Note: This is a guest post by Erin Polley, AFSC Program Coordinator of the Indiana Peacebuilding Program and the “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” Youth Film Festival. Submissions are now being accepted for films created by youth which explore how they would allocate the money that has been spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq differently. - Lucy

Since the start of the Afghanistan war in 2001, we’ve reached many grim milestones: Over 6,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, tens of thousands wounded, and millions of Iraqi and Afghan civilian casualties. In September 2010, our nation reached yet another sad milestone—a $1 trillion debt for the total cost of the two wars.

During the course of these two wars, AFSC has tried to raise awareness of the human and economic cost of war using art like the exhibition on the human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Eyes Wide Open” and the art exhibit, “Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan.” The “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” Youth Film Festival engages young people in the national conversation on the cost of war through filmmaking.

In the past two years, over 250 young people across the country have answered our call, “What would YOU do with a trillion dollars? If you had all the power, what would YOU do for your community, your nation, your world?” Over 80 films have been submitted, featuring themes on healthcare, education, the environment, and cancer research, exposing what one group called “The Real Crime of America.”

In this short film, Olney Friends School students in Ohio stage an interrogation of the federal government. They ask a man in a suit and tie, “Where’s the money? We know the government has spent over $1 trillion on war efforts in the Middle East over the past 10 years!” The government official claims to know nothing about where the $1 trillion has gone, but the interrogators press on. They point out the civilian death toll as evidence the money has gone to war. They share some ways that money could have been better spent on the needs of our communities—doubling cancer research, a global immunization program, universal preschool for American children, and a peacekeeping effort to stop the genocide in Darfur.

Finally, the government official breaks and sheepishly admits that the $1 trillion went to war. The interrogators celebrate and arrest their captive for what they call, “the real crime of America.”

This was just one of the many videos chosen by the IHTD selection committee.  Along with the producers of the other selected videos, the Olney Friends students were invited to Washington, D.C. to attend leadership training and lobby day led by AFSC and our partners at National Priorities Project on Tax Day 2012.

Fifty-one youth attended,  and they made over 27 visits to legislators to share their videos and discuss the federal budget priorities in their communities. One participant from Chicago shared this reflection of his opportunity to visit Washington: “How many 18-year-old black males in my neighborhood get a chance to see the skyline of a city 39,000 feet in the air? How many of them sat outside the gates of the White House taking pictures and making memories that will be told to children and grandchildren to come?”

This year, we are hoping to bring even more youth with us to Washington to share their videos and to engage legislators in what they see as the high priorities of their communities.

We are hoping that Quaker meetings and churches will invite their youth to create and submit videos and that some of these young people will join the festival on tax day.

By empowering youth with the opportunity to speak truth to power, we believe we are working with the next generation of peacemakers.

For more info on the “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” National Youth Film Festival, please visit www.ihtd.org. There, you can view past entries, download a federal budget curriculum, and submit your entry for the third annual festival. Erin will be on a call for Quaker meetings and churches on November 7th at 7 p.m. to discuss the program and curriculum. Contact Lucy if you'd like information on how to join the call. The deadline for film submissions is Jan. 11, 2013.

Erin Polley is Program Coordinator of the Indiana Peacebuilding Program and the "If I Had A Trillion Dollars" Youth Film Festival. Erin started out as a volunteer with the Chicago office of American Friends Service Committee shortly after the start of the Iraq War iErin Polleyn 2003. Since on staff, she has worked on such projects as the widely acclaimed "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit, "Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan" and has done local organizing work in Chicago and Indianapolis.