This month, SSDP is raising $15,000 for the International Activities Fund, which supports our work outside the United States by funding chapter events, policy change campaigns, and scholarships to SSDP2020. Throughout July, we will be sharing stories from members of the global SSDP family discussing their victories, struggles, and ideas for the next year. Today, we are kicking off the drive with a message from our outgoing International Programs Manager, Jake Agliata ‘11.
This is the first Monday in five years I will not wake up to an inbox full of messages from eager SSDPers asking for advice or help. It’s been a bittersweet couple of days saying goodbye to the only job I have had since graduating from Dickinson College in 2014, and it’s even weirder to think how this all started from a simple conversation with friends during a dorm room sesh in 2011 where we complained about our school’s marijuana policy. But as I make the transition out of SSDP staff, I find that as a member of the Alumni Association and an architect of SSDP’s global program, I still have a crucial role to fulfill for this family: supporting the work of our outstanding global chapter network through the International Activities Fund.
When I joined SSDP staff in 2014 and was given the responsibility of outreach coordinator for the “International Region,” nothing could have prepared me for the task ahead. At the time there were already some established SSDP chapters in Mexico, Ireland, and Nigeria, but not much elsewhere. I felt woefully unqualified for this role. Sure, I had done my BA in International Studies, but did that mean I knew anything about global organizing?? Yet, as someone with an insatiable desire to explore the world beyond the confines of borders, I quickly grew excited about the task and began to develop a vision of a transnational, youth-led movement fighting global drug prohibition. I still remember my first SSDP strategy summit in Summer 2014, when the debate was about now how we will support a global chapter network, but whether we should have one at all. I remember sitting in that room and thinking if I could just show people the vision I had for a global SSDP network, we would never have to have this conversation again.
Five years later, SSDP has grown into the largest, and one of the most effective, global network of young people working to end the global War on Drugs. We have chapters in 30 countries and counting across all six habitable continents, doing some truly incredible work. Some of our most impactful policy change efforts are happening in countries like Ireland, where SSDP chapters are passing campus-wide referendums in support of drug checking and decriminalization, or Ghana, where SSDP activists are actively discussing changes to national drug policy with policymakers. Our chapters in Bolivia, Nigeria, and Austria do incredible work providing honest and fact-based education around drug use in their countries so young people can make honest and informed choices. In countries such as the Philippines or Pakistan, which are marred by state-sponsored violence against people who use drugs, SSDP activists are boldly advocating for compassionate approaches to drug use, seeiking toeradicate stigmatization, oftendoing so despite great personal risk. And of course, at the United Nations, SSDP members all over the world come together to amplify the youth voice in a forum which has historically silenced them. All of this is just scratching the surface of what SSDP activists outside the United States are accomplishing on a daily basis.
If there is one thing I have taken away from my time as SSDP’s global point person, it’s that we cannot ignore the transnational nature of our work. The systemic criminalization of people who use drugs is a centuries-old tactic, employed since the colonization of the Western Hemisphere; It has been used to establish social hierarchies based on race, class, and nationality. The ultimate goal of drug prohibition is the disenfranchisement and dehumanization of people deemed undesirable by a ruling majority of mainstream society. Criminalizing people who use drugs helps achieve this aim by stripping them of their human rights and basic human dignity through incarceration, state-sanctioned violence, and poverty. Drug prohibition has also been used to justify foreign intervention, forced removal of democratically elected leaders, and displacement of indigenous peoples. This is why we must see our work as one part of a broader, interconnected effort to heal the world from colonialism and white supremacy. We cannot isolate our work to solely affecting change in our own backyards, nor can we consider the legalization of all drugs our end goal. We must recognize that everything we do is part of a much larger fight and inform our decisions as activists through the understanding our work is not complete until we’ve provided restitution and reparations for the communities and individuals who have historically been targeted by drug prohibition.
To that end, it is crucial SSDP supports, to our fullest capacity, the work of our members outside of the United States. While we have come a long way during my five years on staff, our network outside of the United States is still held back from reaching its full potential. Student members do not have the same kind of access to university funds and spaces like our US members have. Countries outside of the US do not have the same culture of philanthropy that allows our US members to effectively fundraise. The vast majority of our resources are written in a language most speak either as a second language or not at all. Our members cannot talk openly and freely in certain countries for fear of reprisal from the government, or even just the general population. The simple truth is that maintaining a global network of activists requires those of us with privilege to step up and do more to support our friends.
The International Activities Fund is an effort to do just that. During my final year on staff I was thrilled the fund was able to support the work of SSDP members in over six countries, and fund scholarships to SSDP2019 for two dozen members. This year, I know the SSDP staff, and ournew Global Program Coordinator Róisín Downes, wants the fund to support even more projects and positive efforts to end the drug war. Though in order to achieve this,we need SSDP’s members, allies, and supporters to come together and help us raise the money necessary to implement this vision. By giving to the International Activities Fund, you are stepping up and acknowledging the War on Drugs exists beyond your own backyard. You are demonstrating an understanding of the transnational nature of our work. And most importantly, you are helping a group of incredible, dedicated young people bring their work to end the drug war to the next level.
So, with my final words as an SSDP staff member, I ask this; will you step up and make a donation to the International Activities Fund today?