Seattle Debates How to Unite Elections with Member Power
A Report from the 2022 Seattle DSA Local Convention
On Sunday, March 20, Seattle DSA members held their convention to elect a newly resized Local Council (LC) of 9 members. This number has been lowered at different times in the past 2 years. In addition to filling a newly-revamped leadership body, the convention tasked members to decide on 4 key issues to reorient themselves heading into spring and warmer days.
The first convention since 2019 with competitive elections, this year's race for leadership saw incumbents running for new positions as well as first-time candidates hoping to grow into next year’s leaders. At time of publication, candidate statements are still available on the local chapter’s convention page.
The convention got quickly underway with about 150 members and attendees in attendance. Outgoing co-chair Diamond, Secretary Stringer, and Treasurer Christian M gave a thorough State of the Chapter update with detailed financial information, 2021 highs and lows, and a preview of the challenges waiting for the new LC. Following the outgoing leadership update was an address of support and gratitude by the chapter’s endorsed member Stephanie Gallardo, who is running a primary challenge for the WA-09 congressional seat . The chapter enters 2022 with an uphill battle to unseat Rep. Adam Smith, but the chapter’s electoral chops are warm, having recently successfully organized to beat back the racist right-wing recall election of Socialist Alternative and DSA member Kshama Sawant.
After a short break, the business of the evening got underway. The membership approved all four resolutions in front of them before electing a new leadership body. Here we’ll take a deeper dive into the resolutions and the candidates:
The first item up for debate and discussion, Resolution 2, would add Seattle DSA’s voice to the over 50+ chapters who have already signed onto the letter Dissenting from the NPC’s Decision in Solidarity with the DSA BDS WG. One member spoke against the resolution citing the NPC’s victory of moving Bowman to remove his name from the Israel Normalization Bill. That bill is co-sponsored by Adam Smith, opponent for the DSA-endorsed Gallardo, who is Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and wields immense influence in the US’s foreign policy. This vote to sign onto a dissent of the NPC’s decision passed by a 73/18 margin.
The most consequential resolution up for a vote was Resolution 4, which would designate certain work, as chosen by members, as Priority Campaigns in 2022. The chapter experimented with a priority campaign model last year with the Kshama Solidarity Campaign. Resolution 4 would codify this experiment and would give the chosen campaigns events priority in mobilization efforts, pre-allocation of up to 10% of general funds, guaranteed labor dedicated by the chapter’s internal infrastructure to drive membership into action to support the campaign, blocks of time allocated at each month’s membership meeting, and much more. This resolution was written by 2 incumbents running for new seats, as well as the outgoing treasurer. This resolution won with 55% in favor and 35% opposed.
Next, the members approved Resolution 1 by an 80/20 margin, mandating more explicit requirements, guidelines, and expectations for engagement with candidates in future efforts in electoral politics. The resolution aims to build a closer relationship with candidates from the beginning, rather than defining a relationship as a campaign progresses. It also includes mutual sharing of data and explicitly calls for better alignment of all candidates endorsed by the chapter in any given cycle. Last year’s cycle saw an abolitionist member run unsuccessfully for city council who later distanced themselves from the chapter when campaign staff organized, and then fully left the chapter after mild criticism of missteps and mistakes over the previous year of campaigning. Clearer rules of engagement and membership-defined guidelines hope to prevent such issues in the future and to provide a stronger foundation for the chapter to recruit and develop candidates accountable to the membership first and foremost. The language includes a commitment to review these guidelines in 2023.
The last topic of debate was Resolution 3: Make Supporting the Unionization Efforts of Starbucks a Chapter Priority. Arguably a high note in labor wins in 2022 is the wave of over 150 Starbucks stores filing for unionization since the Elmwood Avenue store in Buffalo, NY voted to unionize in late 2021. Since the 2021 DSA National Convention, the chapter has been tabling in support of Seattle Starbucks Workers at several locations. One of these locations recently won its NLRB vote unanimously, becoming the first West Coast store to organize. Unsurprisingly, this resolution won with nearly 91% of voters in support. With several more stores in the Seattle area seeking to unionize, the chapter will have plenty of opportunities to support this organizing endeavor, and perhaps be a model for additional DSA chapters around the country who are widely signing onto unionization work. You can read a recent chapter report back on the solidarity efforts here.
The 2022 convention offered chapter members the first convention since 2019 to have multiple competitive races. In prior years, three members running for co-chair positions would have left one person out. Now chapter bylaws call for 3 co-chairs. Newly elected chairs Phillip L and Dan H have previously been on the LC. Phillip L, long time socialist & organizer and member of Reform & Revolution, was elected in 2020 and was a DSA 100K Captain during the recruitment drive. Phillip joins Justin on the Solidarity on the Rise slate. JJ is a younger member involved in Housing Justice and Encampment Outreach, and chapter event logistical organizing efforts. Dan, a returning LC member, successfully helped the Tiny House Village in Seattle’s 7th Council District secure a new space to call home, led a rent strike in their apartment complex, and helped start the Puget Sound Tenants Union. All three candidates won their elections and per the bylaws they’re now official spokespeople for the chapter, chairing LC meetings, and each possess the authority to make expenditures over $200 with the treasurer’s approval.
The Treasurer role is the first of the contested positions this year. Bryan W, member of Reform & Revolution caucus, was on the ballot along with Jesse T. Both Jesse and Bryan are first time candidates despite both having involvement in the local for several years. Both have experience in finance and organizing: Bryan cites fundraising experience in organizing efforts, while Jesse works as a Payroll Specialist and cites experience in all aspects of accounting: Auditing, AR, AP, & General Ledger. Bryan endorsed the Solidarity on the Rise slate, composed of Justin R and Phillip. Jesse endorsed Chris P, Sue H, & JJ Bartlett. Ultimately, the chapter voted to elect Bryan
This year sees Justin R return to the LC after a year involved in the chapter’s Electoral Committee. Justin was elected in 2020 as chapter Vice Chair, a now defunct position; after his term he helped relaunch the dormant Electoral Committee, eventually serve a term as Electoral Co-Chair, and in 2001 organized the reformation of the chapter’s Labor Committee. Justin ran alongside Phillip L on the Solidarity on the Rise slate. Justin has been a vocal proponent in implementing a priority campaign model as a means to cohere the local’s disparate organizing efforts.
In prior years, the LC sat three Internal Organizers (IOs), three External Organizers (EOs), two At-Large Organizers, and a pair of Comms organizers—one internal and one external. The Elected Organizers are tasked with being liaisons to the recognized committees & working groups, ensuring membership is supported in getting involved in the work carried out by committees and working groups, and the appropriate handling of membership data. With the changes in the LC structure this convention saw five candidates, three who have been on the LC previously, running for four positions:
Chris P previously ran in 2019, was elected in 2021, and has been heavily involved in reorganizing the chapters efforts in onboarding new members since 2018 when he worked to organize the planning and execution of the chapter’s Member Engagement Team to 1:1 and roll out the chapter membership census. Chris has also put in many hours working to train a new core of members to handle the chapter’s administrative tasks.
Emily M, also a member of Socialist Alternative, has primarily been involved with SDSA in efforts to re-elect Kshama to her third term on Seattle’s City Council, the successful Kshama Solidarity campaign that earned the organization's national endorsement, and the public pressure efforts that led to passing the first wave of the Amazon Tax on big business to pay for essential services.
Meg S, member of Reform & Resolution, has been involved with DSA since ~2018 canvassing for endorsed candidates. Meg recently saw her organizing efforts pay off - her workplace recently won their unionization vote; she works at a local community health center supporting some of the most vulnerable people in Seattle.
Ramy K, member of Reform & Revolution, was elected to the LC in 2020 as an EO and was another of the chapter’s 100K Recruitment Drive captains, and has over two decades organizing on the Left, and over 10 years labor organizing experience. Fun Fact: Ramy was the campaign manager for Kshama Sawant’s first successful city council race in 2013.
Sue H was elected to the LC in 2019. Having protested wars since Viet-Nam and the 70s, attended protests at WTO 99, Sue recently was in charge of the local’s efforts in organizing around climate change, working with the Gallardo campaign on policy goals and language, and more.
The Rules and Elections Committees deemed ballots of the Elected Organizers be tallied using Scottish STV. The sole candidate to get elected on the first ballot is Meg S, one of three first time candidates to be elected. Every incumbent, or candidate with previous LC experience was elected. By the time ballots were exhausted, the elected organizers for 2022 are Meg S, Chris P, Sue H, and Ramy K.
One interesting item of note is that each candidate who shared ideas on resolving conflict won their elections, and all but one got elected who made note to call themselves a Marxist. Using that criteria, there will be a slight 5-4 majority of Marxists to steer the chapter through the next 12 months and a congressional primary. However that campaign turns out, the new LC has big plans. A majority supports inquiring about Matching Funds from National for staff or an office, some sort of SDSA Publication, recommitting to class struggle elections, and the possibility of a city-wide ballot initiative to fund new public housing are all on the agenda. How these turn out, we’ll just have to wait and see.
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