Lisandra Ramos, our Maestra and speaker for day 2 of the ILI NALAC intensive shocked me.
My name is Sonia Erika, I am part of the Year 4 cohort of ILI participants.
The NALAC Intensive September 1-2 was magic; we all received a box of items representing the themes explored during these 2 days: altars, food and culture, and among others… failure.
This last theme, “failure” stuck with me, because “failure” has such a negative connotation in our culture. It’s not a theme that is promoted like “success.” However, when Lisandra Ramos shared her “failure” story, she created a space where we as a community could come to the realization that “failure” is more than okay: It is important. Although “failure” can be a source of shame, it can also be a source of power. Failure’s vulnerability can become growth.
So shedding my shame like the skin of a snake, here is my story of failure. Thank you Maestra Lisandra.
WHY I BROKE UP WITH WEED: SONIA ERIKA
Okay, I did not break up with weed, I broke up with the weed industry.
The weed industry was once something I poured my whole life into. I got into weed through hip-hop. You can listen to more of that adventure here, this is also where I met one of my soulmates. As an undocumented person, I believed weed would set us free. I began working to legalize cannabis in Massachusetts in 2015 while still in college.
With love and hope, four of us started the MRCC, Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, MRCC: Kamani Jefferson, Joey Gilmore, Gabriela Cartagena, and me. WTF is the MRCC?!? After Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis in 2016, we began our work to make sure weed “legalization” was “equitable”.
The MRCC lobbied on behalf of the people, held criminal record expungement clinics, and met with politicians to help them understand why the state of Massachusetts needed a Social Equity Program.
Massachusetts created the first statewide cannabis equity program to support people “disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs” who wanted a legal cannabis license. At least, that’s what it said on paper. The MRCC hosted people in our home (and other places that let us use their rooms for free), transmitted knowledge to the community about the equity program and encouraged community members to sign up.
One of our most revolutionary activities was live-streaming Commission meetings for the people who were not able to attend because of work/children/life. This really changed the game, because people got captivated as they scrolled through Facebook, and our politicians began to feel the heat of being held accountable. It was magical, we felt our power–until we didn’t.
We did all of this while barely getting paid.
Most of the time we barely had enough money for rent, at least 2 out of the 4 of us lived at home with their parents. The other 2 of us rented a shared room, we were dating. And I will go on to say on here that even though I do not believe in marriage, and was never married, this person was spiritually my first soulmate. I cherished them, I was so in love, I still am.
We allowed our love to fuel our activism. This allowed us to travel all over the state, all over the nation, preaching a world of equity. We really believed that the weed industry could provide equity for black and brown people, especially those who had gone to jail or are currently in jail for the plant.
Unfortunately I was wrong, and Massachusetts’ Social Equity Program has failed the people we wanted to represent. Statistically the people who ended up benefiting most from the MA Social Equity program are white women. You can learn more about this on the Colorado Public Radio podcast “On Something”.
It felt like the community and the government were cannibalizing our efforts. The people who had actually been harmed by the War on Drugs were not the ones acquiring cannabis licenses. And the government, the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), was taking our intellectual property without proper compensation.
The CCC put out an RFP (Request for Proposal), which is an application for us to work with the government and receive funding. But after completing the application process and being accepted they told us to do it all over again. We wasted two years filling out applications. In the end we “won”–and only received $11,000 to teach classes for their Social Equity Program. That’s not even a livable salary for one person!
It felt like so much taking and no giving. It felt like my soul was taken. I lost my best friends, my co-founders. One of them went into a deep depression, and at one point even considered suicide. I didn’t know what to do.
The government failed us, the community failed us. It became a painful memory because it felt like we failed.
I have processed my “failure.”
Part of that process meant leaving, like Maestra Lisandra mentioned. I left the weed world and jumped into the music world because I realized it was time to be reborn again.
“Golden Boy” is a story about weed legalization gone wrong, and the hope that comes after.
Here are the lessons from failure transmitted in this song:
- I did not create boundaries and I did not “manage my expectations.” But that’s okay, I forgive myself because this energy helped create change. It’s not sustainable though, lol, so I have learned. Still learning.
- I don’t ask for my time back. I just ask that our community recognize the work of activists and become active themselves. The world is unsustainable when only a few of us are active. We burn out and lose the possibility of a different world.
- It’s okay to feel everything, die, and be reborn again.
- It’s okay to work hard for something you love and fail <3. Failure’s success is the lesson learned and the life lived.
- I love you