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

Carol, Patty and Jim

From: Carol Spooner
Date: Thu Aug 23, 2001 6:29 am
Subject: what democracy at Pacifica means to me

When my husband Gregory and I first got involved in the Pacifica fight 2-/12 years ago, the first thing we found out was that many had gone before us -- Lyn Gerry, Maria Gilardin, Curtis Gray, Jeff Blankfort -- and had done tremendous work -- documenting what had been happening at Pacifica since the late '80s/early '90s, trying to alert people, the staff, the LABs, the CPB, anyone who would listen -- and not getting very far. They were just "disgruntled former employees" who were brushed off by just about everyone who could have done something about it.

The first thing I did was go to Lyn Gerry's terrific web page www.radio4all.org/freepacifica and read the Archives. There I read the "Strategic Plan" for Pacifica -- the first version was approved by the board in 1992 & the second version in 1997. Reading those documents, I was horrified. It was filled with code words for let's pick our target markets in each signal area, dumb things down, get rid of the political programming, find some easy niche music & produce a few national programs to try to compete with NPR. And if we have any problems with local staff, then bust the unions and get rid of the volunteers, then pitch the paid staff against each other in competition for air time and job security -- purge all the interesting programs that sound a little funky -- go to strip programming, get rid of the Folios so no one can figure out what we're doing, look for foundation grants to pay for this so we're not dependent on the pesky listeners, and find some wealthy board members to help get us entrees to the big money donors.

That about sums it up in a nutshell. I wondered how anyone could read this and think this was a "vision" for Pacifica. There was no vision there. I had read the same document -- prepared by consultants who went to the same schools -- in other settings where the "ethic" had to change from "public service" to the bottom line ... particularly in the health care "industry" where nurses, doctors & patients needed to be re-programmed. Just change the buzzwords and the industry slang, and you could grind this "strategic plan" document out for just about any "business plan" where the employees & public need to be retrained and their ethics redefined.

Anyway, I thought, if the listeners had known about this at the time, they're too smart, they would never have approved this shit. So, that's when I first thought that we should have elected boards that have to discuss things, important policy issues, in the open and on the air with the listeners.

Then, in July 1999, when KPFA was shut down for 23 days and occupied by armed goons with FBI backgrounds and the board wasted over $500,000 on Lynn Chadwick's & Mary Frances Berry's little temper tantrum because we didn't want our station shut down and reprogrammed & we thought the idea of a sale was a bad one, too, I realized that no one had the power to vote the people responsible for this out of office. They had changed the bylaws so that they were accountable to no one but themselves, and most of them were asleep or bored or just didn't care ... so a few were driving things in this totally weird militaristic fashion and wondering why we didn't like it, and getting madder and crazier the more we told them we didn't like it, and more vindictive.

So, I started researching how to get rid of them, and found out we had to get permission from the California Attorney General to sue them. That was a project that occupied the next year ... we (12 listeners) were finally granted standing to sue in September 2000. (Actually, it is amazing that we were granted standing. To my knowledge the AG has not granted "relator" status to sue to remove directors in about 50 years.)

I never want anyone to have to go through that again. That was one of the main motivations for our putting in our complaint that the "listener-sponsor" must be granted "membership" status in Pacifica -- because they don't need the AG's permission to sue.

My friend John Whiting (KPFA in the '60s) wrote to me from London not long ago that the Lewis Hill's fear of takeover by "outsiders" caused him to create a system that was from the beginning vulnerable to takeover by "unassailable corruption" from within. That's what happened. And it happened slowly, almost imperceptably, over a 20-year period, I think.

So, as I was making the 1-1/2 hour drive down to the court hearing today, I was thinking philosophically about "what democracy at Pacifica means to me." I had lots of good thoughts, and I thought everyone who says anything about this nowadays gets tarred and feathered, so maybe its my turn. But, you know, despite resistance and doubters at KPFA, we really didn't have all that much trouble getting it done, other than the time it took to hammer out the election plan & then to convince enough people to be candidates and then hold the elections -- about a year, all told. But the conviction to do it grew all along, because most people believed it was necessary to preserve and protect what we had all fought so hard for during the lockout.

Now, most eligible listeners didn't vote. KPFA has 24,000 subscribers and only about 5,000 of them voted. I don't know why. Some people say that getting over 20% is great for a non-profit. Maybe so. I guess it proves what one of my friends says -- that most listeners just want the station on the air with the kind of programming they expect from KPFA without having to do much about it themselves. They have lives & KPFA informs their lives but is not their lives. But, I think we would probably have gotten about 100% voter return if we'd been able to vote the board out of office during the lockout.

We got good people on our first elected LAB. We come from different perspectives and from all over the signal area & we're half women & half people of color, and we don't agree about everything or even how to organize ourselves and some are more active than others ... but we're thinking about things and trying to understand what makes KPFA work & how we can make it work better, and how we can reach out to more parts of our community and serve them better & bring them into the dialogue ... and what criteria should be used to evaluate programming & how should decisions be made about the limited amount of air time available and who should decide & what kind of press pass policy should we have & what kind of fundraising should we do ... do we want to be the shopping channel for the left or is there another way? and so on...

I've been alternately proud and dismayed to serve on this first elected local board. I think it's a worthy experiment. I think we're up to it.

Good night!
Carol Spooner (the insomniac)

( posted at: groups.yahoo.com/group/NewPacifica )


[From] Zuli
Some Questions About WBAI History
Thu Aug 23 10:19:41 2001

since i'm a new listener (within the last 2 years), i have alot of questions about what BAI was like pre-Utrice [snip]

How much influence, if any, did the listeners have over programming? What channels did we/they go thru in order to get changes made? [snip]



patty [replies]
no influence whatsoever
Thu Aug 23 10:43:37 2001

Listeners had no influence whatsoever over programming ideas, complaints nor any other thing. We were and are money bags. Even complaints about Clayton Riley in 1999 were ignored and we were lambasted for bringing it up by some,

That has not changed. People liked the former programming more but we had no influence when we didn't like something.

The LAB as the liason to the station never was. Any problems or complaints went on deaf ears for the most part, except in 1999 when the takedown in Berkeley happened about 30 listeners went and helped to draft a letter of contempt to the National board.

This is precisely the reason for an accountable LAB by electing them and having recall, otherwise we have no influence whatsoever.

The culture of not letting listeners have any influence is ending. there will be accountablilty or the place is going down the tubes.


PS: sign up for a ballot at http://www.wbai.net and go to the elections page.

( posted at: www.goodlight.net/wbai )


From: jim Dingeman
Date: Thu Aug 23, 2001 5:53 pm
Subject: the train has left the station


Last night the Elections Committee of Concerned Friends of WBAI voted to implement and establish a timetable for elections for the Local Advisory Board. The vote was overwhelmingly approved and now the elections train is beginning to creep out of the station. The velocity of its speed will depend on the engine troubles , track conditions, efficiency of the switching mechanisms and its ability to guard against derailment or sudden flash floods of hostility but it will be repaired and put back on track regardless of such obstacles.

It is long overdue.

The subject undoubtedly will be the subject of heated debate on Monday next week at 6:30 PM at the Concerned Friends Coordinating Committee at 75 Varick Street at 6:30-7:00 PM when the meeting begins in Local 1707.

Yesterday some people had come from the annual PEN awards to heroes and heroines of battling censorship around the world. This event was filmed unquestioningly b around the world. This event was filmed unquestioningly by the people present, the victims of physical torture and REAL police repression understanding the importance of freedom of speech. This is in sharp contrast to the great hesitance some at the Concerned Friends retreat had to the unedited taping of their proceedings which ironically after all the squabbling was essentially recorded.

For almost ten years the changes and policy debates effecting tens of thousands of listeners here in New York and hundreds of thousands around the country have been handled in a insular setting because of the impositions of the gag rule and various regimes of spin control carried out by people of whatever "good will". This has meant that the source of nearly 80% of the revenue to the station from literally thousands of individuals has been gladly given resources donated under a false collection of intersecting lines of assumptions and information.

This has meant that well-meaning people have been duped time and time again since the idea of democracy now for them has been the democracy of their pocketbooks first, ask no questions later.

This basic lack of in-depth knowledge, so critical to the very essence of what a Pacifca station should be all about with its engaged and highly intelligent audience has led many to be participating in this struggle with incomplete of information and false premises for action.

A elections process is merely a first step to democratization. Those who by the present definitions of their role are in a advisory function can be held accountable if a repetition of the outrageous and deliberate control of information that has characterized the actions of many participants throughout this entire affair,, including LAB members, is repeated. The present WBAI LAB, however different than the one I served on, remains crippled by the fact that it can retreat into an imperious stockade mode with ease since only less than 25 people elect themselves into those positions.

Obviously the next few weeks in the lawsuits hold some critical possible decisions. First, the court will be asked to rule on whether Amy should be ordered back into the station. Amy has been playing a tit for tat game with her foes and the situation inside the station is marked by severe lines of tactical and strategic chasms. This gulf at the present seems difficult to repair.

The other more important issue looming is the court appearance that will decide whether the PNB can expand itself. I propose that several people be sent from different factions in New York to actually observe the courtroom proceedings and that extensive notes be taken from the back and forth in the courtroom so thousands outside the court can see the actual colloquy.

This decision will either expand the board or keep it at the 6-5 majority. If the PNB is able to expand the board, certain possible actions are likely. First, it is likely that Amy and her staff will be dismissed for good and further changes in staff at WBAI will happen. There is also a possibility that the local WBAI board, no friend of the PNB, mat be dismissed. That would depend on how the stipulations between the plaintiff and the defendants are interpreted.

The present LAB has been shunted aside and is operating without any access to the airwaves. It is maneuvering to tactically be able to take advantage of a settlement that would set up an interim board and resurface the 1997 by-laws before Pacifica changed them. Some on the board have expressed their total hostility to elections. Many reasons have been offered but the bottom line on all the arguments is that they imply that the multi-cultural,ethnic and racial mix of the listener base cannot be individually relied upon to make up their own minds, think critically and engage fully in debates that may effect the service(Pacifica) that they help support. Instead,we are given endless templates that at the core of them glibly assume that a self appointed "vanguard" can decide what is best for everybody else., devoid of any genuine scrutiny.

This is why the time for the elections train to gather steam out of the station has arrived and let it whistle the sunshine in

Jim Dingeman ( posted at: groups.yahoo.com/group/NewPacifica )

opinion | home