When I joined Students for Sensible Drug Policy four years ago, I knew nothing about drug policy. The names Michelle Alexander and Carl Hart meant nothing to me; the Controlled Substances Act and the Rave Act were merely headlines in the haze of Congressional action. There was no coverage for people in difficult legal situations due to use of drugs other than alcohol at College of Charleston, nor did its officers know or have any interest in naloxone or the potential benefits it offers. The South Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, now a fully staffed and operating organization, was nothing but the seed of an idea in my and Michael-Devereux Bertin ‘16’s heads. My time with SSDP at CofC was an active four years, but some were more active than others. Alongside those successes, there were many failures as well: failures of head, failures of heart, failures of spirit. I would like to discuss some of those with you in hopes you can learn from my time with SSDP. After an active two years changing minds and changing policies, CofC SSDP hit a slump that would last the next two. I feel shame for this alongside pride for the good work done, and in the hope of preventing a similar slump, I want to offer current and future students some advice:
- Know who you are. The drug war affects everyone; however, it disproportionately affects people of color and other sexual, socioeconomic, and differently-abled minorities. Be aware of how your demographic information plays into larger social notion of privilege, ability, and perspective. Research and advocate accordingly.
- Know yourself. Take stock of your abilities and preferences. Don’t put the burden of running the entire organization on yourself. Know what you are good at, and recruit others who have different sets of skills than yourself.
- Use SSDP staff. Their job is to help you! Know who your Movement Building Fellow is, speak with them regularly, and don’t be afraid to let them know you need help.
- Do your homework. Keep current on what is going on in drug policy generally. There are any number of resources available in an equal number of formats: newsletters, publications, podcasts, Facebook groups, Twitter feeds. Knowledge is power.
- Recruit. You can’t do everything yourself. Make a concerted effort to always have new members coming to your meetings. Have things ready for them to do — it is easy to find yourself scurrying to find work for new members to do only to have nothing and see them walk out the door.
- Have regular, substantive meetings. Keep people involved and share as much knowledge as you can. Both you and they will be better for it.
- F*ck the drug war. Keep your eye on the prize. The drug war has no idea what is coming for it. It’s a big hairy beast, but the movement against it is stronger than ever.