Open Letter Regarding Campaigning at WBAI
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OPEN LETTER TO THE PACIFICA COMMUNITY REGARDING WBAI
First, I must say that I respect the talent and intelligence of people that I'm about to disagree with. I believe that many have been convinced, or have convinced themselves that their actions are properly warranted and necessary. One thing that we all seem to have in common is that we believe, within the context of our own life experience, that conclusions we're making are correct and that the things that we've been told about each other are true - though doesn't mean that they are.
WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?
It's all about the upcoming WBAI Local Station Board (LSB) election.
The core organizers of the "Justice and Unity Campaign" (JUC) have launched a by-any-means-available coordinated campaign aimed at discrediting current local board members and gaining a majority on the WBAI LSB in the upcoming election.
"It will be a chance to get up to date, ask any questions you may have, and plug into the urgent work to build a resistance to what this board is trying to do, and a campaign to change the makeup of the Board in the upcoming Local Station Board election -- at which half of the 24 seats will be at stake. " - Bob Lederer in an email announcement of the July 10th WBAI Black Caucus "Town Hall Meeting."
What is the defining characteristic of JUC? How are they different than the groups and individuals who they criticize or attack? Is it that JUC is anti-racist and that the others are not? Is it that JUC cares about the best interest of WBAI/Pacifica and support the mission, and the others do not? The answer to both of these questions is NO. The main difference is that the core of JUC are, or are allied with, people who run WBAI, and the people they oppose are not. The core of JUC is comprised of longtime WBAI producers and staff who have the support of the program director who allows for their grossly unbalanced use of air time to promote their agenda - himself regularly taking verbal on-air potshots at people who are openly critical of management and whose seats JUC aims to usurp in the upcoming election.
The key issue at any community radio station is control over turf (airtime and jobs). JUC people have had this control for years, and they intend to maintain it using a classic primary political weapon: race. The July 10th WBAI Black Caucus event entitled, "Wbai State Of Emergency: The push to remove Africans from the top - Emergency Town Hall Meeting" was a clear example. (More on this below.)
I am calling for those from, or connected with, JUC - particularly WBAI staffers Bob Lederer, Muntu Matsimela, Ayo Harrington, Mimi Rosenberg, Cerene Roberts, Sheila Hamanaka, and Eddie Ellis - to PLEASE stop attempting to divide our staff and community along the lines of race in order to further their agenda. These actions are in gross violation of the Pacifica mission:
"(d) In radio broadcasting operations to engage in any activity that shall contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors; " I also call on this group to cease it's deliberate, calculated obstruction of the function of the WBAI LSB via a campaign of constant verbal disruption and intimidation during meetings. The truly Pacifican thing for people to do would be to try and reach out to those who need enlightenment, not exploit shortcomings in order to maintain power.
BUT JUC BUILDS THEIR ARGUMENTS AROUND LEGITIMATE GRIEVANCES, SO ALSO:
I call on Luanne Pennesi and Steve Brown to publicly, clearly, and specifically apologize for their statements made in reactionary manner - that not only have unnecessarily created, or have been used to create, a distressing amount of tension and ill will, but ironically prevent any broad understanding of the views that they are attempting to express.
I call on WBAI LSB members who facilitate various LSB committee meetings to make a greater effort towards fairness, due process and sensitivity.
I call on the few WBAI LSB members who have come at WBAI management with a combative, demanding tone in seeking answers on issues and in formal information requests to cease to do so. The LSB has the right to all those things, but also has a responsibility as board members and human beings to be as considerate as possible to those who operate the station.
I also call on the top management at WBAI to PLEASE stop making unbalanced statements that spin and exaggerate reality in attempt to turn the staff and public against the new LSB - such as the PD's charging members of the board with "trying to change the complexion of the station," and the attempt to create the impression that the LSB's main duty is to raise money - as if they were to blame for the financial difficulties. (The reference to fundraising takes up only 7 words in the 446 word LSB job description in the Pacifica bylaws). While this may be gaining you some misguided support, it's doing much real harm to the WBAI/Pacifica community and is in violation of your job requirements and the Pacifica mission.
THE JULY 10TH "EMERGENCY TOWN HALL MEETING" AT RIVERSIDE CHURCH
I attended The July 10th meeting sponsored by the WBAI Black Caucus at Riverside church which promoted the "Justice and Unity" slate for the upcoming LSB election. The invited speakers consistently delivered astute observations woven seamlessly in a distressing degree of exaggeration and spin. These were mostly WBAI on-air producers, people who one would hope would be concerned with truth and accuracy. Some of the speakers were also WBAI LSB members, and one was a Pacifica National Board member. The presentation was 100% one sided. No speakers of opposing views were invited, though a few spoke during a public comment period. People who were being charged with serious misconduct were not invited to respond. There was considerable hypocrisy. All this is consistent with the style of the several recent completely one-sided on-air segments by JUC members on WBAI.
While most of the accusations made by the speakers applied to one or two people (perhaps 4 at most), the strategy was to paint the majority of the LSB as all sharing the same bad characteristics and intentions in order to get people to vote for only JUC candidates. Most of the remarks leveling charges at the LSB were at best gross exaggeration and spin, at worst blatant misinformation.
The main theme repeated at the meeting was that non-JUC board members are racists and want to replace the management because they are people of color - not over issues of policy and performance. This is extremely manipulative, divisive and untrue.
Opening speaker Eddie Ellis:
"Unfortunately, that local station board is dominated by people who are hell bent on changing both the complexion and the content of WBAI is all about."
"And What we see now is a protracted, well financed, well organized racist campaign to eliminate black leadership, to minimize leadership of people of color, to marginalize progressive whites, to denigrate labor, and to totally disregard the community's input in this station, it's management and its policy."
WBAI Program director Bernard White: "We have a group of ah, individuals who are dead-set on changing the complexion and the composition of WBAI."
Paul Washington (chief of staff to NYC councilman Charles Barron): "The programming of WBAI's radical, black , progressive, Afro-Centric agenda must be maintained and empowered and elevated by any means necessary."
Another way to demonize anyone in the activist community is to label them as "anti-affirmative action." Mimi Rosenberg spent a good deal of time spinning the non JUC people as being anti-affirmative action because they were in opposition to her, and others', proposed bylaw provisions which they considered to be unworkable.
No solid proof of any of these charges was presented. They did present out of context quotes from strident, fairly offensive emails of 2 or 3 individuals and made available printed copies.
If there was any doubt that this meeting was designed to promote the JUC campaign:
Ray Laforest, Shiela Hamanaka, Mimi Rosenberg, Bob Lederer, Ayo Harrington and others also made statements plugging JUC.
There were a couple of blatant admissions of plans to use official WBAI facilities for their campaign:
Sheila Hamanaka - "This movement is only going to grow. WE'RE GOING TO USE THE RADIO, we're going to get more people involved. "
Don Debar (contributor to wbai.org) said that he would be posting his contact info on wbai.org in the "local news" section in order to organize a contact list.
Another recurring accusation was that the WBAI LSB has created so much stress for GM Don Rojas that it is the reason he is resigning. But the situation for the new GM was extremely difficult right from the beginning. When he started in January 2003 he met with an established order of things that made it very difficult to make substantial changes and implement needed reorganization. Recent attempts to blame the WBAI LSB for the GM's increased stress and other problems hold some validity but leave out much of the story and are mainly are an attempt to shift blame to a convenient target. After all, the LSB has only existed since February 2004. The GM has been on the job for a year and a half and the JUC folks have been running the station for years.
JUC claims that the rest of the LSB members are trying to destroy the station. But most of the people they are referring to worked long and hard to help save WBAI and Pacifica and are responsible for bringing elections to the network. People they are attempting to smear are putting in many long volunteer hours in an effort to try get things done on the local and national level.
"So, they want to strip WBAI and Pacifica of it's radical format, it's anti-imperialist emphasis on social Justice movements, exposing U.S. imperialist state, identifying those struggles in our communities - of historically oppressed communities, marginalized communities, historically disenfranchised communities, communities of African people - of African descent , of African ancestry, people of - Latino people - of the broad pan-Latin American community, the broad pan-African community, Asian people, people who are engaged in social Justice movements [...]"
How does he know this? There are 24 people on the WBAI local board, who specifically is Muntu referring to? It appears that he is simply trying to incite people to hate the board and to vote JUC.
Eddie Ellis (repeated from above):
Sheila Hamanaka attempts to align non-JUC LSB members with the U.S. government and right wingers in a plot to prevent Pacifica from reaching 600 million potential listeners with a progressive message. She tries to twist objections to "identity politics" into being "code" language by whites who are really saying that 'I should be on top.' But it wasn't only whites that objected to "identity politics" during the formation of policy for Pacifica elections, which is when the issue was raised.
The JUC website states: "We need your help to build the pressure on the WBAI Local Station Board to stop harming the station. We also need all hands on deck to mount a campaign to elect a much more progressive Board this fall (9 of the 18 listener seats are up for election; nominations open July 25)." and signs the statement," Wbai Black Caucus And Wbai Justice & Unity Campaign" [http://JUCsticeunity.org/news.html]
Bob Lederer's task at this meeting was to do a smear job on JUC's opponents from a historical perspective. He feigned shock and awe over the fact that, while at the same time that "this group of people" was being critical of the old Pacifica National Board, they were also critical of WBAI management. He fails to mention that many people from all perspectives at WBAI were, at that time, disapproving of the former GM. They felt she had aided the former PNB in undermining labor rights at the station. The former GM had also hired the current PD when the majority of the staff polled indicated that they preferred someone else. Bob goes on to try and blame the non-JUC people for increasing the difficulties in reclaiming the network that Bob and his friends never should of lost in the first place. One of the main objections that the people Bob is referring to had back in '99 is that WBAI did little or nothing to inform or educate the listeners about the situation at Pacifica when KPFA in Berkeley was taken out by the old PNB.
Bob Lederer has a record of revisionism. The Pacifica timeline that he helped supply for the 2001 Concerned Friends of WBAI 'tabloid' was so exclusive of the listeners' role in the free-Pacifica movement that a supplement had to be printed up and inserted at the last minute. The history page on WBAI's website's of which he has been the paid 'temporary editor' of for a year and a half, is still blank. (http://wbai.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=53&Itemid=28)
Bob's comment, "Except then we turned to the task of constructing new democratic bylaws to try to prevent this kind of coup from ever happening again." is dumbfounding! The democratic part of "new democratic bylaws" was conceived by the people he is currently bashing as a solution for providing for previously absent accountability in order" to prevent this kind of coup from ever happening again." In fact back in 2001 Bob and friends were against elections - essentially a key element in listener/staff empowerment and "self determination." Now they are laying claim, posing as the originators!
Continuing on, Bob came around to the main theme of the night,
which is that non-JUC people are racist - "we found that the
same group of people who had been so hostile to the management
at the station was also hostile to the idea incorporating
affirmative action guarantees so that the leadership of, not
only people of color, because we fought for a formula that
would ensure that both people of color and women had
important roles in leadership at this network at all levels and
also lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people, and
also people with disabilities." Bob neglects to mention that
the real reason that people opposed his and other affirmative
action related bylaws proposal's was that, potential legal issues
aside, the proposals were considered to be unworkable and
highly open to manipulation. The iPNB bent over backwards
extending the mandated one year bylaws revision process by
an extra year and a half to accommodate Bob and his group's
proposals over and over again at the expense of tens of thousands
of dollars and the sapping the crippled network of much of it's
Bob goes on to mention the [completely legal and open] mailing by JUC opponents during the last election, "And so they did a slick mailing, bought, used thousands of dollars for the postage to mail to every member to make sure that they would vote for that group of people." He fails to mention that "that group of people" didn't have sufficient access to the listeners via the airwaves like Bob and company do. JUC are the status quo - they control and have abused the airwaves to support their agenda.
Just before the June 2004 PNB meeting in Houston, the LSBs were informed that they needed to turn in a brief written report. In the short time available the elected officers of the WBAI LSB put a report together. Bob - "And uh, things got to the point, uh, after these, these people used their access to the Pacifica National Board meeting where reports were given from the local board of the status of things locally, they used this to make a very biased and one-sided report" What that report did was go beyond the customary fluff, but it stuck to the facts - particularly the fact that the last 4 WBAI fund drives needed to go into overtime to raise what they did, which is an indication of problems at the station. A "one-sided report"? This accusation was extremely hypocritical. JUC on-air segments on WBAI over the last month or so have been exactly that.
Bob wraps up by linking JUC with everything good and implying that anyone else is trying to silence their voice and the voices of the oppressed. He urges people to, "be at meetings, to make your voices known through all kinds of pressure [.] keep WBAI on it's mission to be the voice of the voiceless [.] in the next period of governance where there will be true Justice for all people . " - a fine example of classic campaign spin doctoring.
Another theme was demonizing last years Pacifica election. Bob Lederer, Mimi Rosenberg and others from this group have been against elections and increased listener involvement at the network from the beginning. As recent as a couple of months ago Lederer demonized listeners during an Unpaid Staff Organizing Committee (USOC) meeting. He urged the station staff to participate in LSB committees in order to counter attending WBAI listeners who would be making "unreasonable demands." But now that elections have been established the JUC buzzword is "self determination.", something that never existed for many under their reign on the Local Advisory Board (the predecessor to the LSB).
She fails to mention that most problems with the first Pacifica/WBAI election stemmed from the inadequate membership databases - a longtime failing of station management, and inadequate on-air promotion - something also in realm of management, particularly the program director who JUC is supporting.
Muntu Matsimela suggests that elections are a plot to take over:
This is a gross distortion. The LSB doesn't dictate policy, it only recommends it. The one binding decision that the LSB makes is to approve the budget. Everything else that the LSB does ends with a recommendation to the PNB or management. Muntu goes on to explain that the way to control the PNB (the Pacifica board of directors) is to control the five LSBs and that there is a nationwide plot to do so. If this is the case, JUC is as interested as anyone doing so.
Cerene Roberts had the audacity to accuse WBAI LSB chair Bertold Reimers, "of being in campaign mode all along when he calls in on -air" Once again the hypocrisy is considerable. Cerene has been directly responsible for completely unbalanced on-air segments that support her group's agenda in the same way that this completely one-sided "town hall meeting" did.
The purpose of this meeting was to turn communities of color, particularly the black community, against the current majority of the WBAI LSB and to get votes for JUC. This current JUC campaign is extremely destructive and shamefully exploitative and the aim is to maintain the current status quo within the station the station. The statements made by various JUC people at the July 10th "Emergency Town Hall meeting" at Riverside Church were aimed at doing exactly the opposite of the mission - they were not aimed at contributing to "a lasting understanding", but a misunderstanding.
There were somewhat positive, constructive, responsible statements made by Larry Ham (People's Organization for Progress), Louis Reyes Rivera (Perspective), Danny Vila (Latino show) and a few others during public comment.
This letter does not claim to speak for the WBAI LSB or PNB.
Roger Manning [editor of wbai.net]
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