Marc Brandl, [email protected]On the weekend of March 5-7, over 40 students, representing 10 universities, met to learn more about activism, leadership, and to discuss ideas. Aaron Wilson, long-time campus activist and organizer of the conference, said "While small, as the first ever inter-campus gathering of student drug policy reform activists it was a significant event. The level of inter-campus communication and cooperation has risen quite a bit, with several collaborative projects already underway. I think the event did a lot to solidify the participants' commitment to activism on the issue and provided political skills they need to be more effective. I am sure the next event will be even better."
The conference, titled "Student Drug Reform Activism: 1999 Advanced Leadership Conference," was held at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and was hosted by the nation's longest running campus marijuana reform group, the Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition (UMACRC). The conference focused on activism, with sessions and panels were held on subjects such as event organizing, Higher Education Act reform, and effective political public relations. The focus of all the conference events was activism and not theory. The conference also allowed student activists a chance to meet face to face and share ideas, experiences and plans for the future long into the morning hours.
Michael Thelwell, one of the original founders of the Student Nonviolent Campus Coordinators (SNCC), now a professor of literature in the Afro-American Studies department at Amherst, was the event's keynote speaker. His speech inspired activists with memories of the civil rights movement. "He inspired me to think more about the struggle and the heart behind what we do instead of simply tactics and knowledge," said Troy Dayton, who was a communications and rhetoric trainer at the conference.
Tentative plans are being made to have a similar event in October at George Washington University in Washington. Shawn Heller, president of GW Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) said, "Hopefully a conference at GW next semester will improve upon the trend set up by this conference, and will bring together all drug policy student activists in the country." Funding for the conference came, in part, from a small grant from the Drug Policy Foundation and several contributions from private donors. Aaron Wilson would like to thank everyone who made the event possible and contributed to its success, including Liz Rising (UMACRC), who did much of the work of reserving hotel rooms, making arrangements for food and other thankless tasks.