SSDP’s first regional conference of the year was a huge success! A total of 57 students from chapters all over the Northeast Region gathered at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts on October 1st for a conference that emphasized coalition building both on and off campus.
After students settled in with some coffee and breakfast, Lex Pelger of Psymposia led our first session of the day: Psychedelic Storytelling. Conference participants were given the opportunity to share a story about an experience they had with psychoactive substances, good or bad. Six total attendees shared stories of personal growth, calls to action, and intense moments of realization. The session was a great, light-hearted way to begin the conference, and really helped set the tone for the rest of the day.
Psychedelic storytelling was followed by a panel on Cannabis Legalization in the Northeast, moderated by SSDP’s Massachusetts Campus Coordinator Austin Davis. Panelists included Jared Moffat ‘10 (Field Director for the YES on 4 campaign and co-founder of Regulate Rhode Island), Shaleen Title ‘02 (THC Staffing Group), Christopher Alexander (NY Policy Coordinator at Drug Policy Alliance), and David Boyer (Campaign Manager for Maine’s YES on 1 campaign). Panelists discussed the current status of cannabis legalization efforts in the Northeast United States, with an emphasis on the impact the initiatives in Massachusetts and Maine will have on the rest of the region. Students had plenty of questions to ask panelists regarding the potential of the initiatives to correct the racial injustices caused by prohibition, which was by far one of the most discussed topics in the session.
After a break for lunch, students returned to the conference for a workshop on intersectionality and coalition building led by SSDP Northeast Outreach Coordinator Jake Agliata ‘11 and Board of Directors member Rachel Wissner ‘11. Students were asked to form into small groups with the condition that no more than 2 people from the same chapter could be in each group. Once sorted, each participant took turns sharing three groups that they identify with, and three groups they want to work more closely with through SSDP. After sharing, each student was asked to pair up with one student in their group, exchange contact information, and come up with a plan for how they could make their SSDP chapters more inclusive of a specific group. This workshop was a fantastic way to get students to meet new people and brainstorm new strategies for building campus allies.
The final session of the conference was a Q&A with Lyn Ulbricht, the mother of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. Many students in the room had recently watched the related film, Deep Web, as part of a joint screening between SSDP, Students for Liberty, and Young Americans for Liberty. After giving a quick overview of where Ross’s appeal stands now, students eagerly asked Lyn questions about Ross’s case, online drug marketplaces, and the political motivations behind Ross’s incarceration. Lyn called upon the students in the room to get creative with the ways they educate others on their campuses about the War on Drugs and asked that SSDP students continue to support Ross’s fight for freedom. The session was very emotional, and a powerful way to close out the conference.
After the main conference programming ended, New York students got the opportunity to have a brief state-wide strategy meeting with Chris Alexander, while the rest of the conference attendees headed out to do some phonebanking for the YES on 4 campaign. Though many conference participants had to leave before phonebanking got started, we managed to make 450 calls in about two hours. There was no better way to close out the 2016 Northeast Regional Conference than turning the lessons we shared at the conference into action.
Thanks to the Northeastern SSDP chapter for hosting and to all the speakers who made the trek to Boston for the conference. A very special thank you to the SSDP Northeast Alumni Association, Kris Krane ‘98, and Jennifer Janichek for sponsoring this year’s conference and making it possible. The biggest thanks of all to all goes to the SSDP students from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island who attended this year’s Northeast Regional Conference. We can’t wait to do it again next year.