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listener request

From: Robert Johnson
To: Pacifica National Board
Cc: WBAI Local Station Board
Sent: Monday, July 26, 2004 5:16 AM
Subject: listener request

Dear Members,

I've listened to WBAI, warts and all, for about twenty-five years. Sometimes its courage and beauty wet my eyes. As a listener, in autumn of 2000, I joined the movement to depose the PNB corporatist cabal and to reinstate the fired and banned staff of WBAI. Predominately, former staff led the movement in New York. They led with the slogan, "Whose station? Our station!"

When time came to develop bylaws for democratic governance of Pacifica, I learned this slogan's double meaning: For some, "Our station!" applied to a few rather than to the bulk of listener-supporters. This application was couched in the premise that these self-selected few were the final arbiters of "peace and justice" and knew best how to bring WBAI's various listening communities into a governance structure -- via changing schemes of entitlements that included almost anything but direct elections by an undivided electorate.

About forty people comprising mainly listeners regularly attended six months of WBAI Bylaws Revisions Subcommittee meetings. The subcommittee co-chairs, Ray Laforest and Janice K. Bryant, both members of the WBAI LAB and the iPNB, refused to bring the subcommittee's recommendations to the iPNB's first meeting in Berkeley. Before the Berkeley meeting, I spoke over the phone for about three hours with Ray, urging him to present these recommendations. Later, in a conversation with Leslie Cagan and Janice K., I said that after so many weeks of meetings, I would feel like a chump if the bylaws subcommittee wasn't represented in Berkeley. To no avail.

Bob Lederer, a WBAI paid producer, is a quiet leader and tireless organizer, adept on the chessboard of parliamentary procedure. He skillfully conducted activist planning into the early morning hours before meetings of the old PNB. After one of these planning stints in Houston, we shut down that day's PNB meeting.

After the iPNB was formed, Bob turned his talents to delaying bylaws ratification. He led end runs around iPNB procedure. In Washington, he was finally reprimanded by the chair for running up to Ray Laforest's side at the conference table to whisper in Ray's ear. Meanwhile, a handful of Bob's cohorts yelled demands from the audience. In a meeting hall of St. John the Divine in New York, Bob led about a dozen people in the physical disruption of an iPNB meeting. The reason for Bob's efforts? To railroad a bylaws proposal submitted after deadline.

Bernard White, WBAI Program Director, is laid-back and affable when not intimidating perceived "others" with his position. He has surrounded himself with a small cadre of belligerent associates, creating an atmosphere of fear and favor. Cerene Roberts, known for being contentious, is ubiquitous at the station, with vaguely defined duties. Fred Nyugen, infamous for gratuitous and rabid race-baiting on and off web lists, is now a reporter for WBAI news. Muntu Matsimela began to show up in the final bylaws subcommittee meetings, shouting and pointing the race card at strangers. Muntu is now the station's Special Projects Coordinator. Bok-keem Nyerere, who worked for the Pacifica Campaign, is now WBAI's Outreach Coordinator.

Ironically, Bok-keem and Muntu are now presumably scrambling to bring in even enough listener contributions to pay their salaries. The idea of moving listener contribution forward for new station projects or even fiscal health remains a hope deferred.

Bok-keem's latest most visible effort was to organize a WBAI "Black Caucus" meeting (perhaps financed by WBAI?) at Riverside Church. The meeting's theme was "WBAI STATE OF EMERGENCY: The Push to Remove Africans from the Top." Bernard White, Bok-keem Nyerere, Muntu Matsimela and Ray Laforest were among the scheduled speakers. Even with use of WBAI airwaves to announce this event, the meeting drew not many over 100 people, half of whom were familiar attendees of WBAI gatherings.

I hear fine rhetoric on the air from individuals who stonewall, filibuster and disrupt the democratic process of the LSB and its committees. They wrap themselves in the banners of almost every noble cause, and then do almost anything to keep messy democracy, with its inconvenient need for transparency and accountability, from facilitating review of station management and finances. They block the work of the LSB under guise of combating racism. The general message, as broadcast by producer Mimi Rosenberg, seems to be that people of European descent should step aside to allow people of color to determine their own affairs. Bernard White's cadre appears to extrapolate this broad notion to the business of WBAI and its LSB.

Ideological wrangles are part and parcel of democratic process, but continued disruption is killing this process. Disruptive actions have become physical and legally actionable. The hostess of the site of the last LSB meeting had to take the mike to say, "If I see someone get hit one more time, I will call the police." These tactics chill attendance of these public meetings. Some parties feel physically intimidated. Other parties, unafraid of schoolyard bullies, don't need schoolyard altercations in their adult lives.

Dan Coughlin, long-time friend of Ray Laforest, stays true to his New York crew. Coughlin helped midwife Amy Goodman's sweetheart deal with Pacifica. Coughlin also has virtually ignored, for a year, complaints against Erroll Maitland, once Amy's engineer at WBAI, of physical assault against a female listener.

Some of the individuals mentioned are sincere advocates of a better society and may believe their own rhetoric, or at least what they hear. Unfortunately, they continue to use one of the lowest cards in the deck -- race-baiting -- as their trump card in self-appointed control of WBAI.

The WBAI signal area covers well over sixteen million people in one of the world centers of culture, business, media and politics. As the world enters pivotal times, WBAI is losing listener support due to internal problems that translate negatively across 50,000 watts of community radio.

As the first elected Directors of the Pacifica Foundation, you are entrusted with a unique legacy and the grave responsibility to set in place the personnel and organization that can begin to realize the Pacifica network's untapped potential. Please take all actions necessary to ensure democracy in the governance of the New York station.

Robert Johnson [WBAI area]

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