What would you do with a trillion dollars to spend any way you want? After using your cash to score a walk-on role on Game of Thrones and taking the obligatory Instagram shot with a rain storm of your new money, you might get a little serious about how you spend your stacks.
Each year, the U.S. government has this same dilemma and they choose to spend it on the military. Defense spending amounts to $1,000,000,000,000 of the federal budget annually. To raise awareness of how that money could be used to better their communities, ACE Chicago Climate Action Fellows (CAF) entered the “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” Youth Film Festival.
If I Had A Trillion Dollars (IHTD) is a national youth film festival, organized annually by American Friends Service Committee and the National Priorities Project. Each year, they ask youth under the age of 23, “If YOU had the power to choose, how would you spend 1 trillion dollars? What could that money do for your family, for your community, for your nation, or for the world?” The goal of the film festival is to help youth “think about their priorities and engage politically in order to bring about the changes they need.”
The ACE Chicago CAFs’ submission, “I’d Choose Us” captured ACE Chicago’s Sustainable Schools campaign -- a city-wide initiative led by high school youth that is pushing for Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to create schools that are not only green but also healthy learning environments where students feel safe, empowered and supported. You can see the video below.
ACE Climate Fellows write:
“We’re extremely concerned about climate change and think that we’ve got to take action and go green right away. Other issues- like school violence, over-testing, mass incarceration of young people, school closings are barriers to being able to achieve this vision for green schools. If we really want “sustainable schools” we need to recognize that these things are all connected. That’s how we’re going to build truly sustainable schools. That’s how we’re going to win. Because what good is a recycling program if the school gets shut down the next year?”
Upon arriving in Washington, D.C. for the festival, the students were thrilled to hear that “I’d Choose Us” had won the two highest honors at the festival in Washington, D.C.-- People’s Choice Award and the Judge’s Choice Award. To build on the momentum of this victory, CAFs lobbied Illinois Senator Mark Kirk’s staff on climate issues and their vision of truly sustainable schools. ACE CAF Brian Gomez reflected:
“ The highlight of the trip was walking into Senator Kirk's office on the Sunday we were to leave for Chicago. I was excited because the ACE Chicago Climate Action Fellows had worked so hard constructing outlines, rehearsing our roles, and practicing how to confidently address the staffer. I felt secure in the concerns we had as students, especially in regards to public education and the environment. The experience was memorable mainly because it was the part of the trip that made me feel like I was making a difference, and that congressmen paid attention to the people and valued their concerns.”
ACE CAFs are taking practical steps to turn their video from aspiration to reality. Right now they are working on Lights up, Power Down-- an energy efficiency campaign to get 10 CPS schools to switch to LED/ CFL light bulbs in 30 classrooms. With CPS facing a billion dollar deficit that has it closing schools and cutting programs, de-bulbing and upgrading to LED/CFLs will help save money and fight climate change. CAFs want to see the money saved be put towards updated textbooks and resources, sports and arts programs, more counselors and teachers, school gardens, and further investment in green infrastructure. This is how we can achieve truly sustainable schools, that will be healthy for the planet and the students.
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