Just days before President Obama's second inauguration, kids of all ages are passionately speaking up about the issues they want the president and Congress to focus on over the next four years.
In the video, Hear Our Voice: A Children’s/Youth Inaugural Address, one of the students talks about how her father has chronic illnesses and how hard it is for her family to afford the medicine he needs.
Other kids point out that one in five students go to school hungry. One little girl tells the president and Congress not to cut funds to the federal school lunch program. “Money that goes to school lunch programs is key to some students eating, period,” she says.
Another child says, “What I really want to talk about is gun control…and the rehabilitation of mentally ill people.”
Each candid video message leaves a feeling of hope and a desire for change.
The video was produced by Children’s Leadership Council (CLC) and SparkAction, an online journalism and advocacy center by and for children. According to the press release, the video “features genuine youth voices filmed in schools in Washington, Boston, and New York and in individual videos uploaded by youth across the country.”
Several of the students are current voters and some will be in five years, ten, or beyond. Nonetheless, Obama and Congress’s actions now impact all of their futures.
This week, Obama unveiled his sweeping gun control agenda in Washington, which included school safety and mental illness. He also invited four students who had written to him to attend the event.
But Obama faces an uphill battle with Congress about this issue and many others, including dealing with the fiscal crisis in the next few months. If he and Congress cannot resolve the budget dilemma, then Obama’s plans for education, infrastructure and innovation are at risk.
According to Joy Resmovits of The Huffington Post, Obama wants to push early education in his next four years. Like universal healthcare, Obama wants to create universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds from low and middle-income families. About 1.85 million children could be included in a new program.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans on staying in his position during Obama’s second term. Duncan was instrumental in overseeing Obama’s Race to the Top program, which encourages schools to innovate and compete for education dollars.
Obama has also been an ardent supporter of STEM education. He created the first annual White House Science Fair that features inventions and research by students across the country.
As the children in the inaugural video send their messages, other students are also playing a role in this weekend’s inaugural activities. First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, will host a concert on Saturday called the Kids’ Inaugural Concert for children of military families.
Also, students from across the country are heading to Washington to watch Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on January 21.
Ten students from Franklin Alternative School in Auburn, Maine, are attending the inauguration, thanks to tickets given to them by Democratic Maine U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud. Fourteen students from Chicago are headed to Washington for the inauguration and to participated in the Mikva Challenge, a nonpartisan nonprofit that encourages students to seek careers in public service.
In Little Rock, Ark., 103 students in the marching band at historic Central High School raised $100,000 to attend and march in Monday’s inaugural parade.
"It's a very historic trip for our band. We've been celebrating or commemorating the 55th anniversary of the integration of Central High School," Brice Evans, Central High School's band director, told a local television station. "Central was integrated in 1957 and this is going to be the 57th inauguration, so it's a very important historical event for our school and our band program."
Aside from the festivities, Obama still has to address the issues that most worry millennials.
“America’s young people are asking that their voices be heard in Washington. They want to know if the president is listening, if we are all listening,” said Caitlin Johnson, cofounder and managing director of SparkAction. “Young people are savvy future voters. They not only see the problems in their communities, they have solutions. We applaud policymakers for listening to their concerns and giving them a chance to share their ideas, and hope this sparks more of that.”
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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker | TakePart.com