On Saturday July 14, Cat Brooks, along with multiple representatives from her campaign for Mayor of Oakland, interrupted East Bay Democratic Socialists of America’s General Meeting.
In the days since, we have seen misinformation and general confusion around the incident, to which we would like to offer these clarifications. As the Chairs of our chapter, we don't intend here to answer or close any of the important political debates, particularly about racial justice, which were raised in this meeting. We hope that members continue those debates and continue to develop concrete proposals for our work to end capitalism and all social oppressions—with support from the Chairs as needed. We hope this statement will be received in the spirit of camaraderie and solidarity with which it is intended.
The Facts on Our Meetings and Endorsements Process
As Democratic Socialists, we believe the organized working class is the only power in the world that can defeat capitalism. In the course of our work, we must make decisions on difficult strategic and political questions. Such decision-making is embodied most fully in our General Meetings, the cornerstone of our democratic organization. These meetings are our chapter’s opportunity to bring forward resolutions and questions, to debate and discuss, and ultimately make strategic choices about why and where to commit our collective resources, especially in areas that aren’t covered by the Priorities Resolution we voted on as a yearly plan. This is what it means when we say DSA is a “member-run” organization.
The disruption of Saturday’s meeting occurred during debate on a resolution regarding how to allocate resources in the lead-up to the November 2018 elections. This resolution was one of two competing resolutions written and submitted by members of our Electoral Committee. Taken together, these resolutions posed a choice to membership between ceasing endorsements for the season, or continuing to make endorsements via a clear process. The first resolution proposed to forego further chapter endorsements in 2018 in order to focus on our ongoing campaigns to elect Jovanka Beckles to the State Assembly and pass Proposition 10, The Affordable Housing Act. The second resolution proposed to establish an Endorsements Sub-Committee of the Electoral Committee responsible for vetting requests for endorsements and presenting recommendations to the Membership.
Our third order of business was a resolution to prioritize consideration of Brooks’s run for mayor in our endorsements process.
During the meeting and afterwards, some have asked why the agenda was ordered this way. Per East Bay DSA’s February 2018 bylaws, we use Robert’s Rules of Order to conduct our meetings. The recommended method of organizing an agenda according to Robert’s Rules is to rank resolutions by how “broad” they are.
In this instance, if the first resolution (the resolution to prioritize the Jovanka and Prop 10 campaigns) had passed as written, it would have superseded the other two resolutions regarding endorsements, thus rendering them moot. This recommendation from Robert’s Rules becomes doubly valuable when one considers the inverse; debating a narrow item before considering a broader one risks rendering the prior conversation moot, thus wasting everybody’s time.
We have heard claims that the agenda was undemocratic and intended to prevent debate on the Brooks resolution—this is untrue. Our meeting began with debate and a vote to approve the agenda. A member proposed moving an agenda item and this change was voted in. The Meetings Committee had published the proposed agenda and resolutions on our website and emailed them to our members for their consideration prior to the meeting. The membership debated, changed, and approved the final agenda for the meeting.
We have also seen confusion around our endorsements process, with some wondering why the Steering Committee did not reach out to the Brooks campaign. This question emerges from a misunderstanding of our endorsement process, which is now being developed in accordance with the resolution passed on Saturday. Candidates seeking the endorsement are welcome to reach out to the chapter; the Steering Committee has never in the past reached out to candidates or their campaigns preemptively. In the period of our chapter's rapid growth since 2016, our membership has debated candidate endorsements for two candidates only. So far, an endorsement from our chapter has not been simply indicative of members’ preference for a candidate; instead, an endorsement has only been coupled with a significant commitment of our chapter’s organizing resources to campaign for those endorsed.
Further confusion may have been caused by the way the Brooks resolution came onto the agenda. The resolution to prioritize Brooks in our endorsements process was submitted by a group of members, independent from the Electoral Committee and the resolution for establishing an endorsement process. Representatives from the Brooks campaign had not reached out to East Bay DSA requesting an endorsement or a venue for addressing the chapter prior to the meeting and so no accommodation for them had been made when planning the meeting. Neither of these details should be construed to mean that a debate on the matter was somehow inappropriate or unwanted, rather, the lack of communication may have played a role in sparking Saturday’s incident.
The Events on Saturday
While debating the resolution to prioritize the campaigns to elect Jovanka Beckles to the Assembly and pass the Affordable Housing Act, a group of representatives and supporters from the Brooks campaign entered the meeting space, including Brooks herself.
During this debate, a member approached the Chair to privately ask whether non-members were allowed to speak at meetings. The Chair informed the member that the standard practice is to give priority to members on stack for discussion.
Immediately after this exchange, one of Brooks' supporters approached the microphone and began to speak so the Chair asked if he was a member, and he responded that he was not. The Chair informed him that members receive priority during debate, which is our standard practice, and asked that he wait on the stack to speak. The man refused to sit down; he began denouncing our Chair and our organization, claiming that our procedures were racist. The Chair did not intervene further to prevent the man from continuing to speak, despite objections raised from the membership.
At that point, Brooks took the floor, stated that the chapter should have consulted with her before discussing her endorsement, and made allegations that DSA members were gentrifiers in Oakland.
Brooks did not clarify whether she wanted our chapter's endorsement. Brooks then left, along with the group with whom she had arrived.
Our Chapter's Organizing Vision
We stand firmly against racism in all its forms, recognizing it as tool of oppression wielded by capital in order to divide and weaken the working class. We reject any and all attempts to divide the working class along any lines—racial or otherwise.
We are committed to building a powerful, inclusive, and diverse working class organization. We acknowledge that our organization is disproportionately—but far from wholly—white, compared to the working class in the East Bay. As democratic socialists, we “see a unified, militant working class as the only force that can break the power of capitalists and achieve real social justice,” including racial, housing, and economic justice. Our membership affirmed this vision in this year’s Priorities Resolution which we adopted at our annual convention in April.
Through that Priorities Resolution, our members resolved to broaden the diversity of our chapter through concrete internal and external programs. Internally, the Mobilizers program, neighborhood teams, and new member onboarding system are ongoing projects to better include and support new members and members in less currently active areas. Externally, our campaigns for Medicare for All, Prop 10, and Jovanka Beckles have prioritized direct outreach tactics that connect working class people into our organizing, and that build close partnerships with diverse working class organizations (including the California Nurses' Association, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and the Richmond Progressive Alliance).
Finally, the Priorities Resolution adopted by our members during our April convention included the formation of a Diversity Committee, "with the goal of increasing the diversity of East Bay DSA. This should include researching how socialist organizations past and present have been successful in building multiracial working-class coalitions, and creating actionable strategies to do this here and now." The Diversity Committee has been under development by members for the past month, and is currently being formed.
Through these and other campaigns, East Bay DSA works to build solidarity across the multiple divides that capitalism has created to prevent working class unity, including the construct of race.
As of today, neither Brooks nor her campaign have requested our chapter’s endorsement. After Saturday’s meeting returned to order, our members voted to establish an electoral endorsements vetting process. Brooks is welcome to seek our chapter’s endorsement through this process.
As the chairs, we ask comrades engaged in this mutual struggle to respect these spaces, and we invite continued collaboration and debate as we move toward our shared goals of a world free from capitalism and all oppression.