Grassroots activism means many things to many people. While it sounds easy, most people who care about issues rarely assist with a cause beyond discussing the situation with friends, family, and co-workers during breaks. One of the greatest challenges faced by people committed to a social problem is getting others involved. Successful grassroots activism motivates concerned citizens into active participants.
There are two general grassroots strategies activists can adopt: hosting events where supporters learn, network, and contribute; or direct resources towards engaging the public.
Rallies are an attempt to use both these strategies at the same time—hoping the media will amplify the impact of the event by broadcasting issues to the world. However, large public demonstrations con- sume considerable resources. There are few times and places where protests are effective. There are occasions, however, where getting large groups of people together to allow informed activists to share their perspective, is smart move. Annual 420 celebrations are an excellent opportunity to engage with cannabis enthusiasts and people passing by, and also generate media attention.
Hempology 101 has found suc- cess in developing various events that entertain, educate, and activate cannabis enthusiasts. Spreading these activities into other communities is a challenge.
Bill S-10 is a challenge, on the other hand, I could go without. Faced with mandatory minimum sentences, the cannabis industry in Canada needs to pull out all of the stops to beat S-10.
Recent experience fighting C-26 and C-15 (the previous attempts to intro- duce mandatory minimum sentences), bills that luckily died before becoming law, taught us many things about how various federal political systems operate. Joining a day of national protest, we had MP’s Denise Savioe (NDP) and Dr. Keith Martin (Liberal) come to a rally to denounce these proposed mandatory minimums, when they first came out as C-26. Last fall we launched a fight C-15 phone jam campaign, and were very pleased with the results. Concerned citizens and members of medical dispensaries were happy to take small handouts with facts and contact information—knowing that cumulatively, small acts of civil disobedience can affect significant change.
STOP S-10 Street Meets are an effective way of engaging with the pub- lic to raise awareness of S-10. They give activated citizens an opportunity to voice their displeasure with S-10, and recruit new people into the fight. Standing on a street corner with a sign, handing out fliers to friendly pedestrians, and waving to people driving past takes a bit of nerve the first time. Once any fears about exposing yourself in public are lost, though, STOP S-10 Street Meets are a great way to make an afternoon count for something.
Canvassing the streets is not a tactic traditionally used by the Canadian can- nabis movement. This type of campaign is a great way to help people who have never done anything political in nature before, get involved in cannabis activism. Developing strategies that merge internet resources with street canvassing is not new. It has been done in the U.S. to help pass number of ballot initiatives. With S-10 hanging over our heads, we cannot afford to sit behind closed doors and wait for them to come for us.
If you want to help, the first thing you should do is go to the closest hemp store or pipe dealer, to see if they know any local activists. Get to know the staff of friendly stores, as they have contact with customers and suppliers, on top of their circle of family and friends, putting them in an excellent position to help you spread the word. Encourage stores to print STOP S-10 Phone Jam handouts, and leave them out for customers. Cafes, pizza joints, and bookstores are often open to letting people put small piles of handouts somewhere.
Making the world a better place through cannabis, may seem to be a daunt- ing task. If you do not have the tools or experience it takes to be a full-time can- nabis activist, STOP S-10 Street Meets are a great first step towards gaining skills and confidence. If your time is limited, spread- ing the word about the Street Meets and Phone Jam campaigns is not hard and very helpful. Faced with S-10, the cannabis com- munity has to come out of the closet, and grassroots styles of activism have worked well for other causes like Greenpeace, Doc- tors Without Borders, and the gay rights movement.