Baltimore DSA Gathers to Debate Reform and Representation Amid National Attention
Greater Baltimore DSA convened its annual convention on Sunday, April 10th, 2022. The convention comes amidst a period of conflict and controversy for the chapter. In early January, a mutual aid proposal that committed the chapter to spend money from its reserve funds on COVID test kits, to be distributed through existing networks of a coalition partner, the Black-led community organization Ujima People’s Party, caused controversy both on Twitter and on the DSA Discussion Forums. Opponents claimed that chapter funds were being diverted to a separate organization without benefit to the chapter, while supporters of the proposal highlighted the importance of the chapter developing relationships in Black and brown communities, which were further strained in airing internal chapter conflict publicly on Twitter.
The public drama surrounding the COVID test proposal revealed that the tensions were not a new development. On January 7th, the Baltimore Afrosocialist and Socialists of Color Caucus (DSAAF) released a statement detailing patterns of alleged anti-Blackness in the chapter and subsequently, on February 18th, released an extensive series of Convention proposals contained in a document titled “Declaration of Intent'' with the aim of repairing relationships between chapter leadership and Black organizers, many of whom left the chapter in the leadup to the 2022 GBDSA convention. The proposals were separated into four broad categories–Reorganization, Restoration, Representation, and Rule–and ranged from reorganizing the chapter along a ‘Sites of Struggle’ organizing model, in which the chapter would conduct periodic canvasses of marginalized communities and audits of ongoing chapter campaigns, to the establishment of an independent Restoration Fund managed by DSAAF, to the implementation of a complex weighted voting system to ensure equitable representation in chapter decision making.
Just days before the convention, however, some of DSAAF’s proposal began circulating online to harsh criticism, with even MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes weighing in on Twitter to question the seriousness of the weighted voting method DSAAF proposed as part of their package. Some would even propose the NPC step in and place the chapter under trusteeship, a process which typically exists within labor unions whereby a national leadership dissolves a local’s leadership and take direct possession of its assets and activity, an action which the national bylaws appear silent on.
With this in the background, the Convention came to order shortly after 9:30 am, with members attending both in person and virtually over Zoom. The Convention Bulletin distributed to delegates included nineteen General Resolutions and eighteen Bylaws Amendments, with proposals included in the Declaration of Intent document split among two General Resolutions and six Bylaws Amendments. Notably, one of the controversial proposals in the DSAAF package, the Equitable Voting proposal which would have weighted BIPOC votes in the chapter, was removed from the final convention bulletin by a friendly amendment. Under the amended proposal, motions carried by the general body would be referred to members of identity-based caucuses for final approval before passing requiring the same percentage as was required for the main motion (i.e. if it needed 50%+1 of the general body to pass, then it now needs 50%+1 of the general body and 50%+1 of each identity-based caucus to pass).
The convention bulletin also included candidate statements for chapter positions up for election at Convention: Chapter Co-Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Logistics Officer, Harassment and Grievance Officers (HGOs), and co-chairs of the Afrosoc/POC caucus, the SocFem/Queer caucus, the Ecosocialist committee, the Electoral committee, the Health Justice committee, the Housing Justice committee, the Labor committee, the Outreach committee, and the Political Education committee. All positions were uncontested except for the Political Education committee co-chair positions. The Afrosoc/POC caucus co-chair positions failed to receive any submissions from potential candidates, and will therefore remain vacant until one or more candidates contest the seat.
The schedule of the Convention spanned nine hours and included over five hours for debate on resolutions and bylaws amendments and roughly an hour and a half for candidate statements followed by question and answers. The order of debate for the thirty-seven resolutions and bylaws amendments was determined by straw poll of chapter members conducted the week leading up to the Convention. From the outset the agenda was overly ambitious. If all thirty-seven resolutions and bylaws amendments were heard, with three speakers for and three against limited to two minutes per speaker, the debates would extend to well over seven hours even without additional procedural motions and points of order.
Time allotted for debate on resolutions and bylaws amendments was exhausted after seventeen out of the thirty-seven items had come to the floor. Four out of the eight total Declaration of Intent proposals were debated including adopting a "sites of struggle" model and form a Canvassing Team Working Group to develop capacity for deep-canvassing in the chapter (GR 12: Reorganization), annual restorative justice training for chapter leaders (GR 16: Restoration), the weighted voting proposal to correct for demographic discrepancies in the chapter (BA 15: Representation), and creating a ‘Restoration Fund’ to fund BIPOC organizing in the chapter (BA 12: Restoration).
Other notable items debated included whether the chapter will sign-on to the statement dissenting from the NPC’s decision to decharter the BDS Working Group and suspend its leaders from leadership positions (GR 10), whether to create a Fundraising Working Group to meet requirements to qualify for matching funds under Resolution 30 passed at the 2021 DSA National Convention (GR 13), and to whether to form a Coalition-Building Working Group to standardize communication between chapter liaisons to coalition partners (GR 04).
Around the midpoint of the day there was a floor motion to suspend the rules allowing all proposals from the bulletin to be included in the ballots rather than just the items that reached the floor for debate, as it appeared the Convention would not get through the ambitious agenda before the final gavel. The motion passed by majority vote on the floor, but after review by the provisional steering committee after the convention had adjourned, it was discovered not to have received the two-thirds voting in favor required under Robert’s Rules of Order. Describing the issue as “a matter of major concern” in a message that went out to membership, the provisional steering met to decide on how to proceed, ultimately choosing to uphold the decision of the chair from the floor. The votes on all resolutions and amendments which did get debated, win or lose, will stand. However, for any proposals which the motion placed on the ballot without debate but failed to secure the needed votes to pass, the authors will get a chance to re-submit at a future membership meeting, under a specific process which the provisional steering outlined in their message.
Results from the chapter officer elections and the votes on chapter resolutions and bylaws amendments were distributed to GBDSA members on April 15th. All nineteen general resolutions, which only needed support from a majority of voters, were passed, committing the chapter to specific political work and establishing new chapter procedures. Six new chapter working groups or committees were created, including a Fundraising Working Group to orient the chapter towards meeting requirements to receive matching funds for chapter office or staff costs, a new national program established at DSA’s 2021 National Convention, which the NPC is preparing to rollout later this year.
The chapter labor and electoral priority resolutions will commit the chapter to the Rank-and-File Strategy and Class-Struggle Elections, respectively. Conflict resolution procedures based in restorative and transformative justice were established, and accessibility measures will be enacted, including ensuring virtual participation options are available for all chapter meetings. The chapter also voted to sign on to the statement of dissent from the NPC’s decision to decharter the BDS Working Group. Two of DSAAF’s Declaration of Intent resolutions passed, which will commit the chapter to a ‘sites of struggle’ organizing model and require trainings in restorative justice for chapter leadership.
Unlike resolutions, bylaw amendments required a two-thirds majority to pass under Baltimore DSA’s bylaws. Of the eighteen bylaw amendments that appeared on the ballot, only one, BA 02 - HGO Changes, passed with two-thirds support, doing so comfortably while also ranking the highest out of any proposal on the pre-Convention straw poll. The amendment will add language defining conflict resolution procedures to the chapter’s bylaws and increase the number of Harassment & Grievance Officers from two to four. Of the two Declaration of Intent bylaw amendments that were debated–the equitable voting proposal which was hotly debated online, and the proposal to establish a Restoration Fund–both failed by a nearly two-to-one margin.
The heightened state of conflict, and the national scrutiny it attracted, during the period prior to the convention is reflected in the consensus position the Convention adopted that the chapter required more effective tools to better resolve conflict within the chapter. However, none of the proposals which would have more fundamentally altered the chapter’s structure were able to attract broad support from members. While there’s general agreement about wanting the chapter to more effectively attract and retain a membership that reflects the city it organizes in, whether or not structural changes achieve that appears to still be contested.
Similar debates took place at the DSA Los Angeles Annual Convention in October, where concerns around a lack of transparency and member engagement in decision making developed into drawn out conflicts regarding reform, with similar conflicts evolving around the National Political Committee over the past several months. How things develop in Greater Baltimore DSA over the next few months will indicate whether more resources toward conflict resolution, alongside the host of outward-facing initiatives the Convention passed, are sufficient to bring the chapter together and move forward after these debates, or if members will need to go back to the table to hammer out a consensus around reform.
Note from the Editors: We’d like to give special thanks to the members in Greater Baltimore DSA who contacted the DSA Observer inviting us to attend their Convention, and shared documentation around the content of the proposals being debated and the resulting votes. We greatly appreciate their openness and support, which was instrumental to our report. We congratulate the membership of GBDSA on a successful convention and wish them the best of luck on the path they’ve laid out for their chapter.
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