Chapter News

Reflections on the 2020
Salem City Council Race

Hollie Oakes-Miller
June 1, 2020

This year has brought many opportunities, obstacles, losses, and gains, some of which our chapter did not collectively anticipate. On the electoral front, our members came into 2020 with a plan to focus our electoral efforts on supporting Bernie Sanders and Mark Gamba. In late January, I learned Jose Gonzalez was running for City Council in the ward that I live, so I reached out to my political circle to learn more about him. After a few weeks of discussions about Jose and who could run as a candidate for the working class, another organizer suggested that I run for the position, and after a lot more discussion with DSA comrades and other allies, in late February, I announced my candidacy.

Given the March 10th deadline to gather the required signatures, our campaign was immediately at a disadvantage, but we were confident that we had the capacity to run a successful campaign. Some early campaign accomplishments were being recognized by the Marion County Democrats and endorsed by Our Revolution Central Willamette.

By mid-March, after meeting the signature, filing date, and Voter Pamphlet deadlines, we began to make plans for canvassing Ward 5 to reach more of the community and gain more potential voters. Around this same time the magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis was becoming apparent, and on March 17th I learned that I would be teaching my face-to-face courses remotely for at least the first half of spring term. Oregon went into lock-down shortly thereafter, and we knew that door-knocking in Ward 5 was not going to be a campaign option for the foreseeable future. The crises also caused my workload to increase by threefold, so I had to put most of my focus on that; as a result, the campaign floundered for several weeks.

Ultimately our team managed some wins, such as gaining union support from the Marion, Polk, Yamhill Labor Chapter of the Oregon AFL-CIO, and getting our message out to the community via campaign interviews with local news outlets, the campaign website, social media, and a limited amount of phone-banking from chapter members. In the end, we ran a very competitive campaign on a shoestring budget against a better-known candidate, who was well funded by home builders, realtors, and the Chamber of Commerce. This shows that our message resonated with about 50% of the Ward 5 community who voted in this election. The city council election results also demonstrate that it doesn’t matter how well funded a candidate is, who is supporting them and what their message is, is much more important to Salem voters.

I want to thank everyone who supported the campaign in big and small ways! It was impressive that nearly a third of our members contributed to the campaign in some capacity. Considering the challenges we faced collectively and individually, we still ran a very competitive race. No matter how this election ends, we can count this as an electoral win for our chapter because we gained; political connections, local media exposure for some of our messaging, knowledge of local political processes, and proved that we have the ability to win local elections!