Monday, November 07, 2005

Why Get Involved with SSDP?

A little over two years ago I attended my first Hemp Fest at the University of Rhode Island. I had just graduated from high school and was beginning my first semester at the Community College of RI. I willingly admit my reasons for attending the HempFest were primarily selfish. I had no real knowledge of Hemp or even the War on Drugs (despite years of D.A.R.E.), and this was simply a day of relaxation, free musical performances, vendors, and the strong possibility of meeting others who share similar "interests".

I remember seeing a red stop sign sticker saying STOP THE DRUG WAR. It was the first time I had ever heard those words together in a sentence and my first thought was "Why would anyone want to stop the war on drugs, drugs are bad. Marijuana is one thing, but why would anyone support the use of hard drugs?” I honestly thought it was stupid.

I was not even aware that speakers were part of the day's events until Micah Diagle and Justin Holmes began speaking. They described the mission of SSDP and touched on facts concerning the war on drugs that I had never heard anywhere before and I actually started listening to what they had to say. I was shocked to hear about medical marijuana patients like Susan Pfiel, a paraplegic patient who was handcuffed to her bed for using medical marijuana in California, a state that had passed a medical marijuana law. Hearing about the disproportionate incarceration rates of minorities compared to whites disturbed me, as did the aspects of Plan Colombia, the HEA Drug Provision, the amounts of tax-dollars spent to wage this war, and the violation of constitutional rights, something that I had experienced on several occasions with police officers but never knew that I could do anything about it. SSDP seemed like something I needed to get involved in. An opportunity to learn about the political process, the war on drugs, the people it effects, and what other options could be executed to decrease drug use in our country.

After that day I began educating myself about SSDP and the War on Drugs and decided I wanted to get involved. My outlook had been changed. I realized this was not about marijuana; it’s not a bunch of "stoners" hanging out and talking about what their favorite pot strain is. It can become very aggravating when despite the clear mission statement of SSDP, some people refuse to see the group as anything more than advocates of recreational drug use. I cannot emphasize the importance of discrediting this ignorant assumption. In fact the drugs themselves are hardly ever a topic of concern. Rather it is about the laws concerning those drugs and what role they play in our society. It is about non-biased factual education on these drugs' negative effects, not scare tactics and propaganda. It is about people all over the world who are impacted by a war that cannot be won. The very idea that it is possible to rid the world or even a single country of certain chemical substances by incarcerating human beings and eradicating ecosystems is foolish and more destructive than any of these illegal substances could ever be.

So now I have started the first SSDP chapter at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, New Hampshire. FPC joins the hundreds of schools that have recognized SSDP as a campus club and so far we have received great reception from faculty, students, and even the campus ministry. Through SSDP I have made great friends, received a scholarship to attend the Drug Policy Alliance International Reform Conference in Long Beach CA, and rollerbladed 48.9 miles in the name of justice.

So if you find yourself interested in SSDP or unsure about its mission make sure you research the organization and also the war on drugs. Gain a clear understanding of what is going on in YOUR name and what you can do to change it. SSDP deals with hundreds of issues and I am sure there is one you care about regardless of your political views.

1 comment:

Micah Daigle said...

Wow Jon, truly an inspired and inspiring post.

Often, activists (myself included) take our political positions for granted, and forget that we too had to be convinced--either by ourselves or at the urgings of others--to adopt them. Our brains and our hands and our hearts are so invested in the cause that we become the cause, and we often can't see outside of our ideological box. But, as your post makes clear, we need to realize that while our positions make perfect sense to us, our positions are not taken as common sense outside of our ideological circles.

A general rule in life (not just activism): It is only by engaging the Other, that we can ever have a true sense of ourselves. That day two years ago, you made a courageous step by approaching me with an open mind--a difficult step that most of us had to take in order to really reevaluate the Drug War.

The challenge, of course, is in keeping an open mind and avoiding the trap of fanaticism. Only then will we be able to win over the hearts and minds of the public as we try to make the world a better place.

Thanks for the reminder. ;-)