Monday, 16 May 2011

Why should I get involved in SSDP?

Levent Akbulut talks about why you should start a chapter of SSDP and what you get out of being involved.

Why do I matter?
I am just one person, what good could I possibly do to change the drug laws?
This is perhaps one of the first questions people ask themselves before they decide to get involved in SSDP. The answer is often simpler than people expect and it is to do with the fact that you interact with other people.
In some circles the support of drug policy reform may seem like a fringe issue or have an element of stigma attached to it, you can make a difference to the people around you by simply being vocal about your views. The art of being an effective reform advocate is very much down to being able to introduce conversations about drug policy reform in groups and settings where it has not been approached. There are of course many ways to get people to think about the issues other than talking to people in person or getting people to show up to your events and these will be discussed in later blogposts.
Remember that you won’t necessarily change someone's mind straight after talking to them, give them space and get back to them later.

Ok, I’ll become an activist!
So you’ve decided to become an activist, congratulations! You’re entering a world full of idealism and hope. You have chosen to become a fully participating citizen exercising their democratic right to call for a better world and taking responsibility for it too!

Activism does not mean you have to recruit an army of volunteers to run a local campaign or canvas your entire town on drug policy reform, although it does help if you have the motivation and patience to develop a local team of campaigners. Sounds daunting? It needn’t be. You can still make a difference by ensuring the debate is occurring in circles where it has not yet made an appearance. You will make friends with all kinds of people with similar views and as with any good activist team you will spend time socialising with these people - every year you will also meet new people who will join your group and get more involved. You will also meet many more likeminded people nationwide at our annual conference and at other national events. You will get into the mindset of acting when you are not happy about things happening around you. You will be inspired and you will inspire others. You are all leaders of the drug policy reform movement.

What responsibilities will I have?

If you want to make a difference and start a local chapter then do so and do not waste time. It doesn’t matter if it’s just you at the beginning as there is so much you can do - simply making drug policy reform visible has an impact and will make it easier for you to recruit members. Drag your friends to help you get a society affiliated as early as possible, go out and ask people to put their names to agree to the formation of your society. Get all the forms filled in. Make sure you understand how your student union works and that you have applied for funds when they are available and that you have a stall at the welcome fayre. When people contact you, reply to them swiftly and make sure you actually plan for the year ahead. Getting involved in other groups can help you pick up the skills to run your society but make sure you have time for SSDP. By the way, we can help you with all of this if you hit any obstacles or need advice.

What do I get out of this?

You mean other than the satisfaction from knowing you did what you could to make a difference? Over time the work you put into developing a good campaign group will motivate others to do the same and improve on the work you did, and even though groups will go through periods of being less effective than previous times you can rest assured that your work planted the seeds for many more people to get involved. Think of the spread of information like a vine, first you plant the seed and then a shoot emerges from the ground, this shoot then branches off into different directions, with some branches stronger and bigger than others but so long as there are the right conditions all will yield fruit eventually.

You can then turn around and say I did that. One may be thinking this is very well and good if one wants to make wine but I need to use my time studying as usefully and effectively as possible. And possibly have time to drink some wine too...

Campaigning for drug law reform may seem like a radical minority pursuit but actually you will develop transferable skills along the way which will place you in good stead for a wide variety of careers. While you and your friends may currently associate drug policy as a fringe interest, of youthful idealism, there are already a growing number of high profile advocates for reform such as Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, the former head of the Royal College of Physicians, Nicholas Green QC, Chairman of the Bar Council for England and Wales and many more prominent scientists. Even the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have both called for some kind of reform in the past. It is only a matter of time before someone high profile with influence calls to make positive changes to our drug laws.

The skills we will help you develop as an activist will not only empower you to be an effective advocate for reform and help you make your contribution to change but will make you more employable. At the very least, to get through your degree and run an effective local group you will have to get good at planning and multitasking. Depending on what role you have decided to fulfill, you are most likely still going to have to develop communication and negotiation skills. A group which is well known on campus or locally almost certainly has avid networkers on board and a well thought out advertising strategy. You may also have to manage a budget or become a fundraiser, you are an events organiser and a political strategist. Do not forget you are running a policy group too! So, I guess that makes you a leader? Can you think of anything else? And yes we will give you a reference.

Whatever kind of experience you want out of getting involved in SSDP we are here to support you and help you develop your full potential as an activist and a student.

If you are interested in starting a local chapter or simply want help with your current one, do not hesitate to get in touch with myself or any board member.
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