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Some responses to the Constituency Model

The constiuency model

From:Gregory Wonderwheel
Date: Tue May 28, 2002 10:41 am
Subject: Re: Mimi Rosenberg's Bylaws Proposal, AKA constituency model.

1) I believe that each station should have the autonomy and flexibility to come up with creative forms of organization. Especially if it will provide a period of experimentation to demonstrate how differing organizational models will work in practice.

2) The WBAI listening community working through, by, and as the WBAI LAB should be able to resolve both the process will work to choose a model and what that model will be.

3) The proponents of the constituency model at WBAI have made some valid (if not persuasive) arguments in its favor. However, they have also made some invalid arguments by misrepresenting the KPFA model's success.

4) The claim is made that "KPFA, voter participation was minuscule." This is a misrepresentation. Any one who knows about elections in non-profit or union membership organizations knows that KPFA's voter turnout was strongly above average. Unions turn out in very large percentages to vote on wages and benefits but not to vote on elections for officers. That the percentage of voters in KPFA elections was relatively small in comparison to absolute percentages, the turnout was relatively large in comparison to similar voting organizations.

5) The proposed constituency model guarantees that even fewer percentages of those who could have eligibility to "vote" will be represented in the selection because the selection process will have been filtered through the so-called leadership bureaucracies of the "constituent" groups.

6) Under the rubric of such terms as "dynamic" "flexible" "strategic" the constituent model is actually inchoate. For example, there is as yet no reasonable practical method for including a constituency model based on "race." Which organization is going to speak for people of African heritage? Which organization is going to organize a vote of all people of Jewish ancestry? Which labor union is going to get to send a representative and how are they going to ensure all their members get to vote? I submit that these are only a few of the questions that are so deeply troublesome that they are not capable of being resolved by any idealistic dream of constituent inclusion.

7) The "quota" system in the KPFA model is only a backstop provision to ensure a perceived need for balance. In fact it isn't even necessary as the first two elections have demonstrated. The PR system in both elections provided a board balanced in both sex and ancestry in the same proportion as the candidate pool and, as far as anyone can tell, in excellent proportion to the listener pool. If the candidate or listener pools change then there is no evidence that the PR model would not provide for the board composition to change as well. That is true flexibility.

8) That candidates in the PR model are "self-selected" is the essence of open process. Where entrenched "leadership" is in control of so-called communities of interest, there will be tightly controlled nomination processes that ensure only the representatives who will voice their narrow interests, and probably no open elections at all. Boards or special search committees will be selecting the representative not open elections among the constituencies.

(Enough for this installment of my part in the discussion.) Gregory Wonderwheel


From: peacepoet@a...
Date: Tue May 28, 2002 8:45 am
Subject: Re: [WBAIBylaws] Bylaws Proposal

Mimi et. al.

I applaud your proposal. It mirrors some thoughts that I have garnered from a variety of different communites that I have been talking to with regard to democratizing Pacifica.

A word about suburban communities. Not at all oppressed of course as we understand oppression. BUT We just had a school board election in Rockland County in which the religioius right ran two stealth candidates for the board. We needed desparately to have a vehicle for educating the community up here. We did not have one. The stealth candidates won. The unrealized potential for BAI to serve as an organizing tool outside of NYC is enormous and of serious import. In terms of membership outreach it is hard to keep convincing folk up here that BAI is their station when it often does not respond to our urgent concerns.

thanks for your fine work


Frank [Fitzgerald]
pitfalls of manipulation and logistics of supervision = NG Tue
May 28 16:17:19 2002

First, although the proposal states, "It is not yet clear exactly what powers, functions and responsibilities the new station boards will have," the implication I pick up from this shuffling in the constituency model is that this will lead to more diverse programming, and that somehow the LAB will exert influence on programming. I suspect this is a potential can of worms that needs to be addressed more thoroughly. How can we be fixating on the job applicant's qualifications when we don't know what the job is? Personally, I have considerable misgivings about the LAB becoming deeply involved in programming decisions or exerting influence there; however, increased community input into a possibly restructured Program Council might make a good deal of sense.

As for the constituency model proposal as it stands, obviously, very few BAI subscribers will object to "the rectification of class injustice and bias-related violence," "bringing uncommonly heard voices and perspectives to the airwaves," "facilitate participation by ," etc., but to imagine a specially empowered select committee deciding who might be the "chosen leaders of one's own community" is to contemplate the possibilities of chaos on the one hand and fascism on the other. The proposal makes it particularly clear how unwieldy and undemocratic this model, if put into practice, might be when it suggests - "If the current war fever grows even worse and the U.S. invades Iraq, the elected constituent members could caucus and consider ways to temporarily boost Arab and or Muslim representation on the board for the duration of the crisis, perhaps bringing on another experienced activist who could act as liaison between WBAI newspeople and rally organizers, among other vital work."

Seemingly, not only would we (the listeners) be subjected to the effects of the rulings of the Special Selection or Whatever Committee at regular (election?) intervals, but when special circumstances arrive (decided by who?) additional members (decided by who?) may be added. Who will, by the way, select the select committee? And how do we recall them if they turn out to be (unthinkable?) little despots?

I am sure others can address in more detail this (probably) well-meaning attempt to undercut the intelligence and good will and moral fiber of the mass of BAI subscribers. For the moment, I will just offer that even if the idea of special seats for various "oppressed" groups was a good idea - and it ain't - it would simply lead to increased reliance on (or worse - outright demagoguery by) entrenched power groups - and this is patently obvious.

Who will go out to these mass meetings of constituencies to ensure that "the oppressed and disenfranchised communities" do, in fact, "utilize a process of direct democracy"? Who will decide which Latino or L/G/B/T/ or AA or Asian group should call and run the meeting in a particular boro or town in NJ, CT, upstate NY? Who will decide who at these meetings not only gets to speak - but who is encouraged to speak? Who will supervise how voting/selecting of candidates is conducted at these meetings and caucuses? What happens if Latino Group A in the Bronx calls a meeting for this purpose and 7 or 8 people show up? Would this represent the Bronx? (Please note, that the LAB meeting specifically set up last year at the Dominican Club in upper Manhattan to encourage community participation drew zero or next to zero input from "the community." They didn't show up.) Is anybody discussing how much organizing and supervision these meetings will take? It seems to me that mounting a first time election process that might simply be a one vote - one subscriber model, and getting candidates adequate exposure, will be quite complicated enough without the pitfalls of manipulation and logistics of supervision the constituency model would engender.

Clearly, outreach to bring in more listeners (voters) and diversity in this very diverse city should be a priority, as should ways to get candidates' platforms and special interests (constituencies) widely known during the "campaign" phase, but this model will not create real diversity, only one imagined by members of the powerful Special Selection or Whatever Committee and imposed on subscribers who have proven their commitment to BAI's principles by selecting themselves to represent their ideas about culture, democracy and justice.

Some minor points:
1) I note that little (no?) mention is made of artists as an oppressed or underrepresented group. The present BAI programming schedule and its apparent trajectory might indicate that few give a damn about them.

2) I can't help noting that the proposal is put forward by Mimi Rosenberg, a LAB member for over 6 years, who acknowledged last year that her term was ending, yet she continues to occupy this seat. If she is so interested in the oppressed, one can only wonder why she hasn't called for an election among unpaid staff so that there might be a chance of turning the seat over to someone other than the oppressed white lawyer group.


From: Renteria22@aol.com
Sent: Sunday, June 09, 2002 2:34 AM
Subject: Rejecting the "Constituency" Model for Pacifica's Governance

Dear IPNB members;

Despite the fact that I have significant areas of agreement with its stated intent, I urge you to reject the proposals for a "constituency model" or appointed seat paradigm. They are inadequate to ensure meaningful diversity at Pacifica. Although there are aspects of the model that serve their stated purposes, the overall thrust does not.

Of particular concern is the failure of the proposal's to take into account the intersection of race and class. The mechanical approach the authors take on the question of race and nationality, assumes, rightly, that the social conditions and kind of oppression one faces influences ones' stand on key questions -like the meaning of the Pacifica Mission, but the authors fail to consider that race or nationality alone are inadequate predictors of a given individual's consciousness.

Many of us understand that gender as a single determinant is not a sufficient predictor of a woman's stand on race and class. The feminist movement has been hampered for years - actually since the mid 1800's - by the different interests that are created by the intersection of race, gender and class, and the failure to unite white middle class women and poor working women of color is a well known historical and sociological fact.

Likewise race or nationality is not a sufficient indicator of a given individuals' stand with respect to class and gender, and sometimes even of race itself. We are all aware that figures like Mary Francis Berry played a direct role in destroying diversity in much of the network - KPFK's audience figures put its listenership at 70% white male, for example - and that the first groups purged under the old regime were radical programmers of color - people who represented different _class_ interests within the same oppressed nationality as those who purged them. We also know that the old PNB worked in the service of the "democratic" party, not in the interests of poor working people of color. And we all know that these usurpers of the Pacifica Mission were appointed to their positions one by another.

In a word, ending discrimination on the basis of race alone does not eliminate the system of class privilege, as we can readily witness, for example, in South Africa. The subsystem of racism is an integral aspect of the class system. As long as class privilege remains in place the tendency will be for it to recreate racist subsystems, just as the people of color among the usurpers on the old PNB were bound, by virtue their class interests and loyalties, to purge from Pacifica's airwaves more authentic voices from among the oppressed.

The "constituency model" recapitulates the flaws in the Pacifica system that enabled the usurpers to gain power and institutionalizes them.

It further fails to enhance the role in Pacifica's governance to be played by poor people of color, by failing to create a system or structure that creates _hands on_ participation in governance by those who are normally excluded from power. The model embarks instead on the well worn bourgeois path of selecting or _appointing_ "leaders" from among the oppressed to "represent" them in capitalist institutions. Those who are normally excluded from direct participation in power remain so under that model. The promise of appointed seats to a board whose power is merely advisory and which lacks power over programming is fraudulent.

To deal adequately with the intersection of race, class, gender and governance of Pacifica's programming and engagement with its Mission will require a leap of moral will and imagination.

It will require of us that we create structures that engage the voiceless directly in Pacifica's governance in a process of co-intentional dialog that serves their interests, their conscientization through their _self_ representation.

Simply appointing a "leader," most often a leader from the middle class, to "represent" the oppressed is inadequate. To allow such a proposal to win the day will mean that the door of Pacifica's future will be left open, if not today, then tomorrow, for the resurgence of the Mary Frances Berrys, Marion Barrys and Pat Scotts to come.

There are, by contrast with what we are offered by both constituency and subscriber models, several key principles for governance that should be paid heed to. They include;

1. That governance at Pacifica is governance of programming, and that empowerment at Pacifica for the oppressed means empowerment around programming, or else it is a false empowerment, a co-optation of the interests of the oppressed.

2. That excluded / oppressed groups must be included in the hands on governance of programming policy, as well as in more abstract, less direct, powers, like voting for representatives on station boards and programming councils.

3. That diversity at Pacifica must include the category of class as well as race and gender. That class interests, as determinants of consciousnes, are equal to race and gender, at a minimum, if they are not in fact more potent determinants.

4. That the use of the signal as a tool is key for creating diversity - for outreach, organization and democratic processes. The only way to create authentic diversity is through mass outreach to a mass audience (or "constituency") via the signal and through programming devoted to and produced by oppressed groups. Special broadcasts and town hall meetings devoted to the concerns of oppressed groups - like police brutality - is a particular tool we will need to regain the trust and establish the engagement of oppressed groups in the life of the network and its governance. This enables us to avoid the problems inherent in hand picking constituencies.

5. That the re-establishment of unaccountable, self appointing boards at Pacifica must be avoided. Paradigms that include appointed seats, in any form, are modeled on elitist principles and can only lead, in the final analysis, to the empowerment of new elites and the disempowerment of the oppressed.

6. That the oppressed must have a living voice; that the working poor, people of color and women have a right to speak for themselves on the air and in their own programs in proportion to their numbers in the general population.

7. That direct, proportional self-representation be guaranteed for the poor, people of color and women in Pacifica's power structure and decision making bodies through the establishment of diverse, elected station governing boards and program councils with powers to regulate programming policy.

8. That Pacifica programming policy will place primary and permanent emphasis on fulfilling the actual wording of its Mission statement - that programming focus primarily on cross cultural dialogue with the aim of ending war and racism.

Rafael Renteria [ KPFK area ] ______________________________________________ " But no one excluded from and deprived of power wants to talk of compromise and consensus if that means re-absorption and erasure, if the consensus process is co-opted and becomes a cancellation of difference. It is this co-optation by the white Left which progressive peoples of color regard with profound suspicion. Control of the airwaves is really the only power-based means to avoid that co-optation. "

David Moore
"... leadership and people, co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling...reality, and coming to know it critically, but in the task of recreating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not psuedo-participation but committed involvement."
Paulo Freire

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