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October 2009
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There are ways to present yourself…

In Redding, California, a group of property owners were meeting, in part, to discuss their concerns about medical marijuana collectives expanding.

Moments before Wednesday’s Mission Square property owners meeting, someone dressed in a green Grinch costume with a giant imitation penis attached stepped out of a limousine and walked into Giff’s Steakburger – the site of the meeting.

The Grinch announced to Mission Square owners that a new cannabis shop – Hampton Collective – would open in the former Humor Shop space on the north side of the shopping center.

I would have loved to have been there to take a picture of that moment, but… really? limousine, Grinch, giant penis? What was the thought process there?

“I don’t know, I was just trying to be funny. I guess it didn’t work out,” Bobby Martin, who dressed up as the Grinch, said by phone Thursday.

Good guess.

I think there’s a lesson here for us. One of the things we can do as drug policy reformers is to be aware of how we present ourselves.

Maybe Bobby Martin is a Grinch with a giant penis at home, but when going to talk to the property owners association, he should think about how they might feel about an endowed Grinch (rather than just whether he thought it was funny) and he could decide to change outfits. He could always put on his Grinch outfit again later when he goes out on the town with his friends.

The key here is to be aware of your audience. This doesn’t mean you have to sell out — you just need to know what makes them tick.

The easiest thing, of course, it to be right for your audience. Obviously, if you’re a LEAP member who is a former police officer and you look like a police officer with short hair while you stand in front of the Kiwanis Club talking about reform, you’ve got an advantage.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to be a police officer to talk to Kiwanis. I have had successful Kiwanis talks. It means that you need to understand what interests them and talk to their interests. You don’t need to lie or hide anything. Just simply tie back your long hair, put on a clean, pressed shirt, and talk to them earnestly and intelligently about issues that concern them.

Consider Tommy Chong. He has a lifetime of his entire persona being pretty much the ultimate stoner joke. And yet watch him sometime when he’s seriously talking about drug policy. He’s intelligent, articulate and engaging.

I have a workshop that I’ve conducted with others and by myself called “Elevator Arguments.” (Here’s the handout (pdf)) Part of the idea is to be able to come up with cogent drug policy reform argument in 30 seconds. Concise and to the point. But part of it is also to tailor that argument to your audience. And I let the workshop participants put me on the spot (I love this part). They call out a type of person and, on the spot, in 30 seconds, I tell that person why they should support drug policy reform.

It’s a good exercise, and a good skill to have.

How many of these could you speak to about drug reform in a way that would resonate with them?

  • Soccer mom
  • Parent who lost a child to drug overdose
  • Republican party leader
  • Democratic party leader
  • Business leader
  • Someone who just lost their job to the economy
  • Police officer
  • Teacher
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Conservative Christian
  • Abortion rights advocate
  • African-American leader
  • Farmer
  • Poor family in the inner city plagued by crime
  • Rich white guy
  • Senior citizen
  • Union member
  • Your mom

You don’t have to stop being yourself to do this. You can still be a Grinch with an enormous penis. But you do have to pay attention to the interests, needs, fears, and desires of the people you want to convince. And not just in a superficial, caricaturized way, but to really understand them.

Understanding how other people tick doesn’t lessen your sense of who you are, it enriches it.

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26 comments to There are ways to present yourself…

  • right on!!! every conversation you have with someone about cannabis needs to be tailored to their life style. I always try to find out things about the person i am looking to engage to find out how i can make the argument seem very apealing to them.

  • kaptinemo

    Many years ago, the day of Bill Clinton’s first Inauguration, the local news media had as a side-line the chatted up supposition that this was going to be another kind of inauguration, of the beginning of a thaw in the DrugWar thanks to Mr. Clinton being of the generation who (despite what he said, lying sack o’ s–t) had inhaled.

    During that particular broadcast, there was a brief kind of blip where a rather bizarrely dressed person was seen smoking an impossibly long bong. He looked like a cross between a hippie and a chimney sweep, with raggedy-assed looking clothing and demonstrating odd behavior and speech that would have had mothers interposing themselves between their children and this guy if he had been encountered on the street.

    Yet, of course, this was presumed to be the face of drug law reform by the media.

    The next day I hopped on the Metro and rode in to town, looking for the NORML office, as I was going to renew my dues, when who should show up but the same guy, who looked like he had slept in the same clothes. And his behavior was no less bizarre, launching into a more-or-less deranged, voice-quavering rant about how great he looked on camera, calling attention to the cause.

    All I saw was someone who had probably taken one too many acid trips…and I am sure the local viewers held exactly the same opinion. Yet, this, this was presumed to be the voice of reform?

    I can’t help but wonder how much of godsend that goof was to the prohibs. The picture alone would have been enough for the ‘concerned parents’ to point to and exclaim that this is what drug law reform meant.

    Never mind that this whacked-out dude was the equivalent of the local village idiot and thus a definite minority. All the media, and by derivation the local populace, saw was an escapee from Saint Elizabeth’s, the former local mental institution.

    Incidents like that are partly why I ceased to attend any more rallies and marches, for you could have 199 people dressed conservatively, all ready to talk intelligently to the media about drug law reform, but there’ll always be one guy dressed weirdly and spouting gibberish that the media flock around.

    I’m gonna catch heat for this, and I always do, but dammit, I’m gonna say it again and again until it sinks in. I sincerely wish that those so inclined towards them would save the Stevie Nicks wannabe wardrobes, the tom-toms, the dervish dancing and other such for gathings like Burning Man. When it comes to a place as buttoned-down and uptight as DC is, such apparel and behavior spooks the public and makes the job of reform so much harder. Bad enough we have the prohibs drawing a bead on us; it’s worse when these goofs take the pistols from prohib hands and shoot all of us in the feet with them.

  • ezrydn

    He may have closed his doors before he was able to open them. What a putz. Truly, he has no comprehension of the above factors.

  • Pete, someone dressed as a fat green grinch with a giant erect penis on his head could advocate about the importance of the drug war and maintaining drug prohibition and he would be taken perfectly seriously by all the groups (soccer moms, etc.) that you mentioned above – departing to a resounding round of applause. I think we should ask why that is. Supporters of prohibition will readily accept an anti-drug message from anyone, anywhere, at any time, no matter how green and fluffy their costumes or how engorged the fake penises are they’re wearing on their heads.

    The national office of anti-drug propaganda (or whatever they call it) has used spokespeople just as wacky and asinine as a green, penis-faced grinch. Hell, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – whenever I look at Glenn Beck’s face all I see is a flabby, pink uncircumcized penis. I can’t look at him without seeing a disgusting, sweaty, flabby cock. The first time I saw Glenn Beck I thought it was someone wearing a horrendous penis mask.

    Anyway, I’m on record as saying pro-drug advocates should wear suits and ties and be as conservative-looking and sounding as they possibly can. After all, I’m the one who blames hippies for the vicious extent of the modern drug war, police state, and incercerative pharmocracy in which we live. So I surely take issue with anyone advocating decriminalization or medical marijuana dressing himself up like an ass in public. Anyone speaking publicly about decriminalization, medical marijuana, etc should wear a navy suit, white shirt, plain red or blue tie, and an american-flag lapel pin. Anything else is irresponsible and provides further justification for our enemies.

  • kaptinemo

    What Bruce said, cubed.

  • A great book for any occasion and definitely this one, How to Win Friends and Influence People. (The Wikipedia page has the meat of the book.)

    Cool handout Pete. Not sure there’s enough space on your sheet, but under Women’s Issues, I would consider including something about the number of rapes/rape kits that are taking the back burner in order to fund the Drug War. Hundreds of rape test kits, in CA alone, have been tossed out due to passing the statute of limitations!

    LEAP has some handouts
    http://www.leap.cc/cms/index.php?name=Forums&file=viewforum&f=5

    I’m printing and using the handouts which have 10 per page. In particular I’m using “Save the Children, Legalize Drugs” since this challenges one of the biggest hypocrisies of the prohibitionists. Have the handout in your hand as you walk up to a total stranger and say, “did you know that as long as drugs stay illegal, adults will continue to use kids to sell drugs and use kids as pushers to other kids?” then hand them that handout.

    Here’s a direct challenge to one of the favorite boogeymen the prohibitionists: Legalizing Drugs Sends the Right Message to Teens.

    Other essays are there to challenge many of the stereotypes of the religious and for the “religious.” Also, I take requests. For various technical reasons I don’t let anonymous visitors access the “Printer-friendly” version of each page, but if you sign in, you can. Then you can print any page sans sidebars and other extraneous stuff and use any page as a handout.

  • Cliff

    When you get right down to the nut cutting, medical cannabis is a business and should be approached with professionalism in manner and appearance. Not only do you want the business and community in general to respect and trust you, you need to assure them that you are not a threat to their community and are going to be an asset.

    Like it or not, you are also in the vanguard of a movement to decrimnalize cannabis. Act like a grown-up, treat others with respect and do your business as transparently as possible, you are an example for others whether you want to be or not and a lot of sick people are depending on you for a quality product at a reasonable price.

    Ultimately, you are in business to help sick people with your products. Leave the sideshows to the comedians, they scare the soccer moms.

  • Osborne Perry Anderson

    Kaptinemo has it right. Talk about being our enemies best friend! Save it for the festivals if you must, or when you’re with your wench, but think 420 times… not take 420 tabs before doing crap like that! If I were his boatswain I’d keel haul his arse.

    Don’t teach that shit to your crew mates otherwise we look like de facto yards in search of the underwater city!

    Hopefully there’s a second Nautilus?

    ARRRGH!

  • Osborne Perry Anderson

    A good counter would be: “Yeah, you’d really expect something like that from a drunk college kid”?

  • Carol

    Your’e trying to decriminalize cannabis for grownups. So you need to impress upon them that you are yourself adult and that you will conduct your business the same way-with mature professionalism. Dressing like an overactive Barney leads these people to wonder if you really are trying to attract the kids instead. That’s one of the biggest obstacles to legalization there is right now.

    Dressing like an adult allows people on the fence to think of legalization and the legal market as an adult matter.

  • surely in the land where all are “equals” one could choose attire somewhere else on the continuum between salesman and cartoon character and still have the desired effect of educating others. if people really believe that only those wearing suits are credible spokespersons, then our society as a whole is much sicker that it appears.

    average everyday people use drugs — and they wear a variety of clothing styles. we need not all dress like undertakers to bury the drug war.

  • claygooding

    A very good skill indeed. And there is a possible back-up plan
    that is possibly working to remove the devout hardcore prohibitionist. The figures of 1 in 3 persons in America contracting cancer should be much higher for people that don’t use marijuana,if marijuana users are blocking cancer as
    noted in several studies recently. I hope everyone in the DEA,NIDA and Drug Free America coalition are not closet tokers.

  • Nick Zentor

    What Brian said. Furthermore, the idea that all people who dress in fancy colors like hippies are dirty is a huge misleading false stereotype. Jimmy Hendrix dressed in some of the most colorful clothes a man could ever get away with and he was a musical genius, not a dirty hippie.

  • Carol

    However, Hendrix was an entertainer, not someone trusted to convince Congress or the state legislature or even the City Council to take a change on a big change. Look at the old pictures of the Civil Rights marchers. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best because they wanted to impress potential supporters that they were sober citizens who deserved a chance. Even the Nation of Islam who rejected a great deal of integration wore suits as a way to demand respect and show respectability. It worked well enough to get the Civil Rights Acts passed and to turn public sympathy around so that the laws stayed on the books.

    In other words, remember your audience. When talking to button down types, or in adult situations, dress accordingly. It’s not about how colorful or how expressive you are. It’s about getting the good will, or failing that, disarming the opposition enough to get something accomplished for a lot of people who need something done.

  • Nick Zentor

    Conform for the conformed to be accepted? In a country where freedom of expression is a constitutional right?

    Listen folks, the hippies were not wrong, they were right. They were destroyed by the forces of evil who presently control an Empire that uses its kids as cannon fodder to mass-murder people in other lands for the good of democracy and freedom. The hippies were destroyed, not because they were wrong, but because they were the only thing that stood in the way of a US Empire, that monster which we enjoy today.

    If the hippies hadn’t been destroyed by the corporate suits, whom we are all taught to trust with our lives, chances are, we’d be a whole lot more free to express ourselves today than we are, and people wouldn’t have to conform and wear corporate suits in every business matter that they engage in.

  • Carol

    The point is that while the hippies had some points, they didn’t succeed as well in a lot of areas-one of them is cannabis legalization. One of the reasons is that they didn’t try to at least approach the straight world with the kind of arguments-and approach-that could persuade fencesitters that it was OK for pot to be legal. The hippie approach was juvenile-which played into the prohibitionists’s hands. For four decades, cannabis has been portrayed as something used by teenagers or slacker college kids at the best. “Keeping it out of the hands of kids” underlies all of the criminalization laws these days.

  • Carol

    Today, the biggest obstacle isn’t Monsanto or Seagrams, it’s the people who fear that legalization would lead to their kids becoming junkies at sixteen. Self-expression of a kind that is juvenile reinforces the fear-that drug legalizers want their kids to take stuff that’s not good for them. That their children are the desired market-not adults who want to toke or whatever quietly without being harassed by the police. Case in point is medical marijuana. None of the antics at the festivals pushed the needle much-but when people began to see adult cancer patients, things began to loosen up considerably. Nobody worries about a 35 year old cancer patient becoming a lifelong junkie or juvenile delinquent.

  • I think we need to be careful about some generalizations in this discussion. This isn’t really about hippies vs. anti-hippies, nor is it about suits vs. non-suits. There are non-hippies who can’t present themselves in a way that will make their message resonate, and I know hippies who are compelling even in conservative situations.

    You can wear a suit, but if all you have to say is “Free the Weed, man,” then you’re not going to convince anyone. You can look just like a businessman, but if you’re going on and on about the environmental value of hemp biofuels to a law-and-order crowd, you’re wasting your time.

    Ultimately, more important than the suit is the ability to connect to their interests and fears.

    While I believe that you shouldn’t have to dress a certain way (and you don’t have to in order to succeed), it’s useful to at least understand that people are influenced by appearance (at least in a surface way that can affect how quickly you can grab their attention). And it’s not just hippies or non-conformists who confront this perception barrier — it’s also been true for African-Americans, Women, Gays, and Blondes.

  • bill

    My, my. There sure is a lot of pearl clutching going on in the comments.

    Was the guy with the penis head over the top? No doubt. But the hippie hatin’ is a bit much.

    The quality of the argument is what matters, not one’s appearance. At least this is what should happen in an engaged society lead by well-meaning people. Unfortunately, we’re a society of stupid sheep misled by the bought and paid for flunkies of the corporate wolfpack.

  • DdC

    Looking for someone dressed in a green Grinch costume with a giant imitation penis attached? That could be any nice day in SCruz, try outside of the Bookshop… Can you be more specific?

    The Great Morgani

    * Obama
    The circumference of the Earth’s orbit is about 940 million kilometers, going about 33,330 miles per hour. We are also moving with the Sun around the center of our galaxy and moving with our galaxy as it drifts through intergalactic space! While juggling a moon orbiting at 2,288 miles per hour. And your worried about me smoking a joint?

    * Soccer mom
    Teach your kid football lady, this is America!
    You know cops prefer Ganja at soccer games to calm down the rowdies.

    * Parent who lost a child to drug overdose.
    If you’re looking for vengeance, turn around and look in the mirror, ask who is making this war? Same drugs done safely, dispensed by professionals, why not for your kid? Profit is why kids die, is that really enough reason? Kids find killer white powder drugs easier and cheaper than pot. But nothings as cheap as a hug once in a while to know your kid and why they want to escape in the first place.

    * Republican party leader
    You have been exiled to Bagdad,
    where the children you bombed can throw rocks and bottles.

    * Democratic party leader
    has a dream of someday, with enough kick back,
    of becoming a rich republican.

    * Business leader
    oxymoron

    * Someone who just lost their job to the economy
    Never Forget! Boosheney Inc!

    * Police officer
    Seriously, you guys believe what you say about pot
    and you carry loaded weapons?

    * Teacher
    Ya get what ya pay fer. Lottery v Hemp?

    * Rush Limbaugh
    moron on oxy

    * Hillary Clinton
    Ok so you were a Nark with Bill in Berzerkley, helped maximize Watergate exposure to push the C.S.A. through the back door. Arkansas Hutchinson Barry Seale, just coincidence. Don’t ask.

    * Conservative Christian
    * Abortion rights advocate

    More abortions from cottons 90 million pounds of Monsanto poisons not used on Hemp than RvW. Shutdown textile mills could be filled, curtail Mexicans letting them grow and process at home instead of picking fruit here, Indians, family farms bailed out. Homegrown like our ancestors. Ancient temple hashish incense, did Jesus inhale? Wait a minute, I’m only kidding, not really, yes I am. Ah fuck off then!

    * African-American leader
    Ever heard of racism?
    Let me tell ya a story of my peoples.
    The stoners.

    * Farmer
    Do you actually want to poison the aquifer?
    Do you like your kids playing in crud?
    Hemp food, fuel and fiber doesn’t need expesnive poisons.
    Aerates the soil bringing back bugs and worms,
    deters weeds and most harmful bugs.
    Makes up 98% of the cops anual eradication stats,
    other than that its better than OPEC clothing from China.
    Grows on hills preventing mudslides. Made into morter for walls, wood products and ethanol stills like Ford planned and farmers used before Rockefellers crude oil sabotage, and Diesel’s veggie oil engines grown to fuel todays tractors. Willy Nelson knows about it.

    * Poor family in the inner city plagued by crime
    Let the clinics handle it, cops and prisons make to much money to be neutral. Take a bite out of crime, legalize it. Jobs processing Hemp and manufacturing thousands of products, better for the environment. Apothicaries for low income medicines, strains and potency consistant by cloning, organic no government leaves, stems and crushed seeds.

    * Rich white guy
    Have I got a deal for you… New market, low overhead, labor so cheap they volunteer for samples. Steady growth market with no advertizing outside of bad press. CA’s making a killing, Denver riding high. The rest bogged down in politics, need some lobbying. It’s Green all by itself!

    * Senior citizen
    Senior Home Care
    Cannabis Caregivers
    Ganjameds FARMaceuticals & Extractums

    Patients Don’t Need Politicians or COPs…Buzz Off 11/14/02

    * Union member
    Jobs, then there are the jobs… and more jobs.

    * Your mom
    Stop bogarting! You know now that its legal you don’t have to keep hitting me up, you’re old enough to smoke, you’re old enough to buy your own! Hell you’re 88, act like it!

  • kaptinemo

    “The quality of the argument is what matters, not one’s appearance. At least this is what should happen in an engaged society lead by well-meaning people. Unfortunately, we’re a society of stupid sheep misled by the bought and paid for flunkies of the corporate wolfpack.’

    And I thoroughly agree.

    “What a man says is more important than how l-l-l-long he t-t-t-takes to say it!” I have always kept this in mind whenever dealing with someone who, on the surface, appears to be less than artculate, that it’s the content of the message that counts, not its’ container.

    Data has no bias, it’s just data. But unfortunately, few people are willing to overlook their own biases about its’ dissemination. Particularly when said biases have colored their thinking their entire lives. And when those biases have been deliberately inculcated by those in power, the work becomes even harder.

    What’s needed then is ideological jiu jitsu, turning what has been a strength of an opponent into our advantage, and hence the reliance upon social conventions (suit & tie) to get our point across. Which, sadly, is seen as a ‘sellout’. But if the goal is to finally remove from our necks a boot that should never have been there to begin with, then I’ll accept that epithet from our own side, and march on. For the word doesn’t hurt as much as that goddamn boot does…as I know from personal experience, having once lost almost everything worth having because of being kicked by it. And I was lucky; I’m still breathing and am able to continue fighting on. Too many us are not…

  • kaptinemo

    Sorry for the disjunctions, but you get the idea. We will prevail, but the question is, ‘how soon’?

    The answer lies more with us than it does with the prohibs; as I’ve pointed out ad nauseum we are the single largest minority in America because we cross nearly every demographic there is, and thus constitute the single largest potential voting bloc in this country. Were we to truly desire to end prohibition, we could…not…be…stopped.

    And if ending prohibition meant wearing a suit and tie (I’m an engineer by trade, ein UberGeek, and I really hate wearing a suit) then so be it.

  • […] Guither responds brilliantly by making a point I've raised repeatedly in other contexts. To paraphrase: it's not about […]

  • Thanks for posting the handout for download, i have been photocopying it and distributing it but now can attach it to emails.

  • Pete: wearing a suit and dressing conservatively is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to be taken seriously – especially on a topic considered to be ‘fringe’ by the average moron.