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A Pro and Con for Direct Listener-Sponsor Elections

From: Carol Spooner
Sent: Thursday, June 20, 2002 9:10 AM

Don -- I gave my reasons yesterday for listener & staff-elected local boards, & local board elected national board. Here are some thoughts from John Sheridan.

John wrote--
Pro and Con for Direct Listener-Sponsor (Listener-Member) Elections.


Listener-Sponsors (listener-members) are the most obvious and logical constituency for elections. This is much simpler than other models.

Empowering listeners reverses a trend in the past 10 plus years at Pacifica of top-down, elitist governance. It begins to treat listeners as adults - and not merely as cash cows to be milked regularly then sent out to pasture.

Unelected Local and National Boards presided over or were present at the near-destruction of the network. Direct elections at least to Local Boards if not to both Local and National Boards is an obvious - simple and straightforward antidote to this kind of arrogance and/or ignorance.

Listener elections will encourage grassroots participation, transparency and accountability since elected members come out of the listener base, and are more likely to report back to it, as they can be recalled by it or not re-elected if they behave contrary to its wishes.

Desire to expand or deepen the listener-member base are more likely if the listeners have some structural power within the network. Otherwise efforts to change the listenership rest with a tiny group of unaccountable elites.

Elected seats to the Local Boards are only 7 or 8 per election. To reduce that already small number for a constituency based model is unconscionable.

Standing for elections with the other listeners is a ritual everyone who wants power within Pacifica should have to perform, except for staff who at a minimum still must be elected by other staff.

When the Local Boards become Governing Boards, with real power, it will be more important than ever that elections be before the listener-members.

Direct listener elections can be tied to educating the listeners, as well as to coincide with fund raising, with a Folio, referenda, and other demographic information gathering to better understand patterns of voter participation. Weaknesses or strengths that can be gleaned from voting patterns can then be made the subject of on-air discussion and rectification.

Direct listener elections have already resulted in most active Local Board in memory at KPFA. The last Local Board meeting lasted over FOUR HOURS. Why? Because the Local Board members at KPFA were elected and many of the listener-electorate were in the audience asking relevant questions. It has become a very good relationship - and this is without the Local Board even having much power prior to bylaws changes.

Direct listener-member elections protect the "one person - one vote" philosophy which is an inherently fair form of voting, which would be easily undermined by a constituency or appointment model.

Staff of the stations will listen more to the listeners if the listeners have more power, unlike much of the current situation.

A large number of members of the Foundation make it less likely to be taken over from above.

Creating a constituency or appointment model may result in it becoming a permanent structural reality, making direct listener-member elections impossible in future, as the entrenched elites consolidate power and block more democratic reform. The opposite is true if listener-members are elected.


Too few listeners may vote. But 15-20% of KPFA listener-subscribers voted, with minimal air time devoted to elections, in the midst of a national election one year and a national emergency the second. This is significantly higher than the average voter turnout for non-profits.

Too few voters are people of color. This is a problem at most levels of the network. How is an unelected Local Board or station staff supposed to rectify these long-standing problems - by hand-picking other institutional elites? No one elected these Local Boards. Instead, giving the listener-members the vote while we can, and then working like hell to develop the listener base and simultaneously recruit good candidates of color - who also support the Mission - is a better solution.

Listeners who don't believe in the Mission could infiltrate the electorate. Very difficult to do this in general because of the logistics, cost and the fact that these thousands of infiltrators would need stealth candidates to vote for, who, even if elected, once found out would be able to be recalled if necessary at the Local level.

Listeners don't know anything about radio. Many don't but many do. Natural leaders will arise out of the electorate, leaders who are more likely to listen to the listeners rather than to institutions or other elites about what should be done. Once real power rests in the Local Boards then knowledgeable listener-members will be likely to come forward.

Other minorities are not well-represented in the listener-membership pool. There is no proof that a small, elite group of unelected and unaccountable Local Board and staff members will make any effort to include the poor, particularly in their elite group, or lesbians and gays or persons with disabilities. This is just leaving that to those already unelected to decide. How is that democratic, and if the listening demographic is changed, who will change the entrenched model of choosing constituencies, once it is in place?

Radical ideas need a seat on any Board and elections don't guarantee radicalism. Elections don't prevent it either. Proportional Representation allows for organized minority candidates to have a very good chance of being elected. Also, creating affirmative action guidelines for various important groups is a very good fall back since avoiding the use of affirmative action inspires recruitment of very good and diverse candidates so that those guidelines do not need to be invoked.

The Mission needs to be protected. Again, unaccountable and unelected elites are necessary to do this? Prove it - you mean as they have done the past decade when people of color, activists, women, and volunteers were purged from station after station? The poor track record of insider politics at Pacifica speaks for itself.

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