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The bylaws debate:
Smearing Pacificans - by any means necessary

[ Be sure to read the extremely enlightening exchange lower on this page between Sheila Hamanaka and Liam Kirsher]


Date: Sat, 21 Jun 2003 02:49:22 -0400
From: Mitchel Cohen [WBAI area]
Subject: Debate at Pacifica Radio

Dear friends and comrades,

The debate over which draft of bylaws the Pacifica radio network should adopt has been sickening: High on vitriolic race-baiting, low in meaningful political discussion. And yet it is so-o-o-o important, that I urge you to take the time to read this and to write to the interim Pacifica National Board to express your views, whatever they may be (addresses at the end).

One of several drafts (hereafter, Draft A and Draft B, and possibly a Draft C – all of which can be found at www.wbai.net) needs to be passed by 2/3rds of the members of the interim Pacifica National Board, chaired by Leslie Cagan, AS WELL AS at least 3 of the Local Advisory Boards at the five Pacifica radio stations. The national board will be voting via telephone conference next week.

The process of "perfecting" bylaws has been long and rancorous, as numerous meetings have been held over the last 1-1/2 years in every signal area, involving many listeners.

One of the key battles that listeners have fought for in reclaiming the network from those who hijacked it several years ago (some of whose appointees still sit on the national board, due to the settlement of a lawsuit brought on behalf of listeners by Carol Spooner, and listeners from each signal area) has been over listener empowerment – to make listeners who contribute funds to their local stations "stakeholders" having the right to vote for governing bodies in each area.

Some folks, proponents of what is known as Draft A, want an unelected committee to have the power to APPOINT additional members to achieve certain race or sex constituencies. These committees are called "Committees of Inclusion" (COI). While both Draft A and B institute committees by that name, they have significantly different responsibilities.

In Draft A, as I wrote above, they have the power to disregard voter choices and appoint whomever they choose, including those who may have been rejected (for good reason having nothing to do with race or sex) by voters. In Draft B, the function of Committees of Inclusion is to ensure a representative pool of candidates. As elections will take place via Proportional Representation / Single Transfer Voting (STV), any organized constituency should have little trouble in gaining seats on what will be called Local Station Boards. But, under Plan B, a handful of folks will not be empowered to appoint their friends or cronies, and disregard the wishes of the member-electorate.

I urge all National Board members to vote for Plan B. Although there are weaknesses in Plan B, they are rectifiable over the next few years, and it is imperative that we pass bylaws immediately. I can’t stress that enough, because we are under the gun of a Court-mandated timeframe; if Pacifica does not pass adequate bylaws within the next few weeks the State can enter and take over the entire network, reinsert the hijackers and the OLD national board, and everything we’ve ALL been fighting for may be lost.

In my view, not only is Plan A completely undemocratic, but it is rigid and anal, trying to take care of every detail through the mechanism of bylaws, instead of through policy decisions once bylaws are in place. This makes the entire network structure unwieldy and ripe for collapse or takeover. And, in my view, the race and sex representation that its proponents CLAIM to desire will in fact be undermined by such mechanisms.

The fact is, BOTH sets of bylaws favor affirmative action, and BOTH go way beyond US and State government requirements in that regard. The REAL political argument is over how to best achieve racially and sexually (and politically) empowered Local Station Boards that represent the mission of Pacifica and the progressive aspirations of the overwhelming majority of listeners, who are, as a whole, consciously anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and anti-sexist. That’s part of the reason they listen and contribute money to THIS network and not to Rush Limbaugh, FOX, or Michael Savage.

But some proponents of Draft A and appointed seats have been trying to tar Draft B folks as "opposing affirmative action" and as racists. This is how disgusting the debate has become. Some of those people, in my opinion, are framing the issue in that way in order, simply, to emotionally charge it so that they can frighten people into saying, "Well, I'd better vote for Draft A, or abstain, because I don’t want to make a mistake and institute a racist set of bylaws, just in case they are right."

They are NOT right.

But these intimidation tactics, which are being orchestrated, not surprisingly, by a handful of WHITE people at WBAI and an even fewer number of People of Color, chill real political debate. The organizers of Draft A never discuss the issues politically – their posts ALWAYS denounce those who disagree with them.

My view is that Draft A is orchestrated by a relatively few number of people in order to maintain their power base (or their illusion of power), which they PERSONALLY may indeed lose if they had to stand for election in which the listener-members have democratic say over who they want to represent them on their Local Station Boards. (Some of them are paid employees; others are appointed members of the OLD Local Advisory Board, whose terms ran out YEARS ago but are still clinging on.)

What could have been – and what still could be – a terrific and important political strategy discussion has been turned into a bitter pitched battle, in which some proponents of Plan A – those who are most vocal, most nasty – have set the agenda for everyone else, including (unfortunately) those honest and concerned supporters of Plan A, who support it because they sincerely want to fight against racism and sexism and have been told that THIS AND ONLY THIS is the way to do it.

This is wrong. People who support Draft B are just as committed to fighting against white supremacy, heterosexism, and male domination/sexism (as well as bourgeois domination); there are many People of Color calling for the National Board to reject Draft A and to implement Draft B; together, we think that plan B is a better strategy for achieving that on Pacifica’s governing bodies (which is different strategically for how to achieve that in society in general), and do so in a way that would stand up in Court. Plan A, on the other hand, could legally sink the entire network.

I urge the interim Pacifica National Board and all local advisory boards to vote AGAINST Plan A, and to vote for Plan B (which upholds democratic elections by means of proportional representation, with no appointed seats). The weaknesses in Plan B are not terrible and we can rectify them later. The same cannot be said for Plan A, which runs the risk of destroying Pacifica.

You can send your own thoughts to members of the interim Pacifica National Board by writing to its members all at once at ipnb@pacifica.org, or individually at:


Please also send your thoughts, whatever they may be, to the local advisory boards and every progressive list. You can find some of these on www.wbai.net. Let's reclaim the POLITICS of this discussion from those who are trying to manipulate us, as well as our hopefully radical network.

Thank you,

Mitchel Cohen
(writing for myself, as we have not yet discussed our position on this in the Greens/Green Party USA)

Below, I post an exchange between Sheila Hamanaka (a proponent of Plan A) and Liam Kirsher liam@numenet.com, so you can get further perspective on this very important but very nasty debate:

Sheila Hamanaka:
Yesterday the opponents of affirmative action got their wish – the iPNB rejected Ray Laforest's motion to hold open town hall teleconferences in the five signal areas for the bulk of the bylaws and a full meeting of the board in NY in August to debate and vote on diversity. Instead, all the bylaws will be decided next Thursday - in a webcast teleconference, closed to public comment or question.

Liam Kirschner:
It is worth noting that the bylaws process has been going on over a year now. Pacifica's listener-subscribers in all 5 signal areas have had ample opportunities for input -- indeed, they are the ones who created the bylaws. The bylaws vote that will be taken on 6/26 is indeed going to be a teleconference, but that was decided at the previous board meeting in March. I am speculating that the reason this is suddenly an issue for Ms. Hamanaka is that she fears the vote may not go the way she would like it to.

SUPPORT AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN PACIFICA -FORWARD WIDELY- In a few days the interim Pacifica National Board (iPNB) is going to vote on a new set of bylaws in a closed teleconference. Why so shy? Pacifica Radio, the nation's leading alternative media source, might be on the verge of voting down affirmative action.

This is clearly a mischaracterization of the issue. Proponents of both factions are in favor of affirmative action. But what exactly is affirmative action? In order to understand how Ms. Hamanaka's message is deceptive, you need to look at what she is calling affirmative action.

Affirmative action is an employment strategy in the work world, and an admissions strategy in academia. Those are situations where a group that already has power (employers or universities) uses it to favor selected demographic segments of applicants. It is designed to remedy a pattern of discrimination. It makes sense to me in those situations, because it can actually (as opposed to merely symbolically) effect progressive changes in society. Pacifica as an employer licensed by the Federal Communications Commission has, and must maintain, an affirmative action hiring policy. Both bylaws drafts require Pacifica to go beyond these legal requirements. Both drafts include a commitment to diversity in "programming, staff, management, committees and governance."

But "affirmative action" in elections is a different matter, and I think using the term is disingenuous. The whole point of the electoral process is to determine who will be in power. If Committees of Inclusion (COI), or bylaw requirements or any other mechanism have the capability to advance some candidates over others after the voters have voted, that power has essentially been subtracted from the power of the people who voted. Their electoral choice is being adulterated.

If power is not democratically distributed to each individual, where will it reside? Well, according to Draft A, it would reside in a COI [Committee of Inclusion] -- an unelected body that would have the power to alter the outcome of elections by adding members to the Local Station Board (LSB).

The iPNB's Diversity Language Committee, chaired by militant Haitian union organizer Ray Laforest, created "Draft A." It has met stiff resistance from Bush-fearing proponents of "Draft B," who predict Pacifica will be sued by whites deprived of a seat on its non-profit boards.

The other argument against Draft A is that it is illegal. The Pacifica National Board, and others, have sought legal opinions on this topic. Others are better able to discuss the fine points of the law -- but I'm convinced that passing Draft A would lead to legal challenges that would a) bankrupt Pacifica, whether we were to win or lose, and b) lead to judicial decisions that would endanger real affirmative action programs across the nation that I support.

Both Drafts A and B utilize Single Transferable Voting (STV), a form of proportional representation elections, to elect Local Station boards (LSBs). Both claim to support affirmative action. You be the judge: DRAFT A

* Institutes anti-racism and anti-sexism training throughout Pacifica

* LSB's form Committees of Inclusion (COI) which set, monitor, and implement diversity goals for governing boards, programming and staff, based on signal area demographics, with inclusion of underrepresented and oppressed groups (undocumented immigrants, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ, persons in prison, etc). If these goals are not met, the following affirmative action remedies are implemented:

* The candidate recruitment period can be extended for 2 to 4 weeks to increase the participation of underrepresented groups

* Up to 5 seats can be added to the 24 seat LSB. The 5 seats go delegates from underrepresented groups

* 5 seats can be added to the Pacifica National Board

First, bylaws are intended to codify the governance structure of an organization. Anti-racism and anti-sexism training throughout Pacifica might be a great policy that Pacifica management could adopt, but it does not belong in the bylaws. I think there is probably considerable support for such training within Pacifica.

But the question you should ask yourself when reading the above is: Who adds the 5 seats to the 24-seat LSB? In other words, who is on the Committee of Inclusion and how did they get there?

As Ms. Hamanaka makes clear, the COI has the ability to make dramatic changes in the outcome of the election. Assuming that Draft A passed, the power to appoint COI members would be in the hands of the LSBs as they are constituted at the time the bylaws are adopted. And guess who are the most ardent supporters of Draft A? The current members of the WBAI LSB!

This situation has led to the allegation that proponents of Draft A are interested in maintaining power as Pacifica transitions from its current system of governance to a new, democratic one. That may be. I'm sure there are some Draft A supporters who are sincere in believing that diversity in Pacifica will best be served by Draft A's extra-electoral measures. To my mind, however, and regardless of the motivations imputed to Draft A supporters, it would be reckless to give that much power to an unelected, unaccountable body.

DRAFT B * COI's monitor programming and staffing, and monitor and improve diversity of election candidates at the local and national level. A third, Draft C calls for B plus extended candidate recruitment periods. WHAT CAN I DO? SPREAD THE WORD! * Write ASAP to ipnb@pacifica.org Tell them to "Support Draft A" (they get tons of emails, so write this in the subject) Ask your friends to write.

I suggest you first inform yourself about what is really going on. Then contact the board with your comments. It is an important issue.

BUT DOES PACIFICA NEED AFFIRMATIVE ACTION? * After a decade of racially and politically motivated purges of programmers of color in some Pacifica cities, many listeners of color were driven away. Improvement has been slow. * Only a token number of Latino and Asian programs at most stations. Only 3 hours (out of 168) of Spanish language programming in L.A, which is over 50% Chicano/a/Latino/a).One hour of Asian programming.

The fact is, there is room for improvement at every station. But the remedy is not the procrustean Draft A! In the paragraph above, Ms. Hamanaka singles out some areas which do deserve attention. But you could just as easily cite successes. KPFA, for example, has 22.3% African-American, 14.1% Asian and 14.2% Latino programmers. So, in my opinion, Ms. Hamanaka has only told one side of the story.

Here are some other interesting stats regarding Pacifica. I think it would be hard to make the case that there exists a pattern of racial discrimination at Pacifica.

4 out of 5 station managers are people of color

3 out of 4 program directors are people of color (no current PD at KPFA)

National paid staff is 71.4% people of color

The paid staff by station:
KPFA - 47.2% people of color
WBAI - 65.6% people of color
WPFW - 100% people of color
KPFT - 21% people of color
KPFK - 47.2% people of color
Overall 55.4% of paid staff are people of color network-wide.

Note that Draft A will lead to some pretty harsh consequences. Here's the introduction to Draft A, Article 8, SECTION 4: "The Foundation shall require diversity throughout its institutional structures."

Now, WPFW is 100% people of color, and that's almost 100% African- American. So to improve diversity at WPFW, under Draft A Pacifica would be required to reduce the number of African- Americans at WPFW and augment the number of Asians, Latinos and Whites to the level of the demographic of the station's signal area.

Here are the 2000 Census demographics for Washington, D.C. only. The WPFW signal extends into the surrounding states which have substantially higher numbers of white persons. (I couldn't find the stats for the WPFW signal area.)
White -- 30.8%
Black or African American -- 60.0%
American Indian and Alaska Native -- 0.3%

Asian persons -- 2.7%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander -- 0.1%
Persons reporting some other race -- 3.8%
Persons reporting two or more races -- 2.4%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin -- 7.9%
White persons, not of Hispanic/Latino origin -- 27.8%

As can be seen from the figures, to match even just the demographic of Washington, D.C. (let alone the WPFW signal area!) Draft A would require substantial changes at the station -- "adjustments" to bring the African-American representation at the station down to 60%.

Thus the "electorate" that "B" supporters lionize, when they claim that Proportional Representation is "aggressive affirmative action," is racially and politically skewed.

Supporters of Plan B emphasize the importance of outreach prior to the election, in order to create a racially diverse pool of qualified candidates. It is thought that the combination of a diverse pool of candidates plus proportional representation will result in a diverse board -- without the murky machinations of a COI!

Underlying the arguments of the Draft A supporters is the supposition that white Pacifica listener-subscribers won't vote for people of color. Their apprehension has not been borne out in the only elections to have taken place so far, at KPFA.

Not to mention the fact that you have to pay at least $25 to become a Pacifica "member" to vote, or donate 3 hours of time. This undemocratic bar also skews the electorate by class and race. Even registering and signing for a waiver rules out undocumented groups. As we all know these populations are vast and suffer discrimination and political persecution under the Patriot Act.

Requiring membership doesn't seem unreasonable to me, frankly. But that is an issue that has already been widely discussed.

Anyway, there's a few thoughts. Ms. Hamanaka says "you be the judge." I say, you be an inquisitive and thoughtful searcher for the truth! If you want further information you will want to check out www.wbai.net, where the drafts and opinions about them are available.

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