SSDP Alumni: Making an Impact

Rebecca SaltzmanWhen I chose my classes for my first semester at UC Berkeley, I could have never imagined that signing up for a seminar on European folk tales would change my life. On the first day of the class, the professor asked all of us why we had chosen Berkeley. Unsurprisingly, a few of us had come to Berkeley because of its history of activism, but I was surprised and elated when I heard Scarlett Swerdlow explain that her activist experience had been in drug policy, which I too had great interest in but knew little about at the time. I excitedly introduced myself to Scarlett after class and that week we founded UC Berkeley’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

The rest of my journey through the world of drug policy activism has unfurled much like that day, involving a bit of serendipity, a lot of enthusiasm, and the willingness to take chances and put in hours of hard work. Scarlett and I quickly grew our SSDP chapter by tabling nearly every day, holding events with expert speakers, and even by teaching classes to our peers. I also stepped up to leadership roles within the national organization, serving two years on the Board of Directors and helping launch the alumni network.

Immediately after graduating, I was hired to direct a Democratic National Committee fundraising office that raised more than one million dollars for the 2004 presidential campaign. Serendipity then hit me again, when I found out that Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the largest national member-based organization promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research, was hiring a field coordinator. I had volunteered extensively for ASA during my college years, including bringing 200 Berkeley students to a rally of theirs in Sacramento so I knew it would be a perfect fit.

After two years of working with ASA’s chapter and activist leaders, I moved on to become ASA’s chief of staff. I manage ASA’s staff and projects and I have the incredible opportunity to hire new staff. For nearly every position we advertise, an SSDP leader applies and I always look closely at their applications because I know first-hand what it takes to run an SSDP chapter.

When I’m not busy at work or with activism, I write at my blog, living in the O, which focuses on Oakland community, politics, and planning.