Dinosaurs roamed Washington this week as young Americans protested possible budget cuts for the Peace Corps and other national service programs funded by the federal government.
About 100 young people wearing Tyrannosaurus rex costumes stalked the National Mall and other parts of the nation’s capital to dramatize their slogan, “Expansion, not extinction.” They said they want more funding, not less, for programs such as the Peace Corps, whose volunteers serve in more than 60 countries around the world, and domestic public-service organizations such as Teach for America, YouthBuild and City Year.
The group sponsoring the protests, LetUsServe.org, said hundreds of thousands of people are involved in national service each year, working to help ease poverty, control the epidemic of opioid drug use in the U.S., improve education and pitch in on disaster-relief crews. They are known as volunteers, but generally receive a small stipend. Young people who take part, proponents say, learn useful skills and gain job experience.
President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget for fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1, would eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service, along with the groups it supervises, many of which were established in the early 1960s by President John F. Kennedy. Among them are AmeriCorps, and VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). Senior Corps, also begun by JFK, recruits older Americans to serve as mentors, coaches and volunteer helpers in many fields.
Trump called for a 15 percent cut in funds for the Peace Corps, and he would eliminate a program that forgives student loans for college graduates who choose public-service jobs.
White House officials contend that national service and other volunteer programs should be funded by the private sector and nonprofit groups, not U.S. taxpayers.
“Together, we can tell Congress: Stop National Service Extinction,” protest organizers said in an online statement. “Let’s expand national service instead.”
Crowds of young protesters wearing their plastic dinosaur costumes attracted lots of attention and social media posts from tourists, Washington workers and reporters.
The “expansion not extinction” campaign said there were protests in other U.S. cities, too.
Congress will have the final say on the president’s spending requests for 2018, and groups such as LetUsServe say they are counting on the lawmakers to jettison Trump’s proposals. Early indications are that some if not all of the budget-cut proposals for public-service groups will be reversed.