Louisiana State University’s Visualize the Debt

On April 1st, 2011,Young Americans for Liberty at Louisiana State University held our version of the Visualize the Debt event.  Louisiana State Director Kyle Aycock and I spent a lot of time planning for the event, and our members worked with us overtime to make those plans a reality.

Louisiana State University, like many universities, isn’t too great on free speech for students.  However, our “free speech zone,” known as “Free Speech Alley,” is at least in front of the impressive LSU Student Union.  This is a major thoroughfare for students walking to lunch and classes.  It also contains our brand new Union Theatre, which would be a great location to host a certain Republican congressman one day (and yes, I know I’m shameless).  Anyway, we were given “the circle,” which is the main and largest part of Free Speech Alley.  However, it isn’t large enough for a 40 foot debt clock, so we had to brainstorm for another idea to visualize the debt.

We elected to buy the suggested 4’x8′ pieces of wood, and use power tools to cut holes where students could put their faces to pose with a thermometor of the national debt.  The characters we chose to design were a woman from the 1950’s and hipster uncle sam. 

Main display boards at the event:

Board Display

We also printed out 14 sheets of paper to visualize the number $14,000,000,000,000, which looked impressive on the ground in front of our table.  We focused not only on the size of the national debt, but how much each taxpayer owed (since college students are preparing to get jobs).  We also had fake bills from the government, which said “Congratulations!   You owe the government $128,000,” with a terrified citizen reading the bill.

We worked with the fact we were tabling on April Fools Day, and told passing students that we were handing them April Fools Day bills from the government.  We let them know that although our bill was a joke, their debt was, unfortunately, very real.  Most students were shocked to know that as taxpayers they were liable for around $128,000.

The morning of the event I went around campus areas with high walking traffic, and attached signs designed by my wonderful director of propoganda, Daniel Alcanzare.  We also printed out about 50 copies which were posted in various places around campus, such as bathroom stalls and dormatory halls.

Here is Daniel’s Visualize the Debt flyer:


About a week prior, LSU YAL Secretary Lauren Felter sent out our press releases to our media contacts.  We sent them again the Monday and Tuesday before the event as well.  YAL sent us a great guide on how to work with the media, so we used this in our efforts.  They were spot on, and had we followed them to the letter, we might have recieved even more coverage.  Still though, we had two film crews come out and interview us, which was awesome.  NBC33 Baton Rouge put us on both the evening news segments on Friday April 1st, as well as the front page of their website until late Monday afternoon.  Here is a link to the NBC33 article and video.

Screenshot of the NBC33 website Friday afternoon.

Front Page Screenshot

The timing also could not have been better.  The morning was beautiful and clear, so Kyle and I were able to drive out and set up our event very easily.  April 1st was also the last day of a major LSU orientation program known as Spring Invitational, and LSU tour guides led large groups of high school students around to show them Free Speech Alley, and brought them to lunch in the student union.  They also showed students that if they went to the middle of “the circle” and yelled, their voice would echo off the walls of the circle.  We suggested they yell “I owe the U.S. Government $128,000!”, which many of them did quite enthusiastically.  They were as concerned with that number as we were.  Who wants to pay for college and then owe $128,000 or more as soon as they become a taxpayer?!

Just after setting up the display boards in “the circle”:

Initial Setup

As the event drew to a close, a crowd of about 25 members and interested students had begun to gather after classes and discuss current events.  The discussion started with the debt, but groups began forming that were talking about issues such as Social Security, Libya, the war on drugs, the war on terror, and many more.   One LSU professor stopped by and told us that we were “doing a very good thing,” and that we “had made quite a splash.”  It was almost surreal seeing fellow college students talking about things that really mattered, things that will actually have an impact on all of our lives.   I could not have asked for a better event, and I wanted to thank YAL for the idea and assistance in pulling this off.

LSU YAL members and friends towards the end of the event:

Group Picture

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