WBAI lab members statements supporting
the constituency model
Date: Tue Dec 3, 2002 12:03 pm
Subject: Statement from WBAI Rockland LAB rep Gail Golden
To the WBAI Community.
There seems to be some widespread thought that WBAI LAB members who have supported the constituency model do so because they have not paid any attention to the debate or read any relevant materials. I know this is not true in my case and I believe that most of my fellow LAB members have also taken the by-laws discussions very seriously and have read and reread many drafts.
I have supported the CM because I have long struggled with what seems to me to be serious problems with elections, both in governments and also in organizations. No model that I have seen has really succeeded in achieving representation which truly reflects economic, class and ethnic diversity.
I think that in an organization like BAI which seeks to be the voice of the voiceless, the only way to insure that marginalized and oppressed groups have a place at the table is to guarantee the place, and allow the various groups the chance to send reps who best reflect their concerns. Mandating 50% women and people of color does not insure seats for such specific non-European groups as Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, and for such other disenfranchised groups as people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, prisoners, rank and file workers, cultural workers et. al.
I also have a problem with the kind of person who tends to rise to the top in many election processes. I think that quiet, thoughtful activists and thinkers with much to offer are sometimes sidelined. I believe that classic elections work best when they provide small groups or small geographic areas the chance to select their own reps. In this kind of process, people actually know who they are voting for and what the person believes. Because they are electing colleagues or neighbors, small groups can also be more successful in holding reps accountable.
Although the mechanics of a constituency model may appear unwieldy, I think it would be worth some muss and fuss to create a model for bringing everyone to the table who should be there.
I have also attached a previous note I wrote which relates to the size of the LAB:
A few people have asked me to share a little bit of my experience on the New York Civil Liberties Union Board, of which I am a member. The board is 55 people strong, with reps from around the state and from different communities. This is significant because some folks at BAI think that 36 is too large a board. It does not need to be if the chair and the members are disciplined. NYCLU uses Robert's Rules of Order in a serious way to run meetings. An executive committee, elected by the board, meets a week before the full board meeting. They prepare an agenda. The exec meeting is open to all board members. The agenda is posted on line and board members can request changes. Board meetings start on time and end on time. The full agenda is covered at each meeting. An advantage to 55 members is that there is lots of talent and personpower for committee work. Also numbers of diverse groups can be represented. The disciplined part is that meetings are run seriously. Once agenda items are accepted, new business needs to wait till the next meeting. Five or six members can make comments after each item. Obviously NOT EVERYONE can talk when they want to. What is important is that the differing points of view get expressed, not that every member in the room be heard. Sometimes the chair is tough and ends discussion in the interest of time and moving through the agenda. I am not saying this is a perfect situation but a large board is possible.
For those of you not familiar with me or my work, I have been a member of the WBAI Local Advisory Board for the past three years. I have also been a long-term human rights activist, involved in many social justice movements, particularly the anti-sexist and anti- racist movements, and been a member of the national leadership of the War Resisters League for the past seventeen years. My attendance at LAB meetings during the past two years has been sporadic at best as I have been battling acute leukemia. I underwent a successful bone marrow transplant this past August and have been slowly recovering since then. I have tried to follow as closely as possible—via email and phone calls—the progress of the By Laws development, and the different models for seating members of the future Local Station Boards.
The following are some brief thoughts as to why I supported the Constituency Model and now support the new Hybrid model . I want to make very clear, however, that I believe that those supporting the KPFA model have the station's (and the network's) best interests at heart. I acknowledge (and appreciate) that many or most of them were deeply involved in fighting to win back the station from the clutches of the "vultures". And I don't believe that ending up with the KPFA model, which now seems likely, is by any means a bad thing. I think it will move us forward in a positive direction.
I have been dismayed at the continued vitriol and mudslinging on the part of some on both sides of this debate. I don't consider it to be tactically or strategically useful. We need to see that we are all in this together and that continued division and attacks only serve to further empower those who are really in charge. (i.e.: no one involved anywhere at any level of the network). Whichever model "wins", we must all continue working together to build WBAI and Pacifica as powerfully as possible. This is just one step in a very long process.
I have long been attracted to the promise and practice of proportional representation. In this case, I find the arguments for the Hybrid Model more compelling than the ones for the KPFA Model. Here's why. The driving necessity of the Hybrid Model (like the Constituency before it) seems to be to counteract, both in structure and in process, the historic institutionalized disenfranchisement of so many communities. It seems to go to great lengths to empower and include those who have not been well represented or included. Some have understandably charged that the necessity for doing this is exaggerated. Others have understandably charged that although the necessity is clear, the way in which the model attempts to achieve this is overly cumbersome and complicated, and may promote unnecessary confusion and competition between communities. I'd like to briefly respond to each charge.
My careful reading of history and oppression theory, plus my experience with thirty years of activism, leads me to feel convinced that there is a necessity, and an urgent one, to create mechanisms and processes (or at least try our darnedest), that will counteract the historic hegemony (dominance) by people who look like me— privileged white males. I think we have to go to great lengths to do this. I don't expect to convince anyone who may not see it like this in so short a space, or fully explain how I've arrived at this conclusion, except to say that I'm very happy to discuss it further with anyone who wishes.
Those who say that the Hybrid Model is overly complicated, (although it is less so than the Constituency Model), at least in comparison with the KPFA Model, seem to me to have the strongest argument for opposing the Hybrid Model. Interestingly enough, and I hope I'm able to explain this clearly, this may be precisely why I support the Hybrid Model. But let me reframe it slightly. It's not that I see the Hybrid Model as overly complicated, but rather, I see it as appropriately intricate, detailed and comprehensive, qualities necessary to a mechanism that must be used to correct past injustices and enfranchise previously disempowered/disenfranchised peoples. Somehow, the KPFA model seems a little too easy or too simple, not rigorous enough to accomplish the institutional change so many of us claim we want to see. Somehow, it doesn't feel like there's enough affirmative action built into it for my taste. Somehow, it's because of this, in part, that I trust the Hybrid Model more. (Obviously, I can't be certain that the Hybrid Model will accomplish such goals, any more than those who support the KPFA model can be certain that it will. My political instincts lead me to trust the Hybrid Model more.)
Some have also suggested that this model promotes confusion, especially for individuals who represent more than one oppressed community. It may seem to ask of them to choose between their identities, which may feel difficult or unfair. I would suggest that since the purpose is community empowerment, the focus should be on community consultation and organizing, rather than on personal decisions by individuals—a process reinforced by the requirement for 50 nomination signatures from members of the constituency. Also, a person elected to the Board representing a particular community, but who also happens to be a member of two or more historically oppressed groups would understandably act in ways that give voice to each dimension of their identity and experience.
Others have expressed the concern that the Hybrid Model will promote competition between communities in ways that might result in less representation, particularly by communities of color, than if the KPFA model were used. It seems to me that although this is an understandable and logical concern, it is based upon conjecture. There is a tremendously long history, both in society in general and in social change movements in particular, where a failure to enact specific mechanisms for affirmative action of some kind has resulted in less representation, not more, of disenfranchised groups. The 50% women 50% people of color representation that the KPFA model insures is very good (although I would prefer that each were insured 51%). I just think we need to go much further to insure representation of the many other disenfranchised communities, including a specification of different communities of color.
Finally, let me remind people of a very important component of the Hybrid Model. If I am reading it correctly, it states that each LAB will have the option to add additional seats to promote greater representation. The key is that no one will be required to do this. While it may be that only one or two of the five listener areas are willing to do this, it should be available to any that do, especially so that a potentially powerful and successful mechanism for creating greater democratic representation can actually be tried. I would hope that the network would be intrigued to have such a test case, even if it were based in only one listener area.
a couple of responses to Cohen statement
From: Mark Hernandez
With all due respect, Jon, your reasoning is a little bit lax here.
Specifically, the problem is the 'constituency' component in terms of governance creates an artificial environment, one that you do not address in your reasons.
I am of Latino descent. If I choose to run in my constituency, who is it that I would represent?
Am I Puerto Rican? If so, how is it that my "constituency" would care about the issue of the Mestizos, or the Guatemalans, or the Andes Indians?
Am I "Hispanic"? Does that mean that my "constituency" now includes the Portugese-speaking and descended Brazilians...including those who are of African descent?
Technically, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are "Latino" nations; do I represent them as well? The Mulattoes? Cubans?
And what about the class structures within each of these "Latino" communities? Am I descended from Spanish or Portugese nobility, the gentry, or am I one of those descended from the "stinking natives" condemned to a hierarchy of subservience and poverty because my blood is "impure"?
What about the gay and lesbian components of the "Latino" community? Who is supposed to represent them, or the transgenders?
All the constituency model offers is "Latino".
Who is that supposed to represent? And if I'm not descended from the areas of those who also call themselves "Latino", then who is it that they _are_ going to choose?
Moreover...how are those I do not represent able to be represented, if I am the "Latino" representative?
This question applies to each and every one of the "constituencies" that the model proposes...and has never been answered.
Moreover, who is it that will _decide_ what each "constituency" will be allowed to be used?
You dismiss these questions without reason, simply saying that they are "conjecture".
Yet, at the same time, you make _many_ similar "conjectures" as a way of supporting your claims.
Unlike the "constituency model" or the "hybrid model", the KPFA model has been used not once, but _twice_. In both cases, it has produced a highly diverse set of candidates, which was enriched by the outreach done to insure that diversity would be accomplished. And that same level of diversity was imparted to the LAB by the election process.
And that, Jon, is the major compelling reason, and it is _NOT_ conjecture.
The KPFA model is _proven_ to work. It will also work in each of the five areas without any problems, barring deliberate sabotage by those who want to make sure it fails.
Likewise, it's provisions do not allow for the opportunity for abuse, which the 'outgoing LAB selects' provision does in deciding who is a constituency, and who is not, within the "hybrid model".
In summary, your entire reasoning for support is based wholly on the same sort of 'conjecture' that you claim is the basis of the KPFA model, while ignoring the fact that the KPFA election process has worked on _two_ occasions, producing highly diverse and functional boards.
The clear and rational choice is the KPFA model of those options offered; the choice for abuse and manipulation is the constituency model and its variant forms.
-- Mark Hernandez
It is wonderful news to hear of your improved condition. I hope you are well enough to attend the WBAI LAB meeting on Tuesday, where your fair-minded and balanced approach to this issue would be a welcome addition to the dialogue.
I would like to address two points that you make.
(1) "Others have expressed the concern that the Hybrid Model will promote competition between communities in ways that might result in less representation, particularly by communities of color, than if the KPFA model were used. It seems to me that although this is an understandable and logical concern, it is based upon conjecture. There is a tremendously long history, both in society in general and in social change movements in particular, where a failure to enact specific mechanisms for affirmative action of some kind has resulted in less representation, not more, of disenfranchised groups. The 50% women 50% people of color representation that the KPFA model insures is very good (although I would prefer that each were insured 51%). I just think we need to go much further to insure representation of the many other disenfranchised communities, including a specification of different communities of color."
Let us look at an example. The Hybrid Model allocates two seats for the Latino constituency. Suppose there are six strong, pro-mission Latino/Latina candidates with strong support from their communities. Perhaps two Puerto Rican, two Dominican, one Colombian and one Salvadoran, all of whom choose to run as candidates in the Hybrid Model's Latino constituency. Two candidates will be seated and four will not. Under the KPFA model, all six candidates would very likely be seated if they had strong community support.
This situation is repeated in all of the constituency categories, especially those allocating a single seat -- Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American, Women, Artist, Labor, Prisoner, Disabled, Gay- Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender, Immigrant. In all of these single-seat constituencies, one candidate wins, the other candidates are losers.
However, under the KPFA model, if there is more than one strong, pro- mission candidate in any of these single-seat categories, more than one candidate will be seated. How many strong feminist candidates will run in the Women category and be losers in the Hybrid Model? They could all be winners in the KPFA model.
The only limits on how many good constituency candidates can be seated in the KPFA model, are the limit on how many seats are up for election, and the requirement that at least 50% of the winners be people of color and at least 50% be women.
Your point that specific mechanisms are more likely to bring results may have merit in some situations, but I think the history at WBAI tells us that a specific mechanism has little meaning if there is not a strong, pro-mission candidate who is willing and able to serve. A good example is the attempt by the WBAI LAB to appoint a youth activist in the summer of 2001, after an extensive search. An excellent candidate was found, but he ultimately declined to serve because he was too committed to other causes. The WBAI LAB has been searching for a good youth candidate for many years.
The KPFA requirement that AT LEAST 50% of the local board be people of color will be a strong incentive for vigorous outreach and recruitment of strong, progressive candidates of color. The result may diverge from census demographics -- i.e. there may be more or less than 27% Latino presence on the board. We can only elect those candidates who are willing and able to serve. We must be honest and recognize the possibility that one or more constituencies may not be represented on the board because of the absence of candidates. Such a scenario is anticipated by the original Unity Caucus proposal -- and presumably the Hybrid Model -- which calls for leaving a seat vacant if 50 nomination signatures cannot be found.
(2) I want to thank you for your comment:
"I want to make very clear, however, that I believe that those supporting the KPFA model have the station's (and the network's) best interests at heart. I acknowledge (and appreciate) that many or most of them were deeply involved in fighting to win back the station from the clutches of the "vultures". And I don't believe that ending up with the KPFA model, which now seems likely, is by any means a bad thing. I think it will move us forward in a positive direction." My only disagreement with this statement is that while KPFA is certain to account for the bulk of the bylaws structure, I see little evidence that there is 2/3 support on the national board for the KPFA MECHANISM to assure the KPFA diversity requirement of at least 50% women at least 50% people of color.
There is disarray, confusion and fragmentation on the national board over this issue, and I believe that a major reason is that two of our New York delegates have contributed to this fragmentation by their support for the constituency model, which has no possibility of approval by 2/3 of the board or 3 of 5 LABs.
The bylaws process is a political struggle within a political struggle. Certainly people should not be asked to give up their principles. But at the same time, political leadership requires a recognition of what can be achieved and when it is time to support what is best for the whole. In my view, that time has already passed. However, there is still time left to build a national consensus for a strong program of inclusion based on the KPFA diversity requirement that will, as you say, "move us in a positive direction."
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