Austen Lethbridge-Scarl

Introducing Tribal Sovereignty, Article XIII of the 2020 Platform

On September 23rd, 2019, the Platform, Resolutions and Legislation Committee unanimously approved a proposal to add a new Article to the Multnomah Democratic Party’s 2020 Platform on the subject of Tribal Sovereignty—the area of policy describing how the United States and its states and counties relate to Indigenous tribal nations. Ruth Jensen (Tlingit), a member of the Democratic Party of Oregon’s Native American Caucus and our own Racial Inclusivity Work Group, presented her draft and was met with a discussion that was less of a debate over its inclusion and more of a “How have we been missing this for so long?” Needless to say, we’re glad to have it.

The current version of the proposed article can be viewed here. It’s well worth the read!

One crucial difference between Tribal Sovereignty and other issues in the platform is that this sovereignty depends not on the basis of race but on the unique, political relationship between tribal nations and the United States government. Tribal nations are neither a special interest group nor a subset of counties but territories whose relationship with the federal government is defined by formal treaties and the trust responsibility, our Constitutional duty to protect Indigenous nations.

All of that sounds cut and dry but the reality is, to put it politely, messy. America was built on the exploitation of its indigenous people: not just physically on their land but culturally as well. What we call the “melting pot” of American culture, as great as it is, only exists as it does because the hundreds of cultures that were already here were nearly wiped out. To this day, Indigenous children are still being removed from their homes and placed in non-Indian homes, something perilously close to the United Nations’ definition of genocide. Any history of the United States that glosses over these facts is shamefully incomplete.

Multnomah County, in particular, should be a place that focuses on correcting these problems. The Portland Metropolitan area is the ninth-largest community of Indigenous people in the United States, with 380 tribal nations represented, including the nine that are situated within Oregon’s borders. Even our name—“Multnomah”—comes from the Chinookan name for the Indigenous people of the area. We are surrounded by Indigenous culture in both our history and present day, and yet they remain extremely underrepresented in our politics.

This Platform Article intends to correct that. Here are some of the priorities it will be bringing to the table for 2020 and beyond:

  • Closing racial disparities in health outcomes and educational attainment 
  • Providing adequate funding to implement Senate Bill 13 which “directs the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to create K-12 Native American Curriculum for inclusion in Oregon public schools and provide professional development to educators”
  • Getting rid of race-based sports mascots which contribute to a hostile learning environment for all students—not only those who are Native
  • Working with law enforcement to close jurisdictional gaps on reservations
  • Sparing no cost to end the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people and end the removal of Indian children from their homes and their placement in non-Indian homes

This brings the total number of proposed articles in the 2020 Platform to thirteen. While there was originally a tiny bit of hesitation of expanding beyond ten articles (mostly because ten feels like a nice round number), the truth is that the Multnomah Democratic Party has grown so much in the last two years that ten simply wasn’t sufficient. We have so much more involvement from so many people of different backgrounds and areas of interest that our vision must grow to reflect that. With every new perspective, we become stronger.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Ruth Jensen for her amazing efforts, with additional thanks to Beth Woodward, Sally Joughin, Sam Kahl and Bobbi Yambasu for pitching in with encouragement and advice. The 2020 Platform is looking better than ever!

You can help too! There’s still time to give feedback before the Platform Convention in November and we need your thoughts and suggestions.

If you want to help us make a difference for Indigenous communities in Multnomah County and beyond, a regular study group will be forming soon to discuss policy issues and organize lobbying efforts and direct action. You may also be interested in the Democratic Party of Oregon’s Native American Caucus, which can be found on their own webpage or on Facebook.

The First Draft of the 2020 Platform is Now Available!

Hey, psst. Yeah, you. Wanna see a Platform?

It’s not officially due until September but if you want to see a preview of the 1st draft of the MultDems 2020 Platform, we’ve got the hookup.

The whole 11 articles are here. Education, Justice, the Economy, you name it. It even has the planks for those new articles on Media and Abuse of Power. All the good stuff that Multnomah Democrats care about.

We even threw in some Legislative Action Items, just to sweeten the deal.

A word to the wise, though: This is just a draft. It’s a long road to the convention in November and this Platform needs to represent all Multnomah Democrats…so if you’re a registered Democrat in Multnomah County, that includes you. Rumor has it there’s a survey you can fill out if you want to make your voice heard.

But, hey, if anybody asks, you didn’t hear about it from us (the official website of the Multnomah County Democratic Party), okay?

Download the draft platform here

Multnomah Democrats Add Media Accountability to 2020 Platform

You’d be hard pressed to find somebody happy with the state of American news media, but it usually seems like there isn’t anything for us to do about it. Multnomah County Democrats want to change that.

At the 2020 Platform Convention this November, one of the most exciting prospects is a new section on the integrity of our news media.

Ethan Scarl and Neil Goodman drafted a list of proposed planks, which they presented at the August 3rd Pre-Platform Convention meeting. Some of the items on their list are likely familiar, such as the consolidation of so many news outlets into the hands of so few companies, fully funding public broadcasting, diversifying the perspectives and opinions in our media, the proliferation of hate speech, and how to tackle the epidemic of “news that is intentionally false.” They also suggested a forward-thinking plank to protect investigative reporting by compensating media for lost advertising revenue, allowing media outlets to bite the hand that feeds them if that hand really deserves to be bitten.

“Corporate ownership of news has been a problem for decades, with many towns trapped under media monopolies, but the 2016 election proved that we’re in a full blown crisis,” Ethan Scarl said, adding, “American voters didn’t send Trump to the White House. Disinformation campaigns and corporate media did.”

Adding an article on media integrity to the Multnomah County Democratic Party’s platform is a pretty big deal. All articles have ongoing study groups, giving a critical focus on news media an official home within the Party. It lets our elected officials know that we want the issue to be a regular part of our political discussions, makes it easier to advocate for legislation, and gives us a strong footing to write resolutions.

Despite the issue’s obvious urgency and public dissatisfaction, media issues are not usually tackled head on by political parties. “We care about media” is common, but “We care about media in the same way we care about education and healthcare and the economy” is not. This November, Multnomah County Democrats will take that stand.

(Full disclosure: Ethan Scarl is the author’s father.)

Regarding the Explaining of MultDem Resolutions (Part 2)

WHEREAS, It was previously discussed what resolutions are and what they do;

WHEREAS, It has not yet been addressed how they come to a vote;

WHEREAS, The previous explainer should be brought to a conclusion;

WHEREAS, a committee helps in the resolution process;

Explaining resolutions process for MCD

Any Democrat can draft and submit a resolution idea. Resolutions are first submitted to the Platform, Resolution, Legislation Committee (PRLC) then brought to a vote of precinct committee persons (PCP) at the monthly Multnomah Democrat Central Committee (MDCC) meeting. (Whew, that’s a lot of acronyms!)

Most resolutions are developed and refined with the help of a study group and then passed to MDCC by the PRLC. Alternatively, 5 PCPs can sign on to a resolution and bring it before the MDCC after the PRLC has been shown the draft.

Regardless of which route the authors take, resolutions must be posted on the website and distributed to all PCPs at least six days in advance of the MDCC, giving them the opportunity to read over and study the issue. Occasionally, a major political issue or event can happen too late for a resolution to make that deadline. If so, 5 PCPs can bring it to the MDCC as an emergency resolution that requires a much higher threshold for passage.

Regarding the Explaining of MultDem Resolutions (Part 1)

WHEREAS, Resolutions are extremely important to the Multnomah County Democratic Party;

WHEREAS, Resolutions can sometimes be confusing to those new to party politics;

WHEREAS, An explainer is probably in order, which starts right now;

(WHEREAS, Part 2 of this explainer can be found here;)

WHEREAS, Resolutions should be defined;

Explaining resolutions process for MCD

The official bylaws of the Multnomah County Democratic Party put it thusly:

A Resolution supports or opposes a concept, proposed or existing legislation, ballot initiative or petition, or a government policy which affects or might affect the citizens of Multnomah County.

Simply put, resolutions are official statements of political position by the Multnomah County Democratic Party (MCD), written and voted on by Precinct Committee Persons (PCPs). Resolutions are most frequently addressed to anyone who represents Multnomah County at the county, state and even national level, including both elected officials and internal party representatives.