Put Your Two Cents In
Burton Schaber and Dania Souid
The Peace Council’s booth at our second annual SummerCrafts at Jazz Fest was a mixture of music, fliers, questions and dialogue. We decided to be even more interactive this year by inviting festival goers to put their two cents into the federal budget.
The Penny Poll
The Penny Poll is an attempt to create a People’s Budget. Each person received 15 pennies to distribute between six jars that symbolized different categories of the Federal Budget. Afterwards, participants were given a flyer that depicted the actual federal budget, so they could compare the government’s choices with their own. This led to many conversations about how to change the federal budget.
The first purpose of the Penny Poll is to educate people about how our federal tax dollars are spent. One of our central realizations was that most people don’t know how the government uses tax dollars. We focused in particular on the military budget. Although many people are aware that wars overseas are expensive, the flier we distributed at the Penny Poll, from the National Priorities Project, shows just how costly—27.4 ˘ out of every federal tax dollar goes directly to the military (not including Veterans Benefits and interest on the debt due to military spending). Through the Penny Poll we also hoped to show how other areas of the federal budget suffer because of the high military budget. The Penny Poll gave people a chance to decide how they want their money spent. The difference between this ‘People’s Budget’ and the Federal Budget is substantial. Knowing the difference between the two budgets is just the first step; next we encouraged everyone to get involved, whether through the Peace Council or contacting a local congressperson.
What Were People’s Reactions?
Jazz Fest is a free and widely publicized event, which brought a diverse crowd to SPC’s booth and the Penny Poll. People thought about where and how to distribute their 15 pennies. Afterwards, many were interested in sharing their reasons. Some were teachers affected by school budget cuts who put their pennies towards education. Some older men and women dependent on Medicare and Medicaid put their pennies in health. Every story was different. Their personal experiences and opinions determined how they wanted their money to be spent. Even families didn’t always agree on where to put the pennies. In one case a mother and son took the penny poll together. While mom dropped pennies into the military jar, her son pointed and asked for pennies to go into education. He complained that he wanted more pennies to go to his school, to which his mother responded “You can be home-schooled.” Even when people put money in the military they often had personal reasons—to support veterans’ benefits or because their child was overseas at war.
The Penny Poll was an opportunity to challenge people to think about which parts of the federal budget are most important to them—and, by comparing their choices with the actual federal budget, to see exactly how federal spending doesn’t align with what people in this country want.
Our poll consisted of six categories. The first category, Government and Commerce, covered the costs of law enforcement, diplomacy, humanitarian aid, interest on debt, and the costs of running the federal government. The second category, Military, included spending on national defense, nuclear weapons, international security, and veteran’s benefits. Environment, Energy and Science incorporated renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation, and food. The fourth category was Education, which encompassed federal spending on elementary, secondary and higher education, career, technical, and adult education, special education, and student financial assistance. Social Services covered federal spending on job training, disability, retirement, unemployment insurance, social security, housing assistance and credit, and community development. Finally, the Health category included funds allocated towards healthcare, Medicare, and Medicaid.
After compiling the data from two days of penny polling, our results were staggeringly different from the actual federal budget. One enormous difference was Military spending, dropping from around 27% (actual) to around 9% (Penny Poll). Education saw almost a complete turnaround, increasing to over 25% from the measly federal allocation of 3.5%. The Environment, Energy and Science category was given a 17% boost from 3% in the Federal Budget to 20% in the People’s Budget.
What You Can Do NOW
The Bring the War Money Home Campaign at the Syracuse Peace Council is a great way to start making the changes exhibited by the people’s budget (see p.3).
• Watch the video of the Penny Poll on the Peace Council’s YouTube channel
• Sign The Military is Our Spending Problem petition
• Get your own copy of the petition to pass out in your community
• Contact local government officials by phone, email or snail mail
• Write a letter to the editor for your local newspaper
• Attend or organize a local demonstration
• Attend the national October 6 demonstration in Washington, D.C.
• For more information visit nationalpriorities.org or www.warresisters.org