SSDP Alumni for Prop 19In November, 4.5 million Californians voted for Prop 19, the initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana. Collecting more votes than Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, Prop 19 achieved a respectable 46.5%, the highest percentage ever received for a statewide initiative to legalize marijuana. The coalition supporting Prop 19 brought together police officers, minority advocacy groups, unions, faith leaders, law professors, business leaders, and many more who permanently transformed the debate about marijuana. A close look at the make-up of the coalition reveals that SSDP alumni were a driving force behind the campaign’s high achievement. They were involved at all levels across all facets of the strong and dedicated coalition leading this campaign which went so far despite a small budget and small staff. University of Rhode Island and University of Missouri chapter alumni Tom Angell and Amber Langston served as Prop 19’s media relations director and media relations coordinator, respectively. Together they helped garner positive press by holding press conferences, fielding questions from members of the media, connecting spokespeople with journalists, and formulating responses to the opposition. Others, like Sugam Soni, San Francisco State University chapter alum, contributed as local grassroots activists. Sugam, a member of the staff at one of the nation’s leading medical cannabis facilities, led discussions and local community outreach to spread awareness about the benefits of Prop 19. John Decker, alum of SSDP Terps at the University of Maryland, College Park, coordinated campaign events such as the creative sign displays during the San Francisco Giants playoff run. The chapter most well-represented in the Prop 19 campaign was likely the UC-Berkeley chapter. Helping to lead the campaign as Deputy Campaign Manager was Rebecca Saltzman, a UC-Berkeley alumna. One of the most visible leaders was regional directorKat Murti, whose dedication to the campaign led her to be nominated by the UC-Berkeley chapter and featured as an All-Star SSDP Alumna. The current staff and board of SSDP were highly involved as well. In a collaborative effort with the Just Say Now campaign, Aaron Houston, Stacia Cosner, and Jon Perri motivated young voters across the state to get out of the vote and young people across the country to phone bank. Board member Alex Kreit (Hampshire College) led the law professor coalition, and Board member Shaleen Title (University of Illinois) organized the law enforcement coalition. Board members Alex Woon (San Jose State University), Jesse Stout (Brown University), and Mike Liszewski (University of the District of Columbia, School of Law) also contributed. The SSDP alumni involved worked on various facets of the campaign, but they all agreed that working on the campaign was one of the most rewarding (though exhausting) things a young activist can do. Amber says, “Not only was I privileged to work with a stellar group of drug policy reform and other like-minded political professionals, I was also granted a position to speak with authority about the importance and urgency of legalizing marijuana for adult use in a legitimate public debate.” The emphasis on professionalism was brought up again and again. “I found that the level of professionalism in a group of people that the country thought would not ‘have it together’ was remarkable,” Sugam adds. One of the most valuable tools that national SSDP and chapter leaders can give their members is the tool to create change at a local level. Part of this is activism experience. Amber explains, “SSDP undoubtedly gave me my strongest tools for political activism with drug policy reform. Not only have I learned techniques on organizing, developing campaign strategies and messaging specific to drug policy reform, I have also become part of a network of incredible activists whom I can turn to for opinions and advice. There’s no chance I would have been able to get this far without being involved with SSDP.” Substantive knowledge is equally valuable. Sugam says, “In our forums at school, we were able to discuss a broad range of arguments for and against, and this helped me to tackle these issues when faced with voters who had those concerns.” We asked each alumnus for their advice for SSDP members or alumni who want to get involved with campaigns like Prop 19. Here is their advice: “Dive in to SSDP. After your academics, make it the most important thing in your life for the time you are in college. You’ll learn an incredible amount, meet a huge network of amazing people and feel a great sense of accomplishment.” – Tom Angell “If this is something you care about- do not hesitate. My experience with SSDP and Prop 19 has made me very proud of the work that we do. It is very fulfilling to know that we are part of changing the world. Prohibition effects so many lives, and everyday we are working on eliminating that failed policy. Student activism, to me, is what this country is all about- A group of educated minds working together for reform.” – Sugam Soni “For students who are interested in pursuing this kind of career….DO IT!! The world really is run by those who show up. Every little thing you do with and for you chapter becomes a part of your requisite skill set, whether or not you can see it in the immediate term. Everything starts with small steps. It is a matter of ceaselessly continuing with those steps, learning from your mistakes and continuing to be a voice in all the political arenas available to you that will give you an edge for this kind of work. Local action becomes global action.” – Amber Langston “STAY INVOLVED! Don’t let graduation stop you from having SSDP in your life, stay in contact with your Alma Matta chapter, be a part of the list serve, keep up on the drug policy world in your local community and, just don’t stop.” – John Decker
These two alumni were nominated by current SSDP chapter leaders for their continued support!
Kat Murti University of California – Berkeley ’09
Victor Pinho University of Maryland – College Park ’06
|“I can’t think of anyone who fits the description of an all-star alum better than Kat Murti, who graduated from Cal last summer but has continued to be a tremendous leader for our chapter, especially in coordinating our Prop 19 efforts. I speak for everyone I know involved with SSDP in the Bay Area when I say that Kat deserves to be nominated for this. Her passion is fiercely contagious. Thanks for drawing attention to this–we’d be nowhere without alumni like Kat!” – Matt Kintz, UC-Berkeley chapter||“Victor helped found our chapter in 2002 but continues to maintain a helpful presence whenever we need him. Victor agreed to spend his own time coming down to UMD from New Jersey to talk about medical marijuana to our chapter. He is always at conferences offering ideas that we use to help make our chapter stronger. In fact, Victor proposed the idea of an “officer planning retreat” for our chapter last summer and led the planning for it. He is truly a valuable asset to our chapter”. – Brandon Levey, University of Maryland, College Park chapter.|