Submitted July, 7 2019 | Approved by the steering committee July 11, 2019
The purpose of this report is (1) to provide the membership of the Philadelphia Local of the Democratic Socialists of America (the Local) with an overview of the convention planning and proceedings; (2) to provide the Steering Committee with a final report of how convention committees carried out the tasks committed to them for approval; and (3) to inform the Steering Committee and members of future convention committees about the convention’s successes and shortcomings in a way that allows them to plan even more effectively. To that end we have included key recommendations following the convention overview and minor recommendations in the report’s conclusion.
Table of contents:
Adoption of a platform
Attendance and credentialing
Program and speakers
Location & Venue
On Saturday, June 8, Philadelphia DSA held its biennial local convention at Temple University’s Liacouras Center in North Philadelphia. The convention was chaired very effectively by Melissa Nascheck, one of the out-going co-chairs of the Local. Jedidiah Slaboda served as an interim secretary and as a parliamentarian assistant to the chair. The essential work of member check-in and credentialing was handled efficiently and graciously by Scott Jenkins, Matt Porter, Adam Goldman, Peterson Goodwyn, and Alex Nagle. Members of the Political Education Cmte. especially Jarek Ervin and Matthew Ryan, sold literature and other materials throughout the event, fundraising needed to help cover the costs of major events like these.
The purpose of our local conventions is set out in the bylaws of the Local, specifically, to elect a new Steering Committee, to receive a financial report, to adopt a political platform, and set political priorities. The Steering Committee is elected to a two-year term and consists of the officers (chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer), permanent committee chairs (political education, electoral, member engagement, and communications) and at-large members. The political platform was determined at this convention by deliberation and voting on the floor of “planks” that were submitted to a committee prior to the convention. Platform planks that received a supermajority of approval were adopted as the platform of the Local for the next two years. The Local convention also appointed its delegation to the national convention of DSA which will be held in Atlanta GA August 2-4, 2019. The national political committee of DSA alloted 25 national delegate seats to our Local.
The total cost of the convention was $1,098.00. $945.00 of this amount was for the cost of the venue, $43.00 for the cost of printing, while the remaining $110.00 was for the online voting system, OpaVote. There was no registration fee. Expenses were paid for out of the general meeting fund. There was no income from the convention. Due to an oversight, the steering committee did not set a prior budget for convention expenses at the beginning of the year. This error was discovered at a late date, leading the steering committee to approve expenses on a line-item basis.
The following recommendations are presented by the joint committees to the steering committee for approval. Further recommendations about the details of the convention can be found at the conclusion of this report.
The results of the elections are included in this report with important ballot count information. A significant number of absentee ballots were requested and cast in this election in comparison to previous conventions. Absentee ballots are included in the following ballot tallies. There were 379 verified ballots issued. There were 333 ballots cast.
The officers of the Local are elected at conventions. They are also the executive officers of the Steering Committee. The votes were counted according to “first past the post” voting rules with the exception that if these results did not comply with local bylaw requirements for electing officers (see article IV, section 2) that the next eligible candidate(s) in each election would be elected in such a way that would allow the fewest number of votes to be overturned. If a clear winner was not able to be determined due to ties or lack of eligible candidates the offices would have been declared vacant and a special convention would have to be called.
Rohan Shah ran unopposed for treasurer and was elected with 245 votes cast.
Vicki Fleck ran unopposed for secretary and was elected with 239 votes cast.
Ronald Joseph and Syne “Soona” Salem were the candidates competing for the office of vice chair. There were 331 votes cast. Syne "Soona" Salem was elected with 172 votes.
Marlilyn Arwood and Anlin Wang were the candidates competing for chair. There were 332 votes cast. Marilyn Arwood received 161 votes and Anlin Wang received 171 votes. Marilyn Arwood was elected in the second round according to the rules established in the bylaws of the Local (article IV, section 2).
Briana Last ran unopposed for the chair of the political education committee. She received 238 votes and was elected.
The candidates running for chair of the member engagement committee were Mark Blaho and Jonah Gardner. There were 326 ballots cast. Mark Blaho received 165 votes and was elected.
Eamon Caddigan and Jeremy Wheatley were the candidates competing for the chair of the communications committee. There were 329 votes cast. Eamon Caddigan was elected with 178 votes.
Kilynn Lunsford and Austin Binns were the candidates competing for the chair of the electoral committee. The number of votes in this election was 327. Kilynn Lunsford was elected with 170 votes.
There were 11 candidates running for six at-large Steering Committee seats. Votes were counted using “plurality at large/block voting/MNTV” rules. The election winners were Michelle Rossi, Olivia "Liv" Harding, Carly Regina, Jesse Kudler, David McMahon, and Khalil Manns.
Delegates to the 2019 National Convention of DSA were elected according to the Hare rules and was performed by the Opavote online application. Because the method of counting entailed a complex and multi step formula for redistributing votes a full report of the ballot count is not included here but is available from the Steering Committee by request. There were 25 delegate spots allotted to our Local. Alternates were appointed according to the first three runner-up candidates. The delegation includes the following primary and alternate members:
The convention adopted its first official political platform due to a new provision in the recently revised local bylaws. Platform “plank” proposals were solicited from the members in the month prior to the convention by the rules committee. Members were given access to a form with precise information provided on the function of a political platform and instructions on drafting succinct and strategically oriented proposals. The committee received 23 platform proposal submissions. There were two sets of submissions that were similar, prompting the committee to ask the authors to collaborate on drafting a revised single submission. Each of the four authors agreed to do so with the result that the total number of proposals to be deliberated was 21. These proposals were published on the convention website prior to the convention and included in the printed convention packet. The full text of each proposal is also included with the minutes of the convention.
The rules committee determined procedures for adopting a platform at the convention. The rules governing deliberation were as follows. Each platform item author was given two minutes to advocate for the adoption of their proposal. Following these speeches, convention members were each given the opportunity to speak for one minute from the floor in favor of, or against, any number of the proposals being adopted to the platform. After the 40 minute time limit set for these speeches expired a Yes/No ballot for each platform item was opened via the online opavote application. Proposals receiving at least a 2/3 majority of the votes cast were adopted as the political platform of the Local. In the event that fewer than three of the proposals reached this threshold the Local, a special convention to adopt a political platform was to be called before the end of 2019. There were 162 ballots cast. The following proposals received at least 121 votes and were adopted: Building a Green New Deal (153 votes), Electing Bernie Sanders and Socialist Legislators (141 votes), Recommit to Medicare for All Campaign (136 votes), Labor for Bernie and Organizing in Our Unions (128 votes). These will be included in the standing rules, policies and procedures of the Local and provide a blueprint for the Local’s political projects until the 2021 convention.
There were 171 members in attendance at the convention. The credentialing committee made absentee ballots for the elections available to members who could not attend. They received 230 applications for absentee ballots before the deadline set for requesting an absentee ballot (June 6). Of these, 208 applications were approved and issued electronically via the OpaVote application.
Absentee requests opened May 23 and closed June 6. Membership of absentee requestees were checked by the credentialing committee against the membership list provided by national organization after midnight, June 6. Absentee ballots were issued on Friday, June 7 at 10:00 AM and closed on Saturday, June 8 at 6:00PM.
In person attendees were registered by members of the credentials committee. Members of the credentials committee verified membership against lists provided by the national organization. Upon confirmation, members were entered into the OpaVote system and issued a voting card.
The convention was addressed by four guest speakers, each invited by the steering committee. Elizabeth Fiedler, Kristin Seale, City Councilperson Helen Gym, and Vice-President, at-large of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division, Jed Dodd were honorees of the convention and received special recognition for their contributions to the cause of democratic socialism and the political or workplace organization of working people.
For her victory in the 184th State House District to become one of a slate of democratic socialist candidates representing working people in Harrisburg, Elizabeth Fiedler received the Lilith Martin Wilson Award.
For her campaign in the 168th State House District, challenging both the Republican and Democratic establishment on behalf of working people and the principles of democratic socialism, Kristin Seale recieved the Lilith Martin Wilson Award.
For his life-long dedication to democratic socialist principles in the labor movement and his steadfast and unwavering commitment to the emancipation of the working class, Jed Dodd received the A. Philip Randolph Award.
For introducing and passing legislation to empower working people, such as Fair Work Week, and for her continuous commitment to working people in City Council Helen Gym received the Robert La Follette Award.
The structure of the convention program was largely determined by the objectives for the biennial convention set out in the bylaws. In addition to the election of a Steering Committee and the adoption of a political platform, the planning committee also included time in the program to honor four guests for their work advancing the political purposes of our organization and time to appoint a delegation to the 2019 national convention of DSA. Further information about the program is included in this section of the report.
In order to ensure members had adequate time to review each of the candidates for local office, permanent committee chairs and at-large Steering Committee chairs, the nominations and planning committees organized a preconvention candidates forum that was held on Wednesday, June 5 at 6:30 pm in the Parish Hall of the First Unitarian Church in the Center City section of Philadelphia. The forum was relatively well attended and was a benefit for both candidates and members that attended. Each candidate was given an equal amount of time to respond to the same questions. These questions were given to the candidates in advance of the forum. Following these questions from the moderator, members were encouraged to interview candidates in the room with follow up questions. The candidates forum was especially helpful because it allowed greater time to be given to interactions with at-large and committee chair candidates than would have been possible during the six hours scheduled for convention proceedings. Future convention planners will need to take this into consideration especially if the number of candidates increases.
The convention was called to order by the chair at 12:15 and Scott Jenkins reported on the number of convention attendees as well as the number of absentee ballots issued. There were (at the time the report was given) 155 members present and 208 absentee ballots issued. There were no objections to the reception of the report.
Co-chair Melissa Naschek delivered an extensive report on behalf of the Steering Committee and the officers of the Local detailing the activities, adopted policies of the organization, and changes in the political environment since the last convention. Naschek also presented on the state of the organization’s infrastructure. The report will be published independently of this report.
Jedidiah Slaboda delivered a brief report on behalf of the nominating committee stating the members of the committee, the elections for which nominations were solicited, the dates set for receiving nominations and the number of eligible and ineligible applications that were received. Slaboda referred convention attendees to the candidate names and statements printed in the convention packet as well as to the convention’s online website which included further information about each candidate. The report was received without objection.
The candidates for chair and vice chair were given an opportunity to address the membership present at the convention. The candidates for chair positions were given 5 minutes and the vice chair 3 minutes to motivate their candidacy. Candidates were encouraged to emphasize, among other things, their qualifications, plans if elected, and vision for the chapter.
Afterwards, the candidates for chair and vice chair were each asked a question by the outgoing co-chair - Melissa Naschek - and given one minute to respond. Following this, the candidates for chair and vice chair asked one question of those running opposed to them and each were allowed a 1 minute response.
Platform and priorities planks were submitted electronically via the convention website. Members were asked to submit brief proposals pertaining to political priorities they wished to see pursued in the coming years. Submissions for platform and priorities planks were opened and announced on May 4 and close May 28. The Steering Committee received 23 submissions for platform and priorities. 4 of these submissions featured significant overlap and as such the Convention planning committee requested that the authors in question to consolidate their submissions into 2 submissions, this request was accepted by the authors. As a result the membership debated 21 platform submissions.
Each submission was motivated by its author for no more than 2 minutes. Submissions were motivated in succession without debate between motivations. After all submissions were motivated the assembly recessed for informal discussion. Following the recess formal debate commenced where members could speak “for” or “against” any submission or submissions.
Following debate members voted on their preferred submissions electronically. Only submissions that received a super-majority of votes were adopted. 4 submissions were adopted (see above).
This convention the Steering Committee and joint convention planning committees approved the organization and design of a convention website (convention.phillydsa.com) special thanks is owed to Tyler Re for his outstanding efforts in building this resource. The website helped advertise our convention related news and house all convention documents.
The joint committees also approved and organized the final convention packet which can be found here. The convention packet collected all deliberative and candidate information for convention attendees. Members were encouraged to use a digital version of the packet and 140 printed copies were made available for those members who requested a paper version of the packet. The packet was printed with volunteer labor and donated materials.
The Convention took place across three venues. The candidate forum took place at the First Unitarian Church in the Parish Room at 2125 Chestnut Street. The Convention was held at the Liacouras Center Lobby at 1776 North Broad Street and the post-Convention reception was held at the Draught Horse Pub and Grill at 1431 Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
The 2019 Convention represented the largest convention in the history of our Local. With over 300 members participating in the convention, Philly DSA achieved an unprecedented level of member participation (nearly 1/3 of all Philly DSA members participating).
The participation of local labor leaders and democratic-socialist elected officials and politicians demonstrates the way in which Philly DSA has become a key part of the local political ecology of Philadelphia.
The contest for elected seats at the 2019 Convention drew out not only an unprecedented level of member participation, but beyond that encouraged candidates and slates to hone sharp and deliberate political visions. The contest was a success in clarifying and drawing out the stakes of the major political questions facing Philly DSA. These questions pertain both to the kinds of interventions and impacts we seek in wider society, as well as to the internal life of the organization.
The official adoption of a 2019-2021 political platform for Philly DSA is perhaps the most important achievement of the 2019 Convention. Philly DSA has run many campaigns in its long history, but it has never adopted a platform. DSA is an ideologically diverse organization, and the platform represents those core issues upon which there is widespread agreement and support. This platform will provide meaningful cohesion and direction to the work of the organization at every level going forward. A shared program, more than a shared set of values, will internally bring the organization together through strategic discussion and action. Externally, the platform will encourage the growth of Philly DSA by clarifying the purpose of the organization in a way that is transparent, communicable, and that sets out actionable commitments that the organization can use to demonstrate its effectiveness.
We thank all members involved in this historic convention. We especially wish to recognize all members who ran for elected seats. The level of political purpose, organizational ability, and discerning judgment demonstrated by all who participated in the convention -- as candidates, as speakers and debaters over platform priorities, and as voters in the assembly -- is miles ahead of where we were at our previous Convention in 2017.
This is just the beginning of Philly DSA and DSA nationally. We are in many ways still a nascent organization, only a few years removed from the first Bernie campaign. But over the next two years we have unprecedented opportunities to intervene, and to win, in all of the areas laid out in our platform -- from a Green New Deal to electing Bernie Sanders -- by harnessing our resources to become effective agitators and organizers on all of these fronts.
DSA has never been more important in the fight for democratic socialism. We can and must create the conditions for a movement of the working-class majority by building solidarity at the local level, and by organizing with diverse tactics around the strategic demands of our political platform.
Isn’t it time to do something? Get involved with the Local.