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Democracy, diversity and the "KPFA model"

From: Carol Spooner
Date: Mon Apr 22, 2002 9:35 am
Subject: Re: democracy

Robert -- I do like your thoughts & the spirit of your approach.

I do think the KPFA model solves most of the problems of local board elections -- by its simplicity. The only failure it has is the failure of "outreach" ... It could happen that no persons of color or women ... or for that matter, no candidates ... would run for election ... or not enough of one category or another or candidates, in which case you cannot have a democratic election that presents the voters with enough choices to be meaningful. (I.e., if there are 3 seats open for persons of color & only 3 persons of color run, then all 3 of them are elected regardless of the number of votes they receive ... so, obviously, the solution is that we must do the "outreach" before the election, rather than after ... to my view, appointing people to fill seats after the election to meet criteria is just doing "tardy" outreach. If we can find good people to appoint, we can find good people to run for election.)

Proportional representation assures that there is no "winner take all" or "majority faction", and requires that different perspectives must be represented on the board and must listen & "negotiate" with each other. This works by the simple method of distributing seats by percentage of the vote received ... e.g., if there are 5 seats open, then 20% of the vote is sufficient to win a seat (not 50%). (The "single transferrable vote" system distributes any excess votes a candidate receives above the 20% needed to the voter's second choice candidate -- this is done by a computer algorithm that has been developed & is easy to apply.)

As you say -- there are only so many ways you can divide a couple dozen seats. Particularly if say roughly 1/3rd of them are elected by the station staff from their ranks (which I think there should be) -- then at most there are about 16 seats, total, to be elected by the members -- and if election of those seats is staggered over 2 or 3 years then in any one election there would be 5-8 seats open. (If elections are going to be staggered over 3 years then we need numbers divisible by 3 -- e.g., 9 staff seats & 15 listener seats)

By simplifying our "diversity" to persons of color & gender -- at least 50% poc & 50% female -- the composition of the board may shift from year to year as persons of different racial/ethnic heritage run (remember it only takes 20% of the vote to get elected). While there can never be a "perfect" distribution of seats by regional demographics ... with good outreach (which requires both effort & intention) a good & changing distribution can be achieved over time.

E.g., If it becomes apparent that not enough Asians or Latinos are running for election ... then the job of everyone is to do the outreach to encourage Asian and/or Latinos to run in the next year's election.

At KPFA, that "outreach" has been somewhat hampered by little air time ... that has to change. And with elected boards that are more than merely "advisory", that WILL change ... likewise, programming. Programming changes take time ... but they are occurring at KPFA & all stations ... and will continue to occur as the boards open up to democratic process ... and begin changing station policies (e.g., the KPFA LAB just finally got representation on our Program Council ... we expect results from that).


----- Original Message -----
From: Robert Johnson
Sent: Monday, April 22, 2002 1:23 AM
Subject: democracy

> The past year has been a wonderful, brain-twisting
> learning curve for me regarding democracy. I hope
> Pacifica programming informs and involves the public
> it reaches with the same conundrums, myths and debate
> on democracy that challenge me.
> No doubt mean-spirited idealogues and their sycophants
> lurk in the wings of public communications to pull
> down Pacifica in its particular exercise of free
> speech. We all fear this and vie over strategies we
> each think would best protect Pacifica. In the age of
> smoke and mirrors and selfish motives couched in
> altruism, simplicity and uniformity of structure and
> process in Pacifica are paramount to enable public
> watchdogs to monitor Pacifica.
> For all its potential, Pacifica is not the salvation
> of the world; it's only a forum. Hopefully, Pacifica
> will be a peaceful-dialogue forum for a community of
> differences (to echo Lew Hill's son, David Moore) and
> the marginalized it champions will shape it. But
> participation is needed to vote, or shape anything for
> good or ill.
> As with any entity, Pacifica's voting privileges
> belong to those active in its culture. Who votes in
> station board elections requires the practical matter
> of proof of active participation. Station membership
> lists comprising those who pledge money to the station
> are the legal responsibility of station executives for
> accounting purposes, and thereby are automatically
> accountable. Membership given to those who volunteer
> time to stations or station boards has station staff
> or board members as witness.
> Under California nonprofit corporation law, a Pacifica
> Foundation member votes for national directors, votes
> on disposition of assets, and (if specified in
> articles of incorporation, or bylaws) votes on
> articles or bylaws. I would rather keep my eye on a
> known, accountable field of foundation members (the
> elected station boards and national directors) than
> vote on grave matters wondering who thousands of other
> members might be. If a vast national membership votes
> wrong by my light, I'm stuck -- I can't fight
> anonymous thousands. My vote counts greatest for
> representatives I can lobby or recall.
> A national election for national directors would be a
> serial nightmare of expense and logistics, and
> candidates could easily be unknown to most voters.
> (We could go Ross Perot with jimmy-rigged,
> no-forethought, instant computer voting on everything
> -- the sucker side of digital divide.)
> Proportional representation, with all its advantages,
> is only as broad as candidate outreach. If candidates
> aren't diverse, those elected won't be. A practical
> solution to constituency representation, without
> pinning hopes on future or present Pacificans to
> pursue outreach, would be to assign seats to the
> station board that guarantee broad representation.
> Here's how I might interpret assigning seats: Rather
> than fill these seats with candidates who qualify
> regardless of the votes they didn't receive (as in the
> KPFA model), let election winners win, filling all
> seats that fit and bearing onus to elect people to any
> seats that don't fit. This avoids electorates seating
> low-vote ineptness and/or opportunism and
> constituencies (subject to hidden or open powerplays)
> supplanting the will of Pacifica voters with poor
> selection.
> This approach to filling unmatched seats relies on the
> home wit and goodwill of those elected, as would their
> then electing national board representatives or
> station manager. Which could be a shaky reliance
> (especially in Houston, DC and L.A. where much of the
> progressive audience was banished) and underscores the
> gravity of the process of their own election. And
> highlights the safety of staggering station-board
> elections over time.
> And which constituencies would be designated to have
> seats?
> First the official demographics (as faulty as they may
> be) of each signal area could be deciphered by race,
> gender, age, ethnicity, income, education, handicaps,
> incarceration, etc. And then the types and numbers of
> those who fall through the cracks (like dayworkers,
> the gay community, the homeless, unwanted aliens,
> those with English as barely a second language, etc.)
> could be somehow estimated.
> And the trickiest part -- all these groups should be
> somehow rated by their representation in society and
> then weighted favorably by their lack thereof,
> following due diligence with any statistics that may
> apply (media, voter, consumer, education, union,
> incarceration, health care, whatever) to determine
> distribution of station board seats (and programming
> to a fair degree).
> In fact, this project sounds so ambitious, I wonder if
> some college department of social science or
> communications could be talked into its undertaking.
> Community radio. Establishing the parameters of
> constituency seats for its station boards based on
> pure population study would be fascinating and
> revealing on many levels.
> But then, how many ways can you cut a couple of dozen
> seats? It would seem that any level-headed,
> good-hearted person could do it. Unfortunately, we're
> not guaranteed such arbiters now or in the future. >
> All of the above points to my belief that the intent
> of Pacifica's mission as it applies now and in the
> foreseeable future should be defined throughout
> Pacifica's national and local bylaws -- including
> provisions for easy recall of any party contravening
> these bylaws by that party's peers, electing or
> appointing body, or Pacifica staff and station members
> at large. One possible recall facilitation: Sign
> resignation before taking office or position. If
> you're bad -- the envelope, please, from an
> independent holder.
> Any elections process can be manipulated. Simplicity
> and uniformity of Pacifica structure and elections
> processes are key to its protection.
> Comments would be welcome.
> Robert Johnson
> WBAI listener

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