As the historic debate over federal spending began in Washington, young winners of the “If I Had A Trillion” video contest descended on Capitol Hill, challenging lawmakers to address the bloated defense spending that imperils their schools, communities, and futures.
Briseida Montiel of New York, and the team of Ali Holness, Anays Mercedes, Kyane Strother and Richardson Joseph of Boston shared first prize in the video contest co-sponsored by AFSC and the National Priorities Project (NPP). They won a three-day trip to Washington and the chance to show their films to home-state lawmakers, and at an event with Washington DC students.
Their videos showed how they would spend the $1 trillion already spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In imaginative short films, the answers ranged from community centers for youth and housing for the homeless, to cures for diseases and scholarships for every student. The contest received 48 entries from Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland OR, and other cities around the nation. The winners spoke vividly about how much they learned through the contest – how budgets are designed, how a choice in DC affects their communities now, how long it takes to count to a billion (32 years). Anays spoke for all when she said, “We want to show our peers our hopes and beliefs that we can make a difference, how we can stop [the government from] spending money on stuff that’s not necessary instead of our education – we are the future.”
On Wednesday, they began with a quick training session at Friends Committee on National Legislation. From there they moved to the Capitol Visitors Center, where the first of three screenings was held. Congressional staffers and interns gathered and discussed the budget process and defense spending with the youth.
Next were visits to the offices of 15 lawmakers, including US Sens. John Kerry, Richard Durbin and Diane Feinstein and Reps. Jose Serrano, Peter Stark and Bobby Rush. The students stressed their distress at crippled budgets forcing the closing of schools and community centers, and urging lawmakers to work for more funds for social needs. A second screening drew several staffers, including one who reminded everyone that “budgets are moral documents.”
The day ended at a coffeehouse/theater with another screening, presentation of certificates to the winners, and a lively exchange with DC youth who participate in AFSC’s Human Rights Education Program.
Collectively these young people’s message to Congress was “cut the defense budget and fund social programs that people in communities need.” AFSC is honored lift up their voices.