Finding My People Through SSDP
Earlier this month we announced the launch of the International Activities Fund, which will assist SSDP activists around the world who don’t have access to the same resources often used by young people in the United States. Our goal is to raise $10,000 during the month of July to kickstart the fund. Today, we want to share a story written by Orsi Fehér, the founder of SSDP Österreich (Austria).
This year, our SSDP chapter at the University of Vienna officially became Studierende für eine sinnvolle Drogenpolitik in Österreich (SSDP Austria). We are now federally recognized as a youth organization in Austria that is dedicated to educating young people about the impacts of the War on Drugs by engaging them in the political process. Our objective is to engage in rational discourse on the risks and benefits of drug use.
Living in Vienna, we are fortunate to be able to access several services supported by the city that reduce the harms of drugs targeted at people with problematic patterns in their drug use. Notably, we have the internationally renowned drug-checking site Check!t, which regularly provides us with counsel and resources. The drug strategy of the Austrian government is also relatively progressive due to their support for treatment instead of punishment. At the same time, the national strategy emphasizes a society free of addiction and propagates the disease model of addiction, so it’s not a surprise that drug use is stigmatized in the public narrative.
Coming face to face with fear-fueled opposition to the topic of drugs at the University is what inspired me to get active in drug policy advocacy in 2016. I was presenting a research project to my peers and got stuck on a slide where I was talking about psychedelics as medicine. I felt incredibly discouraged and astounded by my peers’ misunderstanding and hostile attitude towards people who use drugs, people with substance use disorders, and even towards people with mental health disorders. I was confused why a classroom of people who I considered to be my intellectual reference group was parroting the fear-mongering propaganda of 1960s America. I had to face it: my understanding of drugs, medicine, spirituality, recovery, policy-making, and everything else in this realm that I believed to be common sense was considered radical. It left me doubting my entire values system and it took me a few weeks to pick up the topic again to start looking for a community where my interests could be openly discussed. My first encounters with SSDP were exactly what I needed to figure out a way to put my energies and emotions to good use.
In the spring of 2017, I met some other young activists and one of them, Lili, became Vice President of our then-tiny chapter. We started to seek out events where we suspected kindred souls might be lurking and organized our own gatherings. Finally, I did not feel alone. It was still not easy dealing with the varying degrees of motivation and capacity to engage. We had members, loud with dangerous ideas, shy with brilliant minds, coming and going. This fluctuation left its mark on my own motivation, but there is always something that keeps us together. We have fire and compassion, we have a general underlying sense of purpose every single time our team meets, we share a sincere drive to make this world a better place, not just for us, but for those who do not enjoy the privileges we take for granted. We stay together to help those who can’t afford to openly talk about these stigmatized issues those who have no access to harm reduction, who are unjustly under the magnifying glass of a class/race-based justice system, those who are not fluent in politics, those who can’t fathom speaking at the United Nations, and those who can’t commit their time to a cause that brings them under suspicion for criminal activities.
With SSDP I managed to gather the smartest, kindest, most interesting weirdos around me and to make Vienna my home. I learned who my real peers are and the value of vulnerability. I learned to trust my instincts and act on them in a constructive way. I am learning how to sustain a healthy relationship to substances and to help people find their voices. I am learning that some people don’t need or want my help and I am learning how to fail and not be shattered by it. Most importantly, I am learning to be a leader in an environment that accepts me as I am.
We are not the only harm reduction-oriented organization in Austria, nor are we the only youth group, yet we are striving. We are the group young people who have drug-related experiences trust. We are the people who bring young drug policy advocates from all over the globe together to promote an alternative to prohibition at the United Nations. We are embedded and active in various subcultures and know what our community needs. We have well-attended monthly events, artistic ventures, thematic workshops, and practical harm reduction trainings. We engage with diplomatic missions and we’re also activists who collect signatures, organize public rallies, and host weekly team meetings. Some of us volunteer or work for other organizations in the field, while some others have personal relationships with people in the drug policy family. We keep expanding our pool of supporters both locally and globally. We are invited to festivals, conferences, schools, and civil society forums while our member count rapidly grows.
With this increased demand, however, our resources are slowly being exhausted. It is not comfortable to have our team meetings at one of our flats anymore, we print more materials than our university budget will allow, and we have to book entire venues to be able to facilitate turnout to our events. We think it’s important to stay widely accessible and offer our trainings and services to the public for free. But with a growing audience, larger venues mean larger fees, more serious equipment, lengthier preparations, and more trained facilitators. We are astonished by the opportunities that have come our way so far and what we managed to achieve without consistent funding, but it is clear that in order to sustain this pace and retain our most talented SSDPers, we need reliable material support. Our Austrian allies are already battling with serious cuts to their funding that is consistent with the new government’s understanding of social justice. Nevertheless, we would like to start new projects and engage new members, create content in the local language, and take meetings with legislators. Most importantly, we want to include young people who are not easily reached with conventional outreach strategies and use our tools to empower them to take part in the political processes that impact their lives.
We have created something truly amazing and we need your support in order for the next generation of SSDP Austria to increase their impact. Please consider helping us reach the next level by making a gift to the International Activities Fund today.