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(en) SDS* National Constitutional Convention Final Bulletin - Ratification: An Experiment in Participatory Democracy

Date Thu, 01 Nov 2007 09:56:00 +0200

AT THE 2007 NATIONAL SDS CONVENTION IN DETROIT MANY MEMBERS EXPRESSED CONCERNS about the legitimacy of our power as a decision making body. Many were concerned about a group of people making national decisions while the majority of members remained disconnected from SDS as a national organization. We dealt with the question of how to develop a democratic vision and structure in a way that was democratic and included as many people as possible, and most importantly, that was legitimate. After all, who was to say that chapters who weren't represented at the national convention would adhere to the vision, structure and guidelines that we had decided on? We also were concerned that after decisions were made at the convention there would be no way to challenge them--even if a majority of SDS chapters turned out to be against what we had decided. In lieu of all of these concerns, I and several others realized that we needed to formulate a way in which decisions could be approved or challenged that involved as much of our membership as possible. Thus, the ratification proposal was born.

Under the ratification proposal, which
was passed at the convention, all of the deci-
sions made at the convention are viewed as
resolutions which are "binding pending rati-
fication"--meaning that we can implement
or begin to implement the decisions we
made, but that they must undergo the ratifi-
cation process, which can challenge those
decisions. The ratification process is the
process by which all decisions made at the
convention will be sent to all active, existing
SDS chapters for approval or rejection. This
process is being carried out by the
Ratification Collections Committee. This
committee was created at the convention
and approved by the present membership to
be an administrative body whose purpose is
to complete all the work necessary to carry
out the process and to collect and tally the
results. The process for enacting and com-
pleting ratification involves several impor-
tant steps.
First, we have needed to find out which
SDS chapters actually exist and are active.
This is being done through a census project,
which was started before the convention
even happened by the Outreach Committee
of the 2007 National Convention Planning
Committee. The Outreach Committee start-
ed to contact chapters to find out which
ones were real and created an impressive list-
-which they posted on the wiki.
Members from the Ratification
Committee and other dedicated SDSers have
continued this project, and are still in the
midst of it now. People working on the cen-
sus project are using the criteria that we
voted on at the convention to decide if the
chapters that they contact are legitimate.
Another important step of the process is
to collect a comprehensive list of all the pro-
posals passed at the convention. Because a
number of the proposals passed at the con-
vention were amended, combined, and edit-
ed on the floor, final versions of them were
not "officially" circulated and remained in
the possession of the authors until all of
them could be collected for composing the
Ratification Ballots. Several people are cur-
rently working on the task of gathering
these so that they can be included in the
Ratification Ballots.
Once the ballots are complete, they will
be sent out to all chapters by email. Chapters
will have the responsibility of printing out
hard copies for those members who may not
have internet access. Chapters will have
approximately two months to discuss the
proposals, vote on them as a chapter, in any
way they see fit, and send their results back
to the committee. The committee will then
tally and circulate the results via listserve to
the organization as a whole.

The committee is made up of 20
SDSers from the Midwest, Northeast,
Southeast, and the West of diverse race, gen-
der, and class backgrounds present at the
convention. The committee was approved
by the convention body, and in the interest
of keeping its accountability and diversity is
not open to new members, but it is meant to
be an administrative group that is complete-
ly transparent. Therefore, anyone is welcome
to sit in on our conference calls and join the
listserve (search "ratification collections
committee" on google groups) and we are
always looking for people who want to help
get work done!
To meet, delegate tasks, set deadlines, and
accomplish other tasks that we need to, we
use both conference calls and a listserve. We
have had several conference calls since the
convention in August and have created a
timeline in which we hope to complete each
task. The date set for the ratifications ballot
to be sent out to every chapter is November
1st. The date by which chapters must send
back their ballots--voting for or against
each proposal subject to the ratification
process, or abstaining from voting--is
January 1st. The date by which results will be
compiled, tallied, and posted is February 1st.
The proposals that will be included in the
process are limited to just those proposals
classified under Vision and Structure--
because Action proposals were time sensi-
tive--and just to the proposals that were
passed by the convention body. Approving
one proposal does not preclude chapters
from approving any other proposals.
The Ratification process will also serve
important functions in implementing our
new national structure (if it is ratified, of
course) that was approved at the conven-
tion. For example, the ballots will have sec-
tions where individual members can sign up
for different tasks and working groups in
the new structure. The Ratification process
was "designed for the purpose of imple-
menting a democratic decision making
structure", or rather as a democratic deci-
sion making structure to use in lieu of the
absence of any way to formally and
accountably make decisions as a national
organization. It fills an important niche in
our national organization.
This process, it seems, will turn out to be
vital in the shaping of our future national
organization since it is the first attempt to
accomplish anything as a national organiza-
tion--excluding planning national conven-
tions. This dedication to, and implementa-
tion of, participatory democracy on a large
scale that is necessary for ratification is
something that is almost unprecedented in
the recent history of SDS. The Ratification
Process serves as an important break from
the SDS of the past as we push away from a
national organization focused on centralized
infrastructure and centralized decision mak-
ing, and instead toward an organization that
involves as many voices as possible and
embodies the values and institutions that we
want to see in a future society.

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