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Some response to revised inclusion/constiuency model

From: John Sheridan
Date: Wed Aug 14, 2002 9:01 pm
Subject: [NewPacifica] Implementing Inclusion - Important Reading

Marc Sapir of the Bay Area wrote this in response to reading the just released Unity Model of elections developed by Mimi Rosenberg and Mark Sanbourne of WBAI.

-- John

Dear John Sheridan,

Thanks for sending around the election proposal of Mimi Rosenberg et al. Because I am so busy with several projects I have not had time to even go to the web site about the by-laws discussions. But since you took the initiative of sending this proposal I did read it through quickly and will make some comments and forward them to savepacifica as well.

Despite some reservations that I have had about the way the KPFA LAB elections are structured I think the KPFA model is far superior to what Rosenberg proposes. Here's why. The Rosenberg proposal embodies a series of errors and misconceptions about politics and movements that have plagued the political left for decades. For example the use of the term affirmative action in the election of political leadership is a distinct oxymoron. I remember it being used by friends representing the Communist Party in San Jose over 20 years ago in advocating and petitioning that people vote for a particular African American who was running for a judgeship. They ignored his political views and behaved as if his political views and comittments were irrelevant or at least less important than his ethnicity (this was before Clarence Thomas). Guaranteeing that there is real and adequate representation of key sectors and classes of the U.S. population in forming a political body is not the same thing as affirmative action at all.

Affirmative action pertains to procedurally assuring the right and ability of oppressed people (as individuals) to compete successfully in an environment which is set up to discriminate against them in various ways. Choosing leaders must always be based upon the popular bases' trust in the views, qualities, experience and integrity of the candidate, and then secondarily, restrictions can be placed to assure that adequate representation of all key constituencies is obtained (as in the KPFA model). I have been a member of an organization that anulled the idea of aiming first to choose concensus leaders. It began with the principle of assured majority "Third World" leadership and that just lead to so much manipulation and opportunism in all directions that I'd like to forget it.

When I talk about misconceptions this is what I mean. Pacifica is operating largely in a cultural political vaccuum. There is no coherent political left in the U.S.; the intelligencia, in general, has betrayed the working class and the working class itself is largely rudderless because of the the cultural assault and domination of all major media by its enemies. Sure there are many important strains and struggles and organizations and activists; but in logical comparison to the analogous period in U.S. history (i.e. during the great depression and the coming of World War II) there is no comparable movement or even pseudo-unity similar to the million person strong Communist Party of that era. To act as though Pacifica can create governing councils or other structures that represent the important vital constituencies in this nation that must coalesce into such a movement is pure idealism.

There is an important role for Pacifica now to help build, strengthen, and integrate those constituencies into a united force or front, but that is much different from pretending, for example, that there are substantial organized communities of color or radical unionists, or any other groupings etc. that could be representative of masses of people. This incoherence and discontinuity is the same problem that stymies the Green Party or the Environmental movement and will for now keep their political influence local and transitory.

Rosenberg et al's response to this complex environment within which Pacifica will try and tranform itself, is to look for a better form or structural solution. Unfortunately, the movement (both within Pacifica and without) is not at a stage where perfecting structure can create major advances. Instead the debate should be over the content of cultural-political radio and how to assure that the stations play a growing role in assisting the various constituency communities in their efforts to learn, to organize, to act. This is not an easy debate because all of the stations have strange eclectic bases including alternative life styles that go far beyond differences like sexual preference which most of us readily accept (a trivial example: as a physician I have to listen to people regularly provide anti-scientific harangues and health advice and information with great "authority" on the air that I know from my own studies to be fraudulent and detrimental to people's health). But given the eclectic nature of the stations, creating a methodology for hammering ourselves into a unified cultural political offensive against Neoliberalism, fascism, and world wide aggressive war is a sensitive and difficult problem that itself should dictate the forms and structures within and around the stations.

The idea of particular organizations (just for example the Black Radical Congress) having representation on a station's LAB or on the National Board is an appealing idea that many have talked about. Or, as in Rosenberg, we could substitute a less coherent group (for example the Latino community of NYC) and this also has appeal. But I highlight two considerations. If the Black Radical Congress wanted to have a prominent representative on the WBAI LAB (say Manning Marable for example) is it not obvious that such a leader could win election without there being such a seat designated? And is that not because this organization is recognized as an African American leadership organization of political importance and stature in opposition to the class structure as well as racism? And who has gone and asked the BRC if they would like to run people for the LABs? This type of activity (asking them) is a much more practical form of assuring the kind of representation and leadership needed than setting aside seats for phantoms of affirmative action.

Secondly, the idea of seats allocated to constituencies, including not only ethnicities, but such groups as GBTG is a resurrection of the ideology of identify politics that we thankfully began to bury after the 80s. It formally structures a leading political body as a confederation or coalition of special interests instead of an organized group of like minded people in pursuit of a common goal. The purpose of assuring diversity, whether in leadership or in membership is not some abstract ideal of "equality". It is to assure that the common goals that a leadership body struggles to formulate and unite upon are inclusive of the needs and interests of people who have differences in experience, perspective, and need. But the main representative role of people in such leadership bodies is representation not of their unique cultural identity but of the common identity of a community at war with a culture of death, greed, and inhumanity. The Rosenberg formulation uses the concept of representativeness to reassert the supremacy and divisiveness of identity politics.

Marc Sapir


From: Patty [ Heffley - CdPNY]
Date: Fri Aug 16, 2002 2:54 pm
Subject: power dominance or sharing?

i am posting these comments from the alliance list as it is the experience i am having with governance here and i suspect it is happening everywhere.

within a thread comes this comment from carol spooner that is commented on by liam kirsher.

but first, the experiment to be democratic is very exciting. since we have the means of public address, it could be very very interesting radio and a way to really empower our society. most people have to buy airtime. we have all we want for our political endeavors, yet we have not used it properly. we have had months to educate and excite the listeners about the changes and the opportunities that exist with making our own accountable governance model, yet they have squandered these past months on keeping the vital information under wraps. after all, what if the already established don't have to share the power and can keep it to themselves? then all this talk would have let the cat out of the bag. it's hard to put a cat back in the bag.......

micheal stewart said "no mundane options". i hope the board and the people in charge have the vision to think outside the usual and think of the possibilities.

this is an important decision and one that is going to last a long time. don't hold back.



Fri, 09 Aug 2002 01:04:17 -0700

> Carol Spooner wrote:
> My personal feeling is that we live in a culture where both white
> dominance and male dominance are the norm ... so "normal" that most
> of us who are not disadvantaged by it don't even notice it (even if
> we oppose it in principle). The bylaws draft I have written say that
> Pacifica will not be dominated by white people or by men ... that
> Pacifica will be different than the culture at large. Many people
> feel that is a good and necessary statement of values ... others,
> obviously, do not.

Liam wrote:

It's true that we don't tend to notice white dominance and male dominance -- especially those of us who are both white and male. I accept that my views may be taken in that light. I would like to say that I share the idea that a diverse Pacifica is a worthy and achievable goal. It's just that I don't think this bylaws draft is a good way to get there.

I think there is a "norm" that is more subtle and insidious than white male dominance. That is, the norm of using power to dominate people that are different than you are. White male dominance is a subset of that. The norm is that power is almost always exercised as power over, rather than power with. That's the norm we really take for granted. So, while the bylaws proposal says that Pacifica will not be dominated by white people or men, the implication is that it will be dominated by some other group -- and in that way, a mirror reflection of the culture at large, not different from it.

I would have thought that our experience with the previous board and executive staff would be enough evidence that personally held values congruent with the Pacifica mission should be our primary concern, not gender or race!

If you want Pacifica to be radically different than the culture at large, make it a model of power sharing; and reject the underlying paradigm of domination which pervades nearly all of our interactions, from internalized thoughts, to personal relationships, to our workplaces, and national politics. Granted, that's hard to do with a bylaw! In its favor, the bylaw would have the effect of forcing people of diverse backgrounds to find some way of working together. That's not such bad thing! But is a bylaw that enforces percentages the best way to bring people together? It doesn't and can't do anything to address the underlying prejudices, fears, ambitions and so on that drive people. And it's not democratic.

Put another way, a system that depends on external inputs (the deus ex machina application of electoral percentages, diversity "czars," rigid guidelines, etc.) is unstable. But a system that can organically evolve by dealing with the underlying issues will be much more stable, and able to withstand the buffeting which seems all but certain in our future. (By the way, I'd like to see the discussion distinguish between numerical dominance and power dominance. In other words, can we allow for the possibility that a committee might have a majority of men but not dominate the women? Using the word dominance to mean both things muddies the issue.)

Liam Kirsher

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