPCPP resolution was passed. Unfortunately, it failed in the General Assembly because there was a time crunch at the end of the meeting and the committee couldn't give my resolution proper consideration.
Although the majority of the three days was spent hammering out compromises and amendments in committee, with breaks only for lunch, dinner, and sleeping (optional), it wasn't all serious slog. Every year has its infamous joke resolutions. So far, you will be delighted to know, the Model United Nations has comprehensively eliminated all technology invented after the 18th century (to stop global warming, of course) and relocated the entire human race to Mars.
Time flew by and the last day came all too soon. It was time for forlorn goodbyes, a picture, and the closing ceremony. The final ritual took place back in the arena. All of us were again seated in front of the huge blue United Nations flag to observe the end of this foray into international politics.
I reflected on the good times I had enjoyed and the new friends I had made. However, my takeaway from MUN was more than that. The camaraderie, creativity, and productivity of the conference gave me a sense of optimism. I figure that if a bunch of high-school students can come together for three days and take up seemingly unsolvable problems, then there's no need to feel pessimistic about what lies ahead. After the ceremonial banging of the gavel I did not feel remorse for what had passed but hope for the bright future; I was raring to go for next year.