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Democracy at Pacifca

From:Lyn Gerry
Sent: Wednesday, November 14, 2001 6:13 AM
Subject: {FP} Essay: Democracy @ Pacifica

Dear All,

The possibility of a mediated settlement to the lawsuits and other recent developments in the Pacifica struggle have heated up discussions regarding "democratizing" Pacifica. I have recently heard people within our movement who I consider admirable, whose lives and work have been dedicated to the sort of values and actions that I believe most of us concerned about Pacifica would appreciate, speak with disparagement about "democracy" at Pacifica.

It was quite clear to me that their feelings of antipathy were not based on seeing democracy as an obstacle to their ability to dominate others, as has been the case with the hijackers, but rather they feared that "democracy" would be used against them as an instrument of domination. Therefore, as a person in this struggle who has been advocating "democracy" and "accountability" since the mid-nineties I wanted to take the liberty to state my concept of democracy and why I think structural and cultural change at Pacifica is essential not only for its future defense and preservation, but also for the realization of its mission vis a vis society more fully.

I hope that this will provoke thought and discussion within the movement. This struggle I believe needs to have larger goals than bringing back banned and fired people and programs, electing or refranchising local boards and replacing malefactors with good people, though all these things are important.

There seems to be a variety of different conceptualizations of what we are trying to achieve. I'm wondering what are genuine differences and what are misunderstandings.

This message is not a "sample by-laws" effort. Before one can even create the nuts and bolts of a structure, I believe we must come to some consensus on what we are trying to achieve, and why. Any structure that favors a maldistribution of power and participation will never yield equity even if weilded by individuals committed to the idea of equity. Nor can a structure designed to promote equity fullfil its intent if inhabited by individuals hostile to its fundamental premise. A structure can however limit the damage such individuals are able to do.

It seems essential to first define what is meant by the terms "democracy" and "accountability " Here's what it means to me: (what does it mean to you?)

1) The people affected by a decision are the ones who make it
2) People who are doing work decide how they do that work.
3) People doing work on behalf of others must be accountable to those others, and work on behalf of the needs of others as well as their own.

I'm sure that you have already noticed that these three notions are potentially in conflict with one another. There is no perfect method of social organization, and in any social group their will always be conflicting as well as congruent interests. The challenge is to create a system that favors equity, and also to approach the implementation of that system with a committment to the goals the system was designed to enable.

I mention this because many committed activists in this struggle do not appear to question the basic premise of how Pacifica is presently structured. Yet, the present structure was a conscious creation designed to disempower all but a few. I submit that even if everyone were to elect the most fabulous people on earth to supplant those presently in control, that this would not remedy the serious problem of how power is distributed. "Well-intentioned" people have abused power as often as "ill-intentioned" people it seems to me.

Let's pretend for example that every "representative" in the US Congress actually represents the interests of the people they purport to represent. Even if I believe that my representative really speaks for me, the fact is that 449 people have more to say about what happens in my community than I do, speaking through my representative.

Looked at this way, this state of affairs is inherently undemocratic in terms of the definition above.

In terms of Pacifica, the notion that national board members and their surrogates (managers) from KPFA, KPFK, KPFT or WPFW, should have more to say about what is broadcast on, for example, WBAI than anyone (and everyone) at WBAI is in my view a structural problem that any meaningful change of governance will have to remedy. In short, the level of democratic empowerment is inversely proportional to the degree of centralization that exists in decision-making ability, based on principle #1 and #2 as defined above.

Yet, as members of "Pacifica" we also have common interests, both on a philosophical and often practical level.

Practical level is the easy one: we may want to have collaborative projects that involve pooling our resources; we then must give a lot of weight to principle #3. So if we jointly fund and produce a daily newscast, we all want to chime in on how to make that cast relevant to our station and community. And if we are working within this structure with a mindset based on equitable goals, we will likewise be concerned that our joint project serves the needs of those with whom we collaborate as well, just as we will expect our collaborators to take our needs to heart.

Those who we task with a job of realizing the project through their work, have to be supported by us. In turn, they have an obligation to do their utmost to realize our collectively agreed upon goal with a good faith effort to accomodate the needs of all concerned.

This all might sound pretty obvious but the reality is that this has happened far less than it ought in Pacifica.

This is not something that can be enforced through a legal instrument such as by-laws. A by-laws could express the right of everyone to participate. The good faith effort to operate the participatory structure fairly and with integrity must come from us as individual participants. A by-law could give us however, the ability to remove persons entering the structure for malevolent purposes - and the lack of that is a major contributing factor to the present state of affairs at Pacifica. And that lack of a structural remedy was quite intentional on the part of the "Five Year PLanners" who put this in motion. Quite simply, they meant to impose their will on others. They meant to dominate.

(Jack O'dell, who recently endorsed the Pacifica campaign, is one of the parties responsible. He has apparently stated with some dismay that "this was not what he wanted to happen." I would argue that anyone who sets out to determine a course for a group of people, and does so through intimidation and against their will, should expect a bad outcome. I would also argue that such an approach is fundamentally at odds with what Pacifica was founded to accomplish. Pacifica was founded by people who understood that one could not build a world of peace, freedom and equality at gunpoint (or "my way or the highway" fiats handed down from on high.)

What about that other level, the philosphical level of common interest? Here the mission is central. Pacifica was founded with a specific purpose, and meant to realize that purpose through broadcasting by exposing to understanding the [mal] functioning of society which led to war, and discussing new ideas that might bring solutions. The recent interview with Robert Farrell published in Random Lengths is a great illustration of someone who, in my view, even given the benefit of the doubt of having good intentions, does not fundamentally understand either the type or method of impact Pacifica broadcasting/discourse was meant to have on society.

Farrell spoke about the need to have "all points of view represented" as his concept of "Free Speech Radio." He mentioned that in the past there had been conservative voices present which he claims are no longer present. ( I dispute his characterization of the present broadcast content, but lets just take his words at face value for the sake of argument)

In the 1960's, broadcasters at KPFK read the John Birch Society manifesto, The Blue Book, on the air in its entirety. By contemporary accounts that I have read, the broadcasters' purpose was not to have a "Noah's Ark" of political perspectives. Rather, the ideas of the John Birch Society were creating controversy. The Pacifica broadcasters wanted to address the ideas the JBS were putting forward, examine them. It therefore seemed necessary to make people aware of what those ideas were . In a way respectful of the intelligence of the audience, the broadcasters presented the position of the JBS in their own words. A listener could gain an understanding of what this group was about, and make their own decisions as to the validity of those ideas. They could also listen to others commenting on the validity of those ideas on the radio with a shared knowledge base to work with. It was about education, learning and full sources of information, of bringing the listener into the dialog as an equal- not "balance" or an arbitrary sort of variety.

The people who founded Pacifica did so because they had something to say and nowhere to say it. This is as true now as then. When Hill went around to pitch his idea to people in the comunity, he didn't visit the American Legion, the Chamber of Commerce (or Democratic Party headquarters.) Pacifica is about something specific. It was not to be some sort of "neutral" broadcasting entity, nor the tool of a political party.

The rallying cry of the original coup group (Pat Scott etc) was that Pacifica needed to "change" to be "relevant" and that those who opposed their will were simply "opposed to change." The reality is that Pacifica has always changed, and evolved, not as an end in itself, but as a by product of its being a haven for the examination of emerging social and artistic movements, many times the first platform where those ideas were spoken about. But the hijack group intended to unilaterally impose a change, one which suited their particular agenda, an arbitrary change, motivated by their own will. And the irony was that they were very much behind the curve of emerging movements, and deftly removed along with the others many of what are now significant voices in the movements that are gathering momemtum. Even if one assumes good intentions on their part, their arrogance was intolerable.

The "anarchic systems" their strategic plan so disparaged were exactly what made it possible to draw innovative people to Pacifica. It was a home for oddballs built by oddballs. Pacifica's founders were not saints, and were products of their time and place, and thus to our comtemporary eyes, perhaps deficient in addressing many of the areas that now seem important to us today. And they themselves fought with new generations coming in who were responding to different concerns and priorities. But they at least let them in the door, something not now happening.

One of my fears, and possibly others' fears, is that an implementation of "democracy" will translate into an implementation of bureaucracy that will create barriers alienating to creative people. I am concerned about the preservation of the principle of what was meant by "Free Speech" in the Pacifica context: That a broadcaster was free to decide what she wanted to say, not subject to the dictates of a management.

This is exactly the type of free speech that the coup was designed to stamp out. Broadcasters, the coup planners intended, would tailor their speech to the political and economic objectives of the management, and the paycheck was one of the instruments that would be put into play to accomplish this. US courts have already ruled that an employee has no free speech rights with respect to the authority of the employer. The erosion of Pacifica as a largely volunteer broadcast force was about control, not improvement. The union busting was about the same thing - a destruction of worker democracy, what they saw as the abrogation of management perogatives. The disenfrachisement of the Local Boards was about being able to control who had those management perogatives.

But I am concerned that some of the people who have been involved with this struggle seem to be similarly authoritarian in their thinking, perfectly comfortable with a system of control, as long as it is they who are doing the controlling.

We must dismantle the structure of control put in place by the hijackers, not merely repopulate it with new controllers. It is founded on something rotten. Their conception of a "network" was backward, corporate, dead. They created a stultifying hierarchy and called it a "network."

Another one of their mantras has been "expanding audience" and those who disagreed were represented as wankers who just wanted to talk to themsleves, just "elitist." I would argue that it is they who were elitist.

They decided that they were the smart ones who knew what was best for everybody. That the listeners, or the potential listeners, were also not too bright, and needed to be fed predigested information which, moreover, was designed to steer those listening into adopting their agenda and position by making them followers.

The original principle of "the intelligent listener" meant presuming the intelligence of the listener. There are a lot of people in this society who are functionally stupid because they have never been addressed as intelligent, they've been conditioned to obey rather than think. There is no tighter link to war and militarism than the culture of obedience, of following the leader, of obeying the order - of "my way or the highway."

The conduct of war depends on a large body of people unaccustomed to thinking for themselves who will obey orders. Our schooling conditions us far more to obedience than to thought. Thanks to the research of Matthew Lasar who has documented what seemed obvious - the founders of Pacifica were more concerned with how they reached out to people than how many they reached out to. They wanted to encourage independent thinking and subvert the culture of obedience. They wanted to create thoughtful determined rebellion against the system of war and its masters.. And they wanted most of all to reach the working class, the cannon fodder. If the soldiers refuse to fight, the war is over, the generals be damned.

But Farrell and the rest of the lot, they want to be in Washington DC, near those "movers and shakers." Even if they were motivated by sincere objectives, this has been, and continues to be a failing strategy to transform society.

Pacifica is about transforming society to end war. Pacifica's founders wanted Pacifica to demonstrate the principles it advocated. To say that this goal hasn't been realized is extreme understatement. I believe that at this juncture, we are called upon to take that goal up again. It's more than just a nice idea. Pacifica will always be under attack. The atmosphere of competition, egoism, insularity and elitism that existed in Pacifica prior to the takeover gave this coup a foothold. Had there not been problems of a serious nature, those who purported to be making "positive changes" would not have gotten the inital support of many who have since realized they erred.

This message doesn't end with a proposal on how to accomplish all this. I certainly don't know how any more than anyone else. If it can be done, we shall have to figure out a way to do it together.

Thanks for your attention.



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