My name is Oliver Zerrudo, and I am a 5th year undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley. I wanted to express my reasons for joining SSDP, and the rationales for why I am passionate about the work we are attempting to do. As A Bay Area Native, the impacts of social justice inequalities have always been highlighted to me via the socio-economic developments of my neighborhood, as well the vast organizing efforts of community-based grassroots organizations around me. Growing up in San Francisco’s Mission District I am all too aware of the negative impacts of state-sponsored control systems: Urban Shield, Gang Injunction, DEA/ICE Raids, etc. These experiences galvanized my dedication to people of color communities, people of color histories, and deconstructing the western hegemonic understanding of immigration. From prison abolition, drug policy advocacy, immigration reform, and more, the struggles of underrepresented people of color have become forefront political conversations in mainstream America – however very seldom is it people coming from communities impacted by these issues on the forefront of mobilizations/conversations geared towards systemic political change. As a Filipino immigrant, I frequently challenge myself to decentralize American Exceptionalism and Western Capitalist Values from my political prioritizations. Often in America, the conversations around drug policy take a very myopic lens –focusing on economics or quantitative crime measurements. These perspectives, while valuable, detach people of color communities from the impact of policy and remove the international perspective non-Americans contribute to the drug trade.
After a year of our campus’ chapter being dark, a group of friends and I decided to restart Berkeley’s involvements in the larger SSDP/DPA network. As a group of young men of color from Latin America and Asia, I am inspired by the perspectives and narratives of my chapter members –rarely am I granted to work amongst such passion generated from circumstances similar to mine. Being grounded in an organization built amongst communities of color is an invaluable asset when navigating the needs and goals for drug policy advocacy. Conversations around legalization/recreationalization, the failures of mass incarceration, and addiction stigma are incomplete without contextual conversations around immigrancy, the status of the formerly incarcerated, crime in the global south, and others. I have found that the intersectional nature of past and present drug war legislation/advocacy requires the intersectional perspectives of young immigrant youth –able to voice the struggles of their parents as well as the impacts of contemporary legislation –in order to qualitatively improve the standard of living understood by members of our communities.
Joining SSDP affords people like me, marginalized immigrant urban youth, an opportunity to proliferate our perspective in the political spectrum. The privilege of mainstream university student status elevates us from the negatively viewed ‘migrant’ class into the pantheons of the ivory tower –where academic status and legitimacy combat citizenship and language barriers. Often I find the university awards adherence to capitalistic standards of productivity – where priorities are often derived by the logistics and motivations of things such as voting season or our two-party electoral system. I hope to steer my chapter towards having a more holistic outlook of policy change from a wider range of people of color perspectives often misunderstood in drug policy conversations.