Anyone out there love Archie Bunker? Anyone out there related to an Archie? I was.
I have this distinct memory – I must’ve been around 5 or 6 – and my family was having a barbecue in my grandparents’ backyard in Dedham, Massachusetts. My grandfather had offered me a piece of watermelon, and I had declined. Then my grandfather said, “But your people LOVE watermelon!”
The backstory is that I’m adopted, and on one side of my adopted family is pure Polish. My grandparents were the first of their families born in America, so their skin was fair. My skin, on the other hand, fluctuates between a café au lait and chocolate, depending on the time of year.
Eventually I figured out what my grandfather meant with the watermelon thing. He was a pretty prejudiced guy, but he was my grandpa and I loved him anyway. We all have relatives we may not always agree with, but we love them anyway. There was more to my grandfather than his racist views.
He was a hard working public servant who took great pride in providing for his family; he was bi-lingual; he was a survivor. He was a great polka dancer and was the first to help his friends and their families when in need. I’ve been thinking about my grandfather a lot lately as I watch members of the Maine medical marijuana community navigate the state house this legislative session.
There’s been a lot of cannabis-related legislation being considered during the last several weeks. As folks new to the political process are finding out, the legislature is made up of a variety of people who have a variety of viewpoints, including some who are anti-weed.
That’s pretty much the whole idea behind the legislative branch. In theory, it represents us – a citizenry made up of a variety of people with a variety of views. Being anti-weed isn’t like being racist, but it does feel backward to some of us. So how do we handle these officials?
- To advocate is to educate. If you want to people to understand your view, you need to educate them as to why you see the issue as you do. Don’t always say what you want to say. Think about your audience and say what they may need to know. Sometimes educational discussions get heated, but advocacy isn’t about being at battle all the time. Know that you will NOT change every mind; but if you educate well, you can plant a seed in every mind.
- Attack the belief, not the person. Don’t make it personal, especially with legislators in a state as small as ours. That someone doesn’t share a view isn’t a crime or a reason to go on a personal attack, nor do such strategies usually prove fruitful in the long term no matter how good they make the attacker feel in the moment. Worse, such strategies are disrespectful to another human being simply trying to do a job, as well as disrespectful to their families. Someone who disagrees with you might be someone’s grandpa.
- Using someone’s own words is a great educational strategy if you quote correctly. I attended a hearing recently and heard a legislator say he had constituents asking if legal cannabis delivery meant that they might have drug dealers pulling into their yards. All afternoon that day, I saw social media posts about a legislator calling legal caregivers drug dealers. I’m hoping those folks were at a different hearing because that’s not what I heard transpire at the one I attended. You may think I’m splitting hairs, but when it comes to things like libel, semantics matter.
- Know when you’re ahead. Advocacy is its easiest when you have momentum behind you. The tricky part of capitalizing on momentum is being gracious rather than arrogant. When the momentum is in your favor, you don’t need to be defensive or fearful, either. In this regard, the Maine medical marijuana community is in a great position to advocate for ourselves. The market saw over 111 million in sales, which gives the program credibility and clout at the legislature. Caregivers are the winners in the provider game with Maine patients giving over ¾’s of their dollars to them instead of dispensaries. And patients have the most clout of all with over 65,000 proudly carrying cards last year.
- Know when you’re behind. Advocacy is its hardest when the audience is dead set against listening, which happens sometimes. Since you can’t change every mind, know when to stop trying in that moment and focus instead on what kind of seeds your planting for the next round. Simple facts, simple anecdotes, simple messages make the best seeds. Remember, shovels are to dig the dirt to plant the seeds, not for figuratively hitting people on the head.
- Understand the decorum of the situation. Rallies and general rowdiness can get attention when sudden attention is needed. Sometimes being confrontational is necessary. Again, though, such antics aren’t great ongoing strategies. If activism repeatedly interrupts your audience’s ability to get the job done, the activism won’t be appreciated whether people agree with you or not. Awareness of social and verbal cues is critical to a successful outcome.