A Democratic Socialist City Council

Portland DSA’s Plan to elect socialists in the Rose City

Portland DSA members met Sunday March 12th for our General Meeting, and ratified a new Endorsement Policy for the chapter. A slideshow explaining the policy can be found here. The authors of the new policy, Wallace Milner and Spencer Mann, explain their perspective on the policy and its purpose.

Sunday March 12th, Portland DSA took an important step towards electing socialists to City Council with the passage of a new chapter endorsement policy. This comes at an essential time for electoral organizing in Portland. With the implementation of city charter reform, instituting ranked choice voting and multi-member districts for City Council elections, the 2024 election cycle presents an extraordinary opportunity for Portland DSA to disrupt the capitalist municipal order, and our new policy enables us to meet the moment.

Our new policy is designed to enable the chapter to run committed, cadre candidates for office. It aims to help us run campaigns in a way which builds the chapter, leverage the rank and file power we’ve built through our orientation to labor, maximize the coalition work and field organizing we’ve done through ERA (Eviction Representation for All) and UPNOW (Universal Preschool Now), and elect socialists who will put forward a socialist vision for society and fight for our politics in state and city government.

Socialist representatives should be expected to build DSA, advance socialist politics, and draw a clear distinction between themselves and capitalist politicians. At the same time, we must also prepare our candidates to run competitive campaigns if they are going to take power. This endorsement policy aims to balance these two commitments, providing tactical flexibility and political accountability.

How Will Endorsement Work?

  1. To apply for an endorsement, a candidate will begin by filling out an application form on our website.
  2. When this application is received, the SC will share the information to the membership, and will also share a nominating signature form.
  3. If a candidate gets 25 nominating signatures from members in good standing, the candidate is sent a questionnaire, and the endorsement advances to a vote at a general meeting.
  4. At the general meeting, the candidate will present themselves to the membership and there will be a Q and A and then a debate. According to our chapter bylaws, a candidate will need 2/3rds of the vote to receive an endorsement.

Two Types of Endorsement

This new policy creates two paths of endorsement — an external endorsement and a cadre endorsement. When applying, a candidate picks which type of endorsement to apply for.

A cadre candidate comes from a background of organizing in DSA. Their campaign is run as a chapter project, and they are held to a very high standard. An external candidate is one where DSA is one part of a wider coalition supporting a candidate.

Cadre candidates have additional expectations. They are required to meet with the chapter twice a month, to brand themselves as a democratic socialist in all their literature, and to form a socialist caucus in the legislative body they are elected to. External candidates will be encouraged to do all these things, but they won’t necessarily be required to. They will be asked about their stance and plans on these topics, and the chapter will decide if their answers are acceptable.

External and cadre candidates will also be presented differently in public campaigns. Cadre candidates are expected to be fully and uncompromisingly representatives of DSA’s politics, platform, and decisions made through internal chapter democracy. For external candidates, DSA will be part of a coalition of other political forces supporting them, and DSA campaigns will have an independent orientation, simultaneously being a part of the coalition and being the best fighters for the cause, while also clearly and distinctly articulating our own socialist principles and building our organization.

This setup is designed to strengthen democratic debate in the chapter. It empowers the members to decide whether candidates meet the standard for endorsement at the cadre or external level and emphasizes electoral accountability. It enables the chapter to exercise tactical flexibility based on the nature of the campaign and ensures membership control over cadre representatives.

Socialists in Office Committee (SIOC)

Our new policy creates a socialists in office committee. Their job is to coordinate with campaigns, candidates, and officeholders in order to apply our standards and politics to nuanced situations, recommend suitable actions to leadership and membership, and empower our elected officials, candidates, campaigns, and membership to build socialist power.

The socialist movement faces two, twin challenges — the danger of sectarianism, where one fails to build up our movements beyond small isolated groups, and the danger of opportunism, where one prioritizes the short term gains of a campaign over the long term principles of a movement.

The role of the SIOC is to address these dangers by supporting candidates and holding them accountable. The committee will meet regularly with any endorsed candidates or elected officials. In these meetings, they will strategize, enforce DSA policy, and figure out how our actions can be coordinated. When an officeholder has a big campaign, the SIOC can help them figure out how to mobilize members. When the chapter has a big campaign, the SIOC can make sure the officeholder supports it.

If a candidate violates DSA values or policy, the SIOC is empowered to make a recommendation to a general meeting or the steering committee. Of course, the ultimate decision rests with a general meeting, which, as our highest decision making body, can decide to alter our relationship to candidates.

The SIOC will ensure a strong connection between the chapter and candidates/officeholders, making sure our actions are coordinated, our ideas are shared, and our goals are pursued.

Building Socialist Power in Portland

The left in the United States has been dealing with difficult conditions since 2020. While the resurgence of labor energy is one of the most optimistic trends in the past two decades, there has been a broad decrease in energy and participation since the height of the BLM uprising and the Sanders campaigns.

In this new political moment, socialists need to adopt more deliberate, public facing campaigns with clear strategies to build our organizations. Candidate accountability, a united front approach to coalition work, and the clear expression of socialist politics are the cornerstones of a successful socialist and movement building electoral strategy.

Our new policy will facilitate a series of powerful, principled, and bold campaigns for 2024 and beyond, which we believe will enable us to win elections, grow the chapter, and advance socialism in Portland. As socialists, we have a world to win. The 2024 City Council elections will be a key test for our movement, and the passage of this policy has begun to prepare us for the challenge.