Note: Given the extraordinary circumstances of this situation and in the interest of an abundance of transparency, we requested that this dissent be sent to all DSA members in the same official manner as the majority opinion. A majority of the Steering Committee[1] denied that request.

Minority Statement on the NPC’s Failure to Remove Danny Fetonte

August 29, 2017

Sunday, August 27th, a vote was taken to formally remove Danny Fetonte from DSA’s National Political Committee following his revelations that he worked for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas from 2009 - 2014 and failed to disclose that information to delegates at the convention. Removing a member from NPC for malfeasance requires ⅔ majority of NPC members. The straight vote to immediately remove Fetonte, originally proposed by Natalie Midiri, but reintroduced after procedural moves, by R.L. Stephens, failed with 8.5 voting against removal and 7.5 voting for removal[2].

The meeting Sunday night was the result of a compromise during an executive session of the Steering Committee, which was closed to members at-large. From the start, we did not feel mediation, proposed by Ella Mahoney and Jeremy Gong in collaboration with Gay Semel, was an appropriate course of action, nor did we feel it was likely to succeed with Fetonte’s resignation, given our conversations with Fetonte himself and his supporters. That said, we spent countless hours working to provide a list of demands and fair compromises to Fetonte that would be used by the mediation team. Voting against an action and “not cooperating” with said action are two distinct scenarios. Suggestions that we did not participate do not tell the whole truth. We have the receipts.

When it came time to form the team that would actually participate in the mediation, we did not feel it was appropriate for any of us to be on the mediation team itself.  We did not feel we could negotiate in good faith but we also did not want to imperil the efforts of the majority who felt mediation could result in a voluntary resignation. While we hoped for an outcome of Fetonte’s resignation, we worried that if and when mediation failed, we would be blamed for its failure. We felt mediation gave the appearance of legalism and due process without appropriate oversight from the rest of the NPC—and that the impasse doomed mediation to failure from the start.  As part of a compromise, if mediation failed, we would hold a vote of the NPC within 24 hours to remove Fetonte. Furthermore, we asked for, and did not receive, thorough updates as to the exact nature of the discussions held during mediation. To this day, we do not know exactly why mediation failed despite multiple requests for emails of the discussions. We have only brief accounts from members of the mediation team.

A second proposal Sunday night, as motivated by R.L. Stephens and amended by Theresa Alt, would have set a date to bring formal complaints to Fetonte, would have sought formal, written legal advice from an attorney retained by DSA; it would have specified a timeline and team to formalize a set of complaints that a majority of the NPC could agree upon. Several speakers listed potential reasons for malfeasance, including further investigation into recent events at the Austin chapter,  but there was not an agreed upon list during the time of the NPC call. This proposal to define a process to remove Fetonte was voted down. 10 voted against the proposal, 7 voted for it[3].

Two other proposals failed to hear a second. Similar proposals motivated by Joe Schwartz and Dele Balogun would have asked convention delegates to vote on the issue through a referendum. Several NPC members expressed, in private and in emails with the entire NPC prior to the meeting, that such proposals don’t have solid standing in the constitution and bylaws for action by the NPC—they are best left for the members at-large by calling for a convention.

We did not formally explore the expulsion clause of Article III, Section 4 of the constitution and Article I, Sec 3 of the bylaws, though it came up several times in casual conversation. We also are not  aware of formal written guidance from any lawyer, only informal conversation in person, by phone, or by email.

The final proposal considered was the majority statement. The majority could find no malfeasance and would therefore seat Fetonte on the NPC. There was no roll call vote on censuring Fetonte[4]. All of the signed dissenters here abstained from the vote in protest, as did R. L. Stephens. We do not agree with either the reasoning or the conclusions of the majority opinion in regards to the meaning of due process in a voluntary organization, the substance of any malfeasance, whether it can be applied to activities in the election process or only after seating. In sum, we differ with the majority statement on almost all points.

This represents a stunning failure of leadership on part of those on the NPC who were unable to act decisively on an issue that gets to the core values of what it means to be a socialist and fight against racist oppression in our society. Those members chose to seat an unapologetic police association organizer - an institution of violence and terror against Black and Brown and working class people since its inception. Those who voted for Fetonte’s removal understand why an unapologetic police association organizer cannot be anywhere near the leadership of a socialist organization.

Those who voted on Fetonte’s removal reviewed over 35 statements from chapters, branches, working groups, and caucuses calling for Fetonte’s resignation or for the NPC to remove him[5]. We heard from the Afro-Socialist caucus, from the Veterans Working Group, and many others calling for Fetonte’s resignation or for the NPC to remove him. We’ve heard from anti-racist and indigenous-rights groups who we do work with around the country. We’ve heard from individual members around the country. Whatever Fetonte’s reputation in Austin, it has been clear from day one that Fetonte being seated on the NPC has potentially devastating consequences for our anti-racist and anti-oppression work with groups around the country. Still, the formally expressed convictions of our membership was not enough to move more than half of  the NPC.

Like so many of our fellow members, we are shocked by Fetonte’s omission. On its website, CLEAT lists “Effective Legal Representation” as  a major benefit and discusses legal benefits just as much as working conditions or other benefits a traditional labor union typically would advocate for. It can be argued that CLEAT functions primarily as a police association and secondarily as a labor union.  We know that Fetonte had a direct hand in building police association power which was used by killer cops to cover for their actions. Fetonte organized the Bexar County Sheriff Deputies[6] and successfully bargained a contract[7] that included terms allowing officers under investigation to see all evidence before making a statement. Officers in the department Fetonte organized used that contract he negotiated to view all evidence against them after they shot and killed a man. They then made statements which omitted the fact that the man they shot had his hands up. It wasn't until another video was released later that the truth came out, but to no effect. That was police union power in action, power which Fetonte helped to organize.

We know that during the time Fetonte worked at CLEAT, an officer raped a handcuffed woman[8] in the back of a squad car and the officer’s CLEAT local spent $1 million dollars in a public campaign to prevent changes to the police union contract that would've held the rapist accountable and helped prevent future abuse. We know that since Fetonte left, CLEAT continues to oppose even the most tepid of reform legislation, including the Sandra Bland Act[9] which would've put limits on racial profiling by police. We also know CLEAT is currently supporting a bill which would limit the liability of motorists who hit protesters with their vehicles. It’s clear what CLEAT is, and we must make an institutional commitment to fighting them far beyond the Fetonte question.

Finally, while in mediation, Fetonte chaired a meeting in which the chapter would make a statement regarding his place on the NPC. This was in poor taste, and he should have recused himself. More troublingly, members have made allegations that Mr. Fetonte refused to acknowledge dissent from fellow chapter members in order to push a vote in his favor. Local members have made public statements regarding this situation and an audio recording of the meeting has been circulated. Fetonte is further accused by members of the Austin chapter of confiscating phones and forcing silence of the Austin social media accounts. These events have devolved from a political question about police unions to Fetonte’s possible abuse of power, which would be a clear violation of our most deeply held democratic principles. 

We need to investigate these claims, but were denied the chance to do so Sunday night.

We believe that there is also an urgent political question for DSA to address which is separate from Fetonte’s specific actions. DSA must face this in a direct and forthright manner to strengthen our commitment to abolitionist, anti-racist and anti-fascist work as well as to our democratic practices and culture.

At the level of strategy, police unions actively fight against our political goals as DSA. They resist even the slightest oversight or accountability and transparency. We must actively oppose police unions and demand accountability. At the level of tactics for marches and direct actions, as Charlottesville definitively proved, they will not protect even clergy when faced with a resurgent fascist movement. When we organize, we must have a tactical response to this problem in the form of marshals, medics, and security of some form.

We believe, and we hope the majority agrees, that we must work to rebuild trust of our membership, our coalition partners, and our leadership.

We recognize that the discourse over this issue has often been toxic—and will continue to remain toxic if we do not collectively work toward a solution. We believe that the membership must be fully heard on this issue in an appropriate manner, through meaningful and thoughtful forms of action.

The NPC has promised to schedule a series of stakeholder calls in the coming days and weeks with chapter leaders and constituency groups. We plan to participate fully in those ongoing discussions.

We believe a dues strike causes disproportionate collateral damage that will hamper meaningful work toward our common cause. We appreciate calls to force the NPC to reconsider this vote, though we do not believe the outcome will change as a result. Therefore, we will support members working to call to convene a special convention, should they feel one is necessary.

We agree with the majority resolution that “the national organization did not develop a sufficiently robust NPC election process.” We propose a national working group to consider many aspects of the election, including but not limited to: a review of required criteria for candidates, the nature of slates and slating, setting appropriate timelines for applications and debates, recall, and the vote-counting method. We must learn from the mistakes we made this year.

Our coalition partners will remain skeptical of our national organization as long as Fetonte is seated. We need to develop strategies to organize around this unfortunate situation as long as it exists. Our chapters and regional organizations may need to insulate themselves from the national. We hope national caucuses and working groups will take the lead where the NPC has failed. DSA’s strength in recent months has been its membership and local chapters; we have full faith that our community will find a way through this together.

We agree with the majority that Fetonte ought to—at minimum—publicly “apologize for his failure to disclose” his work with CLEAT and he should publicly clarify his stance on abolition. Additionally, we believe he should address the accusations from members of his chapter.

Our primary disagreement is the seating of Danny Fetonte on the NPC.

Finally, the NPC itself needs to have a serious discussion about how we expect those of us in the minority most deeply affected by his seating to work with Fetonte going forward. Without a clear set of ground rules, the situation will likely become antagonistic.

Signed,

Ravi Ahmad

Delé Balogun

Allie Cohn

Leslie Driskill

Zac Echola


[1] YEAS: Ahmad, Balogun; NAYS: Schwartz, Riddiough, Gong, Fisher

[2] YEAS: Balogun, Stephens, Cohn, Alami, Bowe, Driskill, Ahmad, Echola; NAYS: Fisher, Alt, Schwartz, Mahoney, Gong, Maisano, Hoffman, Midiri, Riddiough. YDSA members are each given a half vote.

[3] YEAS: Stephens, Echola, Alt, Cohn, Driskill, Ahmad, Balogun; NAYS: Schwartz, Fisher, Mahoney, Maisano, Gong, Bowe, Hoffman, Midiri, Alami, Riddiough

[4] This statement is under dispute, so we will do our best to describe what we believe happened. Chris Maisano made a motion to consider a resolution written by Chris Riddiough (the first form of the majority’s censure resolution). We previously agreed to adjourn the meeting at 10pm Eastern and it was clear the NPC would not finish resolving all disputed language changes in the remaining time. Michelle Fisher moved to amend the motion to refer changes to a subcommittee. A simple voice vote was conducted. Beyond this moment, NPC member notes are in some conflict with one another. All we know for certain is that the signers of this dissent abstained or were absent for the vote, as was R.L. Stephens.

[5] Fetonte told NPC members that he believes these statements were a coordinated effort against him and that they do not represent the majority of members. The NPC received some personal statements of support for Fetonte and also a handful of statements that were undecided on removal and/or resignation.

[6] https://www.cleat.org/around-the-state/after-big-raises-and-collective-bargaining-victory-bexar-county-continues-to-work-hard-grow/

[7] http://www.dsabc.org/docs/contracts/2012_CBA___DSABC___County____Sheriff.pdf

[8] http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/usa-police-unions/

[9] https://www.dallasnews.com/news/texas-legislature/2017/03/02/sandra-bland-act-calls-changes-policing-j