Philly DSA 2019 Convention Report

Report on the 2019 Convention of the Philadelphia Local of the Democratic Socialists of America

Submitted to the Steering Committee of Philadelphia DSA by the convention planning, rules, nominating and credentialing committees

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:

Convention overview

Election results

Adoption of a platform

Attendance and credentialing

Program and speakers

Program outputs

Location & Venue

Conclusion

Minor Recommendations

Convention Overview

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.

Objectives

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. 

Convention Budget and Expenses

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. 

Key Recommendations

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.

  1. That the steering committee initiate convention preparation by appointing the convention planning committee no later than the first month of the next convention year (January, 2021);

  2. That the steering committee see that convention committees are appointed with members who will be capable of significantly improving preparation in the areas of organization, collaboration and communication and that consideration of members who will not also committed to demanding projects and campaigns be a criteria for appointment;

  3. That the officers and convention committees ensure that they are aware of the standing rules governing Local conventions prior to engaging in planning;
  4. That the treasurer permanently add “local convention” to both the expense and income lines of the annual budget;

  5. That the treasurer prepare a detailed financial report for the convention in accordance with our rules and that this report be made available in summary and detailed forms to the convention;

  6. That each convention committee deliver a report to the convention for approval and that these reports be included in the convention program;

  7. That the steering committee (or a body of its designation) approve clearly defined responsibilities and powers for all convention committees including the planning, rules, nominating, and credentialing committees;

  8. That the convention planning committee responsibilities include making recommendations or decisions on the following items for the convention: (a) additional convention committees, their responsibilities, powers and appointments; (b) the date(s) for the convention; (b) establishing and communicating necessary joint-convention committee workflows, timelines and meeting requirements; (c) the convention location(s); (d) a registration fee to offset unique convention expenses; (e) a strategy for raising funds for campaigns and increasing local dues; (e) setting the convention program;

  9. That the steering committee (or a body of its designation) appoint a committee responsible for (a) developing and communicating to the membership the parameters of a political platform and its elements, distinguishing a platform from campaigns of the local as defined by the bylaws of the Local; (b) soliciting platform submissions from the membership and reviewing them for compliance with the established platform standards; (c) recommending procedural rules to the rules committee that will facilitate the adoption of a platform; (d) report to the convention;

  10. That the rules committee take into consideration that any procedure approved for adopting a platform reflects concern for the potential significance and value of the platform for the organization and seek to ensure that this is not diminished either by unnecessarily restrictive barriers placed on submission processes, insufficient means for amendments or setting too low a threshold for final approval. Provisions may include any procedures that will facilitate a high degree of participation and consensus including (a) setting the threshold for final approval at 2/3, and/or (b) establishing a convention platform committee appointed with a diverse plurality of interested members responsible for (i) soliciting, debating and amending submissions, and (ii) presenting a platform for approval at the convention;

  11. That the planning and nominations committees consider the “pre convention candidate forum” in this convention’s program a significant benefit to the convention proceedings and that a multi-day program for non-deliberative elements should be considered for future conventions;

  12. That the planning and credentials committees note that a significant spike in absentee ballots corresponded with a drop in attendance in our assembly attendance rate and that these committees consider increasing convention attendance to be a priority of the highest order given the significance of convention proceedings and the importance of in-person participation for democratic politics.

Election Results

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. 

Officers

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.

Treasurer

Rohan Shah ran unopposed for treasurer and was elected with 245 votes cast.

Secretary

Vicki Fleck ran unopposed for secretary and was elected with 239 votes cast.

Vice-Chair

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.

Chair

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).

Permanent committee chairs

Political education committee chair

Briana Last ran unopposed for the chair of the political education committee. She received 238 votes and was elected.

Member engagement committee chair

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. 

Communications committee chair

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.

Electoral committee chair

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.

At-large Steering Committee election

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.

Candidate

Count

David McMahon 186
Jesse Kudler 179
Michelle Rossi 173
Olivia "Liv" Harding 173
Carly Regina 166
Khalil Manns 165
-- --
Dustin Guastella 157
Josh Millhouse 151
Hamer Rodriguez 139
Mitch Broesder 146
Erik Lexie 132

 

National Convention Delegation

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:

Primary Delegates:        
James Lewis Carly Regina Mark Blaho Michelle Rossi Jesse Kudler
Paul Prescod Ronald Joseph Sus Volz Dustin Guastella Eamon Caddigan
Erik Lexie Jonah Gardner Anlin Wang Hamer Rodriguez Syne "Soona" Salem
Marilyn Arwood Vicki Fleck Austin Binns Melissa Naschek Briana Last
Sarah Jones Adam Schlesinger David McMahon Josh Millhouse Jeremy Wheatley
Alternates:
Olivia Harding
Scott Jenkins
Rhianna Dean

Adoption of a Platform

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.

Attendance and Credentialing

Stats

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. 

Credentialing 

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.

Program and Speakers 

Honored Guests

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.

Program Structure

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.

Preconvention candidate forum

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.  

Credentials report

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.

Chairperson 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.

Nomination Committee 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.

Officer Candidate Speeches & Moderated Q & R

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 Debate and Adoption

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).

Program outputs 

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.

Location & Venue

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.

Conclusion

Evaluation

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. 

Minor Recommendations

  1. That the convention planning committee considers a two-day convention;

  2. That the convention planning committee does not schedule election votes as the last order of business; if business allows the convention to conclude at an earlier time we should be able to adjourn earlier;

  3. That the Local continue to issue awards and honor members and non-members alike for their contribution to the cause of democratic socialism;

  4. That the convention planning committee prepare for disruptions;

  5. That the convention planning committee continue the use of a pre-convention candidate forum; and that it consider moving this forum to the night before the convention opens.

  6. That the planning and rules committees consider continuing the use of online voting application at this convention as a significant benefit to the convention proceedings;

  7. That the convention planning committee ensure that secretary, recording secretary and parliamentarian(s) are in place and prepared to record and officiate over all convention proceedings.

  8. That if national convention delegates are to be elected, the convention planning committee consider including programming for national delegate candidates to better inform members before voting.

  9. That the rules committee reconsider the use HARE voting system for national delegates, the use of the HARE method did not return results different from the use of more widely used procedures like plurality voting do to the relatively small number of voters in relation to the number of delegates to elect.

  10. That the convention planning committee include more frequent and shorter recesses throughout the convention.

  11. The following recommendations pertain particularly to the adoption of the platform and priorities. That the steering and relevant convention committees:

    1. consider appointing well in advance, a platform committee charged with clearly setting parameters on the purpose of a platform that does not conflict with our rules for adopting a campaign, soliciting platform planks, and approving a platform draft to be deliberated at the convention (this process will help deal with out of order and redundant submissions);
    2. consider a super-majority approval threshold of the platform as an appropriate threshold;
    3. include a ‘minimum platform’ threshold provision to ensure that a platform is adopted at the convention;
    4. that if a pre-convention platform draft is not used, that the rules committee consider the advantages of allowing amendments to platform items from the floor or by committee at the convention;
    5. reconsider the use of OpaVote for platform and priorities if deliberation on platform rules change.

  12. That the convention planning committee consider programing for a gala or reception style dinner for awards and fundraising.

  13. That the convention planning committee consider implementing a registration fee to offset convention costs.

  14. That the convention planning committee consider a delegated convention rather than allowing absentee voting in its strategy for increasing attendance.

  15. That the convention planning committee continue the use of a central and accessible location with air conditioning; 

  16. That the convention planning committee consider the use of projector/screen for reports and other convention information; 

  17. That the convention planning committee consider the use of a venue without catering restrictions in order to be able to provide lunch and refreshments; 

  18. That the convention planning committee consider renting a hall/baroom for post convention reception.

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