Jess Bradley reflects on what we have learned during SSDP conference.
Whilst cleaning up after the recent SSDP conference, I had a bit of a realisation. Taking down the posters, and tidying away all the flyers, leaflets and other bumph from the conference, I was amazed at just how far our movement has come, and just how much out organisation has matured. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that I attended the first national meeting of SSDP UK in a cupboard-cum-office in the University of Bradford Students Union, where three or four students decided to turn international drug laws on their head without any real plan, resources or funding.
Bringing together youth and student activists from all across Europe for a conference is no mean task and our success at this is one measurable way to show how far we have come. Even comparing it back to last years conference shows how well we have matured as an organisation. Much like this year, last years conference pulled in a good range of big-name speakers, useful workshops and activists from the student movement. But our success should not be simply measured by the pedigree of the keynote speakers, but on all the smaller details; how smoothly the conference runs, the food provided, and the democratic structures in place and how we engage with them. Seeing as the food provided was more than cuppasoups and teas like last year, we have definitely come a long way.
But, as our keynote speaker Deborah Peterson Small pointed out, we still have far to go as a movement. Besides the fact that international drug laws are far from being reformed, our movement is far from engaging the vast majority of people on a meaningful level, which is something we are going to have to do if we are going to get anywhere near changing the law around drugs.
And of course, the speakers we invited are invariably the same old faces who tour the same conferences talking at each other every year. The reason why most of them a so keen to come to SSDP conference is because our status as a youth and student organisation at least brings some new faces into an otherwise largely stagnant movement.
Even our organisation, which has the most scope for engaging a mass movement for drug law reform is far from diverse. Looking around conference, it seems our movement is dominated by white middleclass straight men; the demographic who aren’t exactly considered the most vulnerable or most affected by the War on Drugs.
Deborah set us a challenge. A challenge to broaden the movement beyond the movement and in effect, to fundamentally change the movement itself by ensuring it is a movement created by and for those most marginalised by the War on Drugs; the services users, gang members, ex-gang members, women, queers, medical users, people of colour and people struggling under poverty.
The fact of the matter is that we are the organisation best placed to take up the challenge of creating a diverse and democratic mass movement for drug law reform. Students, when not struggling with deadlines, have the time and young people have the energy to breathe new life into a movement which really needs it, as long as we are serious about stepping out of our comfort zones (and off our campuses). The question remains: are you with us on this?