wbai.net Pacifica/WBAI history   events   links   archive   bylaws etc
PNB   LSB   elections   contact info   opinion   search

LAB elecitons 8-22-01

From: jim Dingeman jimdingeman@y...
Date: Tue Aug 21, 2001 5:25 pm
Subject: The elections issue


It is clear to me after being back in New York City that the lines of battle have been drawn severely in New York, far more rigidly than I imagined from being in California for months. To me one of the most intriguing aspects of the level of conflict that has emerged is the fashion and manner the entire elections issue has been presented on list servs and in the flesh in meetings in New York. There is much that is not openly thrust into the debate over this and many from afar throughout the United States have commented or tacitly leaned to one side or another in the imbroglio that New York Pacifica politics is.

All the station areas have different political and local differences regarding the internal politics of the staff, the listeners, the LAB, their inter-relationship to each other and their historic relationship to the policies of the PNB. Being in California for six months only gave me a smattering of what is going on in the KPFA signal area and having never been a KPFA staff member the internal politics of what is going on remains a glimmer to me. This is equally true of Houston, Washington and LA. I read all the posts, pay attention to the differences between various parties concerning the relationship between all the actors and still remain somewhat confused. Trying to get a grip on the KPFA situation gave me an understanding into how difficult it is for many people in EVERY signal area to try to figure out what is going on. I only confess to having a better than average understanding of New York.

Since returning to New York from California I must confess that I am happy I have not been directly involved PHYSICALLY in what has been evolving here. It is clear that the battle lines are akin to the famous photos of before and after WW I battlefields in Europe, pockmarked with emotional craters and debris scattered pell mell.

I did have the privilege of seeing first hand the functioning of an elected lab in California while I was there. Yes, it is not perfect, it is marred by all the usual political foibles that human beings are always capable of, power seeking, ego-tripping and plotting. This goes with any human political endeavor I have ever looked at or experienced. On the other hand , there are possibilities that exist that are far more exciting than the barriers imposed by the old self-selecting system that all the local advisory boards have been hamstrung with; namely the imperfection of narrow self-selection. In this case, less than twenty-five individuals, however well meaning, brilliant, politically savvy and "right on", ultimately only face the test of their decisions from themselves and the willingness of their local public to mobilize to express their opinion.

It has been recounted that less than a half hour of time was allocated by KPFA during the first LAB election. What would the difference be if literally hours of time was spend at different times in the various signal areas having open and unfettered debated over the issues that have been gnawing at the innards of the crisis? I am not talking about radio set up to propagate and reinforce a complex "line " of argumentation, I am talking about the depth and complexity of the roots of the problems, a radical approach.

This is unlikely at the present with the board majority in control and probably difficult to imagine if the result of an interim settlement with the dissidents victorious . It is very likely that a Thermidor will happen, with already advertised show trials and purge lists being debated openly and privately implemented with verve. Many grudges are openly being played out by some of the present staff inside the station and I have no doubt that the return of the fired and banned will lead to a replay of exactly what we are seeing today with a whole set of new characters.

Throughout all this there is little to no talk about what it is people actually envisage as the new "order" inside the stations? Is it simply a return to the 1999 staff power balanace that did not have any timely instrumentalities for listeners to have any inkling of what was going on inside WBAI and Pacifica? Too much has gone on locally and nationally for a return to that situation but much of what is going on is predicated on the glib assumption that simply ridding the board of the "evil" majority will lead to a new and improved Pacifica? This assumption is not proven with the hard reality of all the machinations and intrigue that have gone on by everybody since September of last year.

So why do some find the issue of elections so frightening? Some of the issues raised need greater debate and clarity since the actual people being included in these debates in New York seems to have diminished since December. When the airwaves were controlled by the previous "Vanguard" the meetings were enormous, 1,300-1,500. Since then the meetings have shrunk to 50-75 people, albeit highly motivated. Nevertheless, the questions raised concerning listener empowerment have been increasingly debated by various factions that have vested interested in opposing or favoring elections. The questions of why the structural basis of how each station functions are obfuscated by this debate.

More fundamental to that issue is the glaringly obvious fact that unlike in California where great attention has been paid in large public meetings to what and how an interim settlement and board could or should look like little to none of that seems to have been done here in New York. This is indeed odd since the obvious fact that without any significant bottom up listener mobilization or empowerment the present structure of who will be rewarded by the configuration of personalities on the lawsuits is the present LAB. That this obvious fact has not been fully debated and pushed forward is quite puzzling to me.

Back in 1995 when this crisis began big time for people here in New York(not elsewhere, it had been going on there for years before us), I was one of a handful of people on any local advisory board anywhere in Pacifica who openly took the PNB on. It was obvious to me that the fact that all the LAB members were self-selected, chosen by factional inclination or some other measurements of desirability, did not equal a LAB prepared to fight the PNB or the ED of that time, Pat Scott. I should note that I and my associate at the time, Max Schmid, were subjected to a electorate of 150 plus producers as opposed to 20 LAB members. This does not mean that this guaranteed our willingness to fight them but I have no doubt that those who followed, Errol Maitland, Mimi Rosenberg, and Sybil Wong, fought the PNB also. This is not to say I agree with the first two named people because I do not but they were elected from a body that they had to be responsive to and also are whatever my differences with them are, cannot be said to be shrinking violets.

How much different and energizing would it be to have a local advisory board elected with a engaged and energized listenership base of thousands? With the ability of the listeners to throw the "bums" out if they felt their adherence to the mandate the voters gave them was not being fulfilled. The analogies that some make to the pitfalls of the election process are well know and emphasize many points I myself agree with. The comparison to Chile sometimes put forth I must confess is a laughable stretch since there is no hyperfunded 40 Committee running around dispensing NSC covert operation funds in this process so far as I can tell. In addition, to bring that proposition up when some have had no problem using the haute bourgeois Congress as a platform for national publicity seems having your cake and eating it to.

The issue about the elections process is integrated with the deeper question of setting up checks and balances so listeners will not be subjected to the control of the airwaves by one point of view that seeks to mold their minds this way or that for their own purposes. While some may bemoan the present regimes "disrespect" for the listeners it is equally a fact that the past regime did no great service in alerting the tens of thousands of listeners to what was happening until it became obvious that their own grip on the airwaves was threatened. Who loses in this? The tens of thousands of highly intelligent and opinionated people who make up the audience of WBAI radio. This audience is diverse, 40-45% African-American or Afro-Caribbean,40-45% Euro-American,10-15% Hispanic, and 5% Asian American. Those figures are based on the arbitrons of the past ten years and I sure they may have gone up or down on any of those indices. Are they perfect measures, absolutely not!! Do they provide guidelines, yes coupled with many other inputs of information.

A widely publicized and openly advertised election to the LAB , with a well prepped PR campaign, could help to alter the demographic arrangements of the present listenership. I am as familiar with the 2001 statistics locally as the next but I do not see any simple measure that beats the paid listener subscriber as the fulcrum of the election. The opening of the election base in California to youth drew a feeble response because the youth are clearly not listening to the stations in any of the signal areas in numbers reflective of their population. But the idea of an informed and engaged community with a top down and bottom up, vertically, horizontally,diagonally flowing information and ideas is what a Pacifca station is all about. It is time to put the crassness of power seeking aside and feel the absoulte necessity for the people to be fully engaged and informed in all the ramifications of what is going on, especially the REAL MEANING of what a sudden collapse of the board majority would mean with a interim court ordered PNB.

This why the issue of elections is so much greater than all the bitter squabbling.

Jim Dingeman

opinion | home