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Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Rally:
KPFA crew shut out of broadcast

On Saturday 10-4-03 the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride reached NYC and held a rally in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. Pacifica conducted an on-site broadcast hosted by WBAI's Mimi Rosenberg, Ken Nash, Errol Maitland and others.

A Flashpoints team from sister station KPFA in Berkeley led by Miguel Molina had accompanied the freedom ride across the U.S.in a van equipped with a satellite uplink to broadcast inspired reports as they traveled. At the NYC rally they were reportedly rudely refused access to, and kept from collaborating on, the national broadcast. KPFA then cut away from the national coverage and broadcast interviews conducted in the crowd by the Flashpoints team using cell phones.

Apparently Pacifica's national office fell short in coordinating the broadcast teams and the WBAI crew decided not to rise to the occasion.

Below are some reports of the incident given at the Oct. 8th KPFA Local Advisory Board meeting. Responses have been solicited via email from the WBAI crew and Pacifica executive director. There have been no replies as of yet. Any responses will be posted below.


Excerpted From Unofficial KPFA station board notes 10/8/03 by Gail Blasie [KPFA]:

Miguel Molina: I want to thank the lab for their support of our coverage of the immigrant workers freedom ride. With your support, and the support of the new GM, and our executive producer who made sure we got everything, it was incredible. This was the most important coverage myself and the crew have ever done. We saw the coming together of labor, civil rights groups, immigrant rights groups throughout the country. That is something Dr. King tried to do years ago. They stopped him from joining labor. They knew if the civil rights movement joined labor it could become unstoppable. I have dedicated all of my adult life to race relations, I saw this happen, where many nationalities came together as one movement across the country. The amount of material we gathered was unbelievable. We promoted Flashpoints, Pacifica and KPFA to every town we went to. Now the station, whenever there is a crisis in any part of the country, they know who to call, it will be us. The crew was Sprinkle, Solange, Chavarea, Gerava, and Dev Ross. Dev launched kpfa into space with a satellite dish. This was a pilgrimage. I have never seen 150k people come together without one arrest. Everyone knew it was us against the corporate military apparatus.

We had some difficult times, but kpfa now has a mobile unit and a crew that can go anywhere. We can compete. The only bad experience we had was in NYC, where there was a total lack of respect and acknowledgment. But it didn't stop us. We were mistreated by arrogance. WBAI because of their arrogance, denied us access. We still reported from NYC. At some point, those people who saw an opportunity for a nationwide broadcast, highjacked the airwaves. It needs to be looked at.

But I told Dennis, what is the next assignment. There will be an immigrants pride day in SF. They will shut down Mission St. They asked us if we could do the coverage.

We witnessed the movement that is alive and well and will only get stronger. Labor, civil rights and immigration together. There are about 130 million of us. We are dedicated to keep going on. I also invited Bishara to this meeting who was on the freedom ride and who is a potential local station board candidate. He represents the Arab community. He helped us during the two weeks on the Freedom Ride. Sometimes it got really difficult. We kept out cool. We were professional. We were not going to be part of any negativity.

Dennis Bernstein: It isn't often I have a chance to get here. I wanted to express my appreciation for the hard work Miguel and the Flashpoints team did, going across country, with this new freedom riders movement. This is an extraordinary movement for immigrant rights. There are so many ways Miguel has been expanding and making things possible. They made the reporting available to community stations. I am so appreciative for what they did. Gus Newport, did things and made things happen in weeks that others couldn't make happen in decades. Putting together the mobile unit and making sure people have what they needed. Amazing what can happen when somebody is committed and focused and interested in the future and what is possible. We have an extraordinary new manager. I say thank you again.

I am profoundly troubled by the way our team was treated in NYC. The ball was dropped at the national level and local level out of WBAI. We saw the kind of anti- immigrant racism that I expected to see when there was a protest in Utah at the INS. I never expected to see it from our colleagues in N.Y. Mimi is overheard saying, "who do they think they are coming cross country and thinking they can just get on the microphones." They called security and have Miguel taken out. I don't want to take away from the extraordinary positive energy and work that came out of this. I am calling for a complete and thorough documented investigation at what happened nationally and locally who allowed these people to be empowered in such a way that they would be so brutal. I hope we will get to the bottom of this.

Chandra [Hauptman]: I was in NY. Just before the freedom ride aired, I heard Mimi announce the freedom riders were arriving. It was a turf battle cuz she was covering the event from Bai. I know the event was announced and she would be there.

Bishara Costandi: I was on the freedom ride chosen by arab organizations to go on the ride. In addition to what Dennis and Gavilon said, I want to focus a bit on the negative side. I think there are bigger things behind the scenes. Go to counterpunch.com. Look at 10/6 article about the 5 unions organizing this. It is a long article. It shows many of these things are not done with sincere intentions. As a Palestinian, I was always accused of having an agenda. I was prevented from talking about globalization. They wanted to confine me to unification and a certain subject or two. There was friction between me and the organizers. You get to NY, and you see the traditional union leadership. None of the immigrant riders were put on the program to speak. Every time I asked to speak, I heard excuses. I was accused of being a one agenda person. My only hope was Pacifica. To be shut out of my radio network, my only voice - I was on the trip because it is an issue of justice - an international issue. I won't put the issue of Palestine above justice. There was a very rehearsed role of the organizers. The unions have a long history of not paying attention to their membership. It was disappointing the way BAI treated us. The issue was turf. But how could someone in a progressive station think this is my station and I won't let others on the air.

Max Blanchette [Blanchet]: On the day this was broadcast, I was at the station, and I had a chat with Jim who explained the trouble he went thru to make sure the folks from the Bay Area could participate in the program. I think you should put together a written report and circulate it to the right people.

Stan [Woods]: I agree what Dennis said about calling for a full investigation of what happened in NY. It was deeper than "he said, she said." It involved the entire WBAI crew. It was physical. They brought in union security. It is part of the ongoing factional fighting on bylaws. There should be some sort of joint statement resulting from that too. I am very well aware there is a problem with some elements of the trade union leadership always a few people who want to control from top down. I hope when we have a regular labor program on kpfa, it will also talk about the problems for the labor movement. We all know there are problems with internal democracy. What better venue than Pacifica to help resolve the problems in the interest of democratic process.

Carol [Spooner]: Dennis called me Sat. morning while things were going bad in NY and told me what was happening. I sent a memo to the national board and to Dan Coughlin asking for a complete investigation of what went wrong. It was also a lack of coordination and follow thru at the national level to connect people to make sure people were on the same page in doing this national broadcast. The link didn't happen until the last minute. Try to put yourselves in BAI's shoes. Someone shows up and says we just drove in from LA. We have a whole agenda of people we want to put on the air and we want to share your programming with you. You might think advance notice would be courteous and good. What I know, is on the affiliates announcement list of the programming, the coordinated programming announcement didn't come out till Friday. I was alerted to the lack of publicity sometime around Thursday. It appears the first time WBAI knew there was a crew from kpfa that had traveled across country was Thursday. I believe their treatment of our people was uncalled for. We need an investigation into nationally, who is responsible for making these arrangements. Is there a position that needs to be filled?

Motion: KPFA lab requests the Executive Director conduct a full documented investigation and prepare a report about the communication gaps and lack of coordination in broadcasting the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride nationally and locally.

Matt [Martin]: We have some people who are aware of how this happened. Miguel and Dennis, Carol was saying people at WBAI didn't know about you all coming out until a few days before.

Miguel: Mimi said I didn't know you guys were coming out here until the day before. Jim was given instructions 6 - 7 weeks ago. Dan Coughlin was also involved. Jim Bennett was notified and given instructions. He is now being promoted. There was a lack of communication by those responsible. If I had known that I had to contact WBAI, I would have. I entrusted paid people to do their jobs, and they failed.

Dennis: We had a meeting with Dan Coughlin 7 weeks ago. We explained what the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride was and we wanted national to be on board. Dan said, "great. We want this on national programming. Get in touch with Ursula." I asked Cambria to get Ursula's number from Jim. Susan Stone and Jim told her Ursula doesn't do this she is too busy. I talked with Jim the next day. He said Ursula doesn't do this stuff anymore. Jim said, " I will do it." ED okayed the line. Jim never said anything about not setting up a line. We find out 3 days before. I ask don't we have a line. Jim said "Dan didn't properly appoint me. I don't know my responsibilities. Maybe we can do 2 broadcasts." The day before the rally, there is a national press release from Ursula telling everyone Mimi is covering the rally.

Why were we told not to communicate with Ursula. Mimi told Miguel when he was about to interview 3 Mexican organizers that there will be no Spanish on this broadcast that it had to be in English.

Mary [Berg]: We should call for such an investigation. As to turf wars, isn't turf always a part of the issue.


1. KPFA lab requests the Executive Director conduct a full documented investigation and prepare a report about the communication gaps and lack of coordination in broadcasting the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride nationally and locally.

WBAI responds:

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