From January 4-6, New England College hosted the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Student Convention in Manchester, NH. Students for Sensible Drug Policy sponsored the event, held a panel session, and brought fourteen SSDP students and alumni to highlight drug policy reform as an important youth issue in the 2016 elections.
This unique experience exposed students to the political process, and helped SSDP push drug policy to the forefront of the conversation. Read on to find out what our students got out of the event, and how they helped shape the conversation in truly meaningful ways.
What did you learn at the college convention?
“The NH Primary Student Convention offered many learning opportunities including deeper insight into hot-button topics such as immigration, gun control, foreign policy, etc. However, I learned the most when I applied my knowledge of the Drug War’s policies to find intersections with many of these topics. Specifically, I spoke to a number of people about how the War on Drugs sets up volatile narco-political situations in countries such as Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These situations fuel much of the violence and turmoil that drives the residents of those areas to flee and seek asylum, through both legal and extralegal avenues. In this way, the U.S. War on Drugs serves as the cause for much of the immigration issues.” – Matthew Getzin, President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute SSDP
“By far the most interesting part of the experience for me was seeing and meeting people across the entire political spectrum and hearing what they had to say. It challenged me in the sense that I wasn’t discussing these topics with people who were well versed in them. This time, it was the other SSDPers and I truly having to articulate the atrocities that the drug war has caused. This all in the effort to educate and convince others of why and how important it is to decriminalize and legalize, all drugs.” – Jennifer Purdon, President, University of Connecticut SSDP
“This was my first conference that I attended where I was representing Students for Sensible Drug Policy but was not at a drug reform conference. I was exposed to a variety of viewpoints on issues concerning gun control, foreign policy, education reform and drug policy, but learned most from simply tabling for SSDP. Having to navigate conversations with individuals that had incredibly different views from myself was challenging, but incredibly helpful. I truly feel that having had this experience has helped me as an advocate and reformer of drug policy.” – Alixe Dittmore, Vice President, University of Connecticut SSDP
“The NH Primary Student Convention enhanced my belief that dismantling the War on Drugs is one of the most intersectional and bipartisan issues of our time. Everybody has skin in this game, as Betty pointed out on the drug policy panel. In attending the town halls of both Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Rand Paul, I noticed that both argued for ending the War on Drugs, despite being on different sides of the aisle in the Senate. This exemplifies just how bipartisan drug policy reform can be.” – Caleb Gutwillig, President, Dickinson College SSDP
“The New Hampshire Student Primary Convention was my first conference as a new member of SSDP. This conference was an eye opening experience because as a student of color from a low-income neighborhood I’ve realized I need to make issues like the mass incarceration of people color due to nonviolent drug offenses visible to my community and the community at Dickinson College. Prior to joining SSDP I did not realize that many the people I shared a classroom with in Washington Heights lost their opportunity to be successful at school because many were arrested for possession of marijuana completely alienating them an education. I realize I need to step up and fight for these issues because even though I was fortunate enough to attend Dickinson College many of the young men in my community are still suffering from nonviolent drug offenses because they were removed from the schools system at young age and many are still on the street because they can’t find a job that meets their basic needs. Therefore when looking for the right candidate to vote for I’ve learned that to get my vote this candidate will have to agree that the war on drugs must come to an end.” – Estiven Rodriguez, Dickinson College SSDP
“While I’ve seen the poll numbers showing the overwhelming and growing support among young people (and, increasingly, all demographic groups), this conference made me more fully appreciate just how much support we had. While most students had come to the conference to see candidates or participate in other panels, every one that I talked to supported our cause. Even when I spoke to bona fide Donald Trump supporters (and volunteers), the were at least open to considering criminal justice reform.
During the “war on drugs” panel, the first question asked was deeply critical of progressive drug policy reforms. But even the questioner seemed open to our answers, and the question was asked in a respectful way. It’s a great feeling to see such a massive change in public attitudes – especially among younger people – since I first became involved in this issue eight years ago, and this conference made me more excited for the future.” – Brandon Levey, University of Maryland SSDP; Harvard Law
“At the New Hampshire Student Convention I was able to see that drug policy reform is something that is on the minds of everyone, not just those actively participating in the reform movement. The taboo is starting to tear away and people are approaching the conversation of decriminalization, legalization, harm reduction, and the wide plethora of drug related policies with a more open mind than ever before. It was great to see politicians like Rand Paul openly say that there are many drug policies that have simply failed in doing what they were created to do and change is of the utmost importance. No matter what party one aligns themselves with, most people have come to the conclusion that the war on drugs is a failing effort and something different must be done.” – Mikal Banjoko, Vice President, University of Rhode Island SSDP
“The New Hampshire Primary Student Convention was an insightful opportunity that generated stimulating political conversations. Being at the conference was a unique experience, which allowed me access to become more intimately acquainted with each of the presidential candidates’ platforms during their town hall meetings and tabling sessions. As a student leader, I enjoyed the inquiries from the audience during the SSDP panel on drug policy because it allowed me to see what topics of interest students engaged with the most. The interests of students shifted from mainstream marijuana to harm reduction tactics such as, needle exchange clinics, primarily due to, the opioid epidemic. Therefore, informing students of the availability of Naloxone, used to reverse the effects of opiate overdose at the University at Albany is something our chapter can work on this coming semester.” – Raquel Heras, President, University at Albany SSDP
What was the most interesting panel you attended?
“The most interesting panel, to me, was the panel held by the Women’s Defense League of New Hampshire, in regards to our second amendment rights and the 2016 election. The entire panel was incredibly heated and every single person in that room was tested. The intensely opposing viewpoints led to individuals arguing and pushed me to reanalyze my own views and what they meant to me. This panel forced me to think quickly and helped me refine my debate skills in a way that could lead to a meaningful, non partisan conversation.” – Alixe Dittmore, Vice President, University of Connecticut SSDP
“The most interesting panel that I attended was the panel on Immigration and the 2016 Election. The panel granted me the opportunity to a wealth of knowledge that I really did not have on immigration policy in our country. I think that it was rather important that this particular panel exists because so many Americans, including myself, do not really understand the implications that go into immigration. Thanks to this panel, I really feel that I understand the process on a deeper level. It has also shown me that this is an issue that people need to have a better understanding of.” -Kelly Ebbert, University of Rhode Island SSDP
“The panel that contributed the most to my experience was the panel that talked about many of the issues that veterans face after they arrive home from their service. Before this panel I was not well versed on the lack of medical assistance that many veterans face across the country. If I remember correctly I learned that 22 veterans commit suicide everyday showing how we as nation fail these veterans that put their lives at risk for the safety of the United States meanwhile they constantly face a lack of medical assistance. I truly believe that veterans should have the best healthcare possible because it is a crime that many veterans end up committing suicide after they put their lives at risk for all of us.” – Estiven Rodriguez, Dickinson College SSDP
What has this event inspired you to do moving forward?
“This event was a great opportunity for me to see how other SSDP chapters in the area are engaging with their peers. Moving forward, I’d like to see our chapter get involved in some sort of Sober Driving service on the weekends. Furthermore, I’d like to see students from our chapter become a bit more involved so that they have opportunities to travel to national conferences and meet people from other schools who are involved in their SSDP.” – Matthew Getzin, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute SSDP
“This event has inspired me to think outside of the box when discussing politics, and not just drug policy. There are other important issues that we are facing that are deeply interconnected and entwined with drug policy. Hearing what those who are different than me had to say will ultimately help me grow and evolve the way I engage in conversation, and has inspired me to socially expand my horizons to those whom I may not normally engage in this conversation with. I’m really grateful to have had this opportunity to get involved with campaign advocacy and to have attended this convention.” – Jennifer Purdon, President, University of Connecticut Students for Sensible Drug Policy
“This event inspired me to push my chapter even further this coming semester. Being able to meet so many new people that aren’t all coming together for drug policy reform work granted me the opportunity to network across organizations. It also allowed me to share my personal knowledge on drug policy work with those that felt that they were in opposition of ending prohibition. I’m incredibly grateful for SSDP providing yet another opportunity to expand my knowledge on policy work and advocacy.” – Alixe Dittmore, Vice President, University of Connecticut Students for Sensible Drug Policy
“This event has inspired me to bring back the knowledge I’ve gained from this conference to our SSDP chapter at Dickinson College. I hope to inform our chapter members of just how pertinent drug policy reform is in the 2016 election, as well as its relation to other key issues. Moreover, I now have a better understanding of the presidential candidates, particularly their stances on drug policy. I hope to communicate this to our chapter and the Dickinson community as a whole.” – Caleb Gutwillig, President, Dickinson College Students for Sensible drug policy
“As much as I look forward to continuing my involvement in raising awareness about current drug policy, this event has inspired me to try to increasingly engage myself in other matters that our generation will be inevitably faced with in the coming years. Also, it has motivated me to try to get my friends more actively involved in politics. I’m so excited to see what this year brings!” – Kelly Ebbert, University of Rhode Island Students for Sensible Drug Policy
What was your favorite memory from the convention?
“My favorite part of the event was being able to meet with other people both within SSDP and throughout the different organizations that managed to come to the student convention. Spreading the word about the Drug War and issues regarding drug policy amongst politically engaged young people was inspiring. It was truly encouraging to hear that our cause is something that so many individuals across the country are determined to work on and change.”
-Kelly Ebbert, University of Rhode Island SSDP
“Bernie Sanders. Not only did he give an inspirational stump speech, he took questions from the crowd, and received perhaps the biggest applause when he said ‘we have a so-called war on drugs. It has failed.’ I truly felt the power of students and others coming together to make progressive change, and felt so inspired to continue working on this issue and to help continue the positive momentum we now have.” – Brandon Levey, University of Maryland SSDP; Harvard Law
“My favorite part of this convention was to reconnect with those I know in other SSDP chapters and to meet new faces as well. At every convention it is a pleasure to get the opportunity to have a more intimate discussion than via social media on what their chapter has been up to and all the great ideas and opinions everybody has.” – Mikal Banjoko, Vice President, University of Rhode Island SSDP
“My favorite memory was probably the photo I got with John Kasich, and selfies with cardboard cutouts. I also enjoyed meeting students from other SSDP chapters, and doing some general networking. I am not used to meeting others at conferences and going in a group was a great learning experience. Among other memorable events, the town hall meetings make every candidate much more accessible and real.” – Joseph Zott University of Connecticut SSDP