Iowans Use “Common Cents” on Federal Spending

By Kathleen McQuillen, AFSC Iowa Program Coordinator

Early October shoppers looking for bargains on jeans or Halloween masks at Valley West Mall in West Des Moines, Iowa rated schools, health care and the environment above military spending at a “penny peace poll” organized by AFSC’s Iowa Office and volunteers.

Over 100 shoppers were given 10 pennies each to express their preferences for the federal budget. Education won with 367, followed by the environment at 241, health care at 239 and military spending at 151. Housing was the only domestic need to trail military spending, finishing with 115 “votes” from a presumably suburban “electorate.”

The two days of polling included a number of conversations with people about our nation’s current state of affairs. Many people took AFSC’s free resources about federal budget priorities.

An elderly woman who stopped with a grandchild said she was on our side but that “things are so out of control there is nothing we can do about it, so why bother. It’s only in God’s hands now.”

A young man with a small child on his shoulders stopped to put the 10 pennies we gave him in the “education” jar and thanked us for doing this outreach. Looking at AFSC’s “One day of the Iraq war = $720 million a day” sign, he shook his head and walked away. He returned later and asked to take more materials to show his wife and other family members.

We even found some points of agreement with a retired non-commissioned officer who talked about total loyalty to the military and yet complained about how hard he had to fight for services after returning from combat and suffering from traumatic brain injury. Although he blamed immigrants for current economic woes, he did agree with us that big money plays too large a role in politics, and he embraced the need for real campaign finance reform.

Although one young man said he supports and follows AFSC on Facebook, other very young people seemed especially enthusiastic about placing pennies in the Pentagon’s jar. Perhaps that’s a testament to the power of military propaganda, which uses more than pennies to promote war.

Malls in the Des Moines area invite community groups to share about their work a couple times each year. Next time you’re out shopping for that brand new pair of jeans, look for your chance to support a more peaceful future.  It just makes sense.