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the Constituency Model

From: Mimi Rosenberg
Date: Tue May 28, 2002 12:25 am
Subject: Bylaws Proposal

The governance proposal below was prepared by Mimi Rosenberg and Mark Sanborne with input from Joe Kaye and members of Community for Progressive Radio. Its creation and submission was stimulated by the need to institute a structure for Pacifica that is inclusive and acknowledges the continuing role of racism. In April 1925, in Worlds of Color (Foreign Affairs, III), W.E.B. Du Bois wrote: "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line." Regrettably Du Bois's admonition defines the 21st century as well. White supremacy continues to be a cornerstone of US foreign and domestic policy, and discrimination and xenophobia are fixtures of the "new world order." Below, for your perusal, debate and input is a proposal that seeks to enhance Pacifica's past practice and respond aggressively to these fixtures within US society. Your comments should be communicated to merosenberg@legal-aid.org.


A Proposal for the Constituency Model
Of Governance at WBAI and Pacifica

Form Follows Function
The structure of an organization is determined by its purpose. So, what is the primary purpose of the Pacifica Foundation and its five constituent radio stations, including WBAI? Since it is noncommercial and listener-supported, Pacifica has traditionally opposed corporate and government control and/or funding, notwithstanding the debate over whether we should accept support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. However, what does Pacifica affirmatively stand for?

Although the actual implementation of the original mission statement has evolved considerably over the decades, many would say that ideally Pacifica exists first and foremost to work for peace and social justice. A predicate to the actualization of these goals is the rectification of class injustice and bias-related violence. To advance these goals and change the power paradigm, minimally we seek to create understanding between nations and diverse groups of people, by bringing uncommonly heard voices and perspectives to the airwaves. By definition, then, because it seeks to promote social and political change in a world resistant to it, the Pacifica Network is (or should be) an activist and multicultural undertaking. Therefore, we would argue, the form of its governance structures should follow that function. A structural mechanism must be designed to facilitate participation by a larger, more diverse and representative population in network affairs.

The constituency model, as it has come to be known, aims to achieve that goal by reaching out to a wide range of historically oppressed and marginalized communities and empowering them to select a designated number of their leading members to serve on the local boards of Pacifica stations. These seats would be in addition to those filled by direct, open elections among the station listenership and staff, and would complement them by affirmatively ensuring that the board not only includes a variety of "minority" voices, but that those members represent and interact with politically engaged constituencies larger than themselves. In this model, a meaningful right to vote contemplates minority participation in pre-election coalition-building and deliberation as well as in post-election policymaking by working with a trusted, chosen leaders of one's own community.

Why should Pacifica seek out representation for under- or non-represented groups in station governance? Because it is precisely such oppressed groups (the communities that suffer most under the current power structure) that are the greatest engines for the process of social change that Pacifica itself seeks. These grassroots constituencies are our constituency. It must not be considered a privilege but rather an obligation for WBAI and the other stations to reach out to such comrades whether or not they are currently listeners. Once so engaged, the involved communities and groups can then use the airwaves for education and organization, and in the process many more may become listeners. In return, Pacifica gains deeper strength and street-solidarity to help defend itself against the next governmental onslaught. And more proactively, the stations obtain new allies, input and insight that will help them serve as self-consciously progressive communications outlets to facilitate a potential transformation of the power modalities within our society by empowering the poor, the working class, and the otherwise oppressed and disenfranchised.

Majority Rule Realities
A key aim of the constituency model and related mechanisms and processes is to prevent the numerical power of the majority from simply subsuming minority preferences. The majority does not represent the minority. (Often it is not even a majority, as in New York City, where whites continue to wield power over a "minority" population that, in aggregate, constitutes an actual majority.) While majority rule can often present an efficient opportunity for determining the public good, it suffers when it is not constrained by the need to bargain with minority interests. When the majority is fixed and permanent, there are no checks on its ability to be overbearing, whether consciously or otherwise.

Extending the franchise gives status to new individual voters, but it derives its vitality from its exercise by a politically cohesive group who elect representatives to promote consideration of minority interests in public policy via the people's medium of radio. Equal status as participants within the political sphere is possible only if members of the group are able to collaborate at all stages of the process, as the constituency model contemplates.

Since Pacifica professes to be a progressive organization, it does not seem completely unreasonable to expect the concept of affirmative action to play a key role not only in all hiring decisions but in the devising and implementation of the new governance structures as well. (Recall that not too long ago we were the minority battling the "majoritarians" on the old Pacifica National Board.) It is therefore interesting to observe the virulence that has sprung up in some quarters over the subject.

Even the most conservative affirmative action programs (those still in existence) have endemic to their corrective function at least goals and timetables. Unfortunately it was the conservative bloc that vitiated affirmative action by eliminating progressive quotas. Here in New York, the bylaws list-serve has been dominated by writers who use "quota" as if it's a dirty word, whose idea of affirmative action apparently extends only as far as "aggressive" outreach to ensure a sufficient number of minority candidates, and at least one of whom has declared (without a single challenge in response) that the only racism at WBAI comes from people of color. Based on their own arguments, one might assume the writers would have internalized the arguments of Allen Bakke, the white plaintiff who alleged reverse discrimination in the landmark 1970s affirmative action case.

Affirmative action and proportional representation will be utilized to elect individual candidates, culled from the listenership. In addition, a broader affirmative action plan conducive to the function of Pacifica is required and must be tailored to the reality it seeks to address. Thus, affirmative action that is representative of group interests and determined by oppressed groupings through advise and consent must be employed to implement the Pacifica mission and be remedial in nature.

Affirmative Action Myths
A little history and demythologizing may be in order. Affirmative action arose out of a need to remedy pervasive, longstanding discrimination. The concept goes back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period when the federal government passed a series of measures designed to assist former slaves. As a term of art, affirmative action was first used in a section of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act designed to protect trade union members against unfair trade practices. In the context of remedying employment discrimination, New York State used the term in its 1945 Human Rights Act.

The principle behind affirmative action is quite simple: patterned injustice requires patterned redress. Patterned redress often involves an employer being ordered or consenting to increase the number and proportion of a minority (most often African-Americans) at all levels in accordance with certain numerical ratios -- i.e. quotas. That's how you fix what's broken. It's unfortunate and yet telling that the word and the concept behind it should require rehabilitation at this point, especially among members of the Pacifica community. Consider this: why is it that meeting one's quotas in business is by definition always a good thing unless it involves attempts to remedy (however inadequately) historic, damning wrongs dating back to the African holocaust that was slavery?

Underlying much of this majority hostility is the myth that the American dream of success is based on merit, and that affirmative action undermines this system by ignoring merit in distributing rewards. The myth survives even though nepotism, cronyism, sectionalism and other forms of "in-group" preference (not to mention outright racism) are openly or covertly used to favor certain individuals who usually happen to be white. The well-known system of automatic college admissions to children of alumni contributors remains the classic example of this process.

The myth of innocence is another key pillar of privilege. Critics often argue that affirmative action injures "innocent" members of the majority. This assertion has dual appeal: it creates competing equities while it eliminates guilt as a spur to remedial change. Historically, white America has a general unwillingness to accept responsibility for present or past discrimination and discriminatory systems, even though benefits gained by whites as a class have resulted in losses by blacks as a class. While the critics assert that the term "victim" must be construed narrowly, they often define innocence very broadly and ignore the historical context in which discrimination occurred. We aspire to be a pluralistic society, but we cannot achieve that goal by espousing policies and theories that deny group wrongs and prohibit group remedies. One cannot preach color-blindness in a color-conscious society and claim moral sanction.

Bolstered by such myths, over the last two decades right-wing politicians and judges have rolled back many earlier gains, to the point where nowadays even many supposed moderates will only go so far as to advocate "equal opportunity" because affirmative action supposedly amounts to reverse discrimination. Surely here at Pacifica -- where only recently we won an historic, unprecedented victory against the forces of neoliberal-corporate reaction currently sweeping the globe -- we can do better than that.

The Power of Inclusion:
At this point, the constituency model remains a work in progress, and further discussion and constructive input from around the network is needed to bolster it as a progressive and viable alternative to a solely subscriber-based model of voting.

Though the constituency model was initially developed in New York, we believe it has much to offer other Pacifica stations, particularly those that want to reestablish connections to the activist and minority communities in their signal areas that were lost during the reign of the previous Pacifica National Board, a situation that dates back as far as the mid-1990s. Aspects of the model could also be applied to the Interim Pacifica National Board itself, which would help provide grassroots insurance against another takeover by neoliberal hijackers driven by the values of capital. Even if the model is only used on the local level, it could still have a positive effect nationally via input into nominations made to the PNB by the station boards.

While a number of details remain to be fleshed out, and a certain amount of flexibility and "give" should be built into the system in any event, what follows is a brief discussion of several key questions surrounding the constituent model: what are the proposed categories of inclusion and how many representatives will they have; how will they be chosen and what role will station outreach play in the process; and how will the two different types of member work together on the new board?

Constituent Categories
Working together, like-minded voters can vote as a solid bloc, forming strategic coalitions to gain mutual benefits. Here in New York, a proposed list of communities of interest that will be invited to elect one or more representatives to the local board includes at least three general categories. The first is made up of oppressed communities as defined by racism, nationality, ethnicity and/or heritage: African ancestry; Asian and Pacific Islanders; Latino; Indigenous Peoples; and Immigrants. Those groups can be drawn from indentifiable neighborhoods where they live in large numbers as well as organizationally throughout the city. The second consists of other often-marginalized groups defined by other life characteristics, conditions, orientations, status, or work: rank-and-file labor; women; youth; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered; the disabled; and prisoners.

The third category consists of representatives of both the paid and unpaid staff of WBAI, who will be elected by their class of co-workers. This is to ensure the workers have a direct voice in governance, and is in keeping with the previous practice of reserving positions for staff on the Local Advisory Board. Just as importantly, it assures that the board includes members who have direct experience in doing radio. It would be particularly useful if both the production and operations side are represented.

It has also been suggested that another category be created for representatives of listeners from the outlying parts of the WBAI signal area: New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, Westchester and Rockland counties in New York. The rationale is that, even though those listeners were a big part of the successful effort to take back WBAI after the coup, the suburbs continue to be underserved in terms of news and other relevant programming. Their complaints are valid ones, but one could argue that still doesn't exactly make them "oppressed communities" on a par with the other constituencies in this model. In any event, certainly WBAI's improving suburban coverage should be made a priority item for the news and program directors. A system of field correspondents contributing regular segments reflective of local issues to the news and other public affairs programs would provide a more holistic view of the tri-state region. Of course, the same must be said and implemented for the very separate and unique inner city neighborhoods in each borough.

Flexibility in Wartime
At this point there is no set formula for how many representatives each constituency will be allotted, though the majority will probably have one, with more going to the larger groups. The idea is to allow an element of fluidity in the system so that it can adjust to changing circumstances, such as an increase in attacks against a particular community. For example, right now Arab and Muslim residents are in particular peril from both state repression and violent racist assaults, and as a result a leader of that targeted community might very well be selected for the Immigrant or one of the Asian constituency seats. If the current war fever grows even worse and the U.S. invades Iraq, the elected constituent members could caucus and consider ways to temporarily boost Arab and or Muslim representation on the board for the duration of the crisis, perhaps bringing on another experienced activist who could act as liaison between WBAI newspeople and rally organizers, among other vital work.

There obviously will be overlap among the categories (i.e. a woman artist, a disabled prisoner, a Latino unionist), but a board member's primary constituency will be the one that selected them, which will presumably be the area where their activism is concentrated. And of course any sympathetic member can, either on their own or at the request of others, also serve as an advocate in station affairs and coverage for a nonrepresented constituency, such as the Asian or Immigrant member looking out for the interest of taxi drivers. We propose these approaches as political solutions because they better approximate the goals of democratic fair play. If WBAI can develop such synergies between minority communities, serving as a catalyst while also being further empowered in its mission, perhaps the next manipulative critic allegedly waving the flag of political correctness will think twice before facetiously asking "What about the Green Martians?" or some other equally offensive remark.

The Selection Process
We have used the words "selected" and "elected" interchangeably to describe how the various communities of interest will choose their members for WBAI's local board because the process will need to be fitted to the specific circumstances and will by necessity vary from case to case.

In some cases (Native Americans would be an example), the local activist community and its leadership is small enough that it might be possible for all the interested parties to arrange to assemble in one place and make their decision, whether by voting or deliberation and consensus. For much larger constituencies (such as people of African Ancestry, Latinos, women), such an all-inclusive gathering could be impractical, and other methods of wide-ranging consultation and selection might be need to be devised and agreed upon. For example, gatherings convened in specific geographical locations, comprising large numbers of specific groups (such as Washington Heights, where significant numbers of Dominicans reside), might be applicable.

While the people participating in this process don't necessarily have to be WBAI listeners, it's quite likely that many of them will be. Such listeners, if they were also subscribers, would be in a position to participate both in their constituency group selection and in the election of at-large candidates, while listener-subscribers who do not identify themselves as members of any of the constituency groups would only be able to take part in the latter vote. If this seems unfair to some, it should be noted that even the Reagan administration approved the use of rules that boost the voting power of blacks as a remedial measure in places like Mobile, Alabama, where a special supermajority threshold is still in place today to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

In the end, the crucial element will be for the oppressed and disenfranchised communities to utilize a process of direct democracy to put forward their own representatives to the WBAI board. The one key characteristic that all those chosen should have in common is that in addition to being capable and accomplished individuals, they should all have records of active involvement and leadership in community-based movements (be they political, environmental, social justice, artistic, etc.), so that the new board members can serve as a vital, two-way link between their community and the station.

It is likely that most of the popular organizations and activist groups that will be part of this dynamic will already be familiar with WBAI to at least some degree. What will be needed is for like-minded people associated with the station to reach out and inform their comrades in the community about the democratization process that is getting underway and solicit their involvement in the selection of potential candidates. The Community for Progressive Radio, for example, will work with black groups, and the WBAI Latino Caucus will approach its array of contacts, as will other groups and individuals who are part of or work with any of the other constituency group categories. In addition, we propose that other concerned listeners, LAB members, and station management and staff form a committee to provide the logistical support and tools needed to help implement the outreach process, including its on-air component.

Participants in this outreach process should bear in mind that they may encounter well-qualified and willing potential candidates who for some reason are unable to take part in the constituency-based elections. For example, they may not fall into any of the designated categories, or their accomplishments may not be in the area of community-based activism; perhaps they are an academic, a journalist, or a scientist. In such cases, the potential candidate could be encouraged to try to run in the open elections where listeners will vote for "at large" members of the new WBAI board. Perhaps more importantly, people doing outreach for candidates for either the constituency or the open elections should keep an eye out (as should the voters themselves) for people who, in addition to all the necessary qualifications and credentials, possess other specialized skills that could come in very handy in the course of the board's work. These include legal skills, accounting and bookkeeping, computer expertise, writing and fund-raising.

The People's House
If the constituency model is adopted and the various categories of inclusion choose their representatives, there remains the question of how they will be integrated with the other half of the board: those "at large" members chosen in open elections by the station's listener-members, however that category is defined. (See below.)

The term "bicameral model" is one way of describing the resulting governance structure. The phrase normally refers to the standard two-chamber arrangement that is the form most legislatures take. Under that system, pieces of legislation or any other item of business have to be passed by the two bodies working separately in order to be enacted. The two bodies come together in conference only to negotiate and iron out differences between two versions of the same bill passed by each chamber.

In fact, the characteristics of the two groups of representatives that would result from the model being proposed here - the open-elections members and the constituency members - match up very closely with those of the standard two-house legislature or congress. The members chosen in open elections by listeners would equate with a Senate: both involve at-large seats in which a larger number of voters participate. The members chosen by constituency groups would be more like a House or Assembly: the seats are tied to a more specific district (or constituency) and involve a smaller number of voters. For that reason, House or Assembly members have to pay a lot more attention to their constituents than do senators if they want to keep their jobs. That is why the U.S. House of Representatives is known as "The People's House," while the more elite Senate is referred to as the Rich Man's Club.

So does this mean the new station board should in fact function like Congress? Practicality and common sense say no. A "board" is a single body, and having two chambers that must pass items separately is a recipe for gridlock, as so often happens in both state and national politics. No, the constituent and at-large members will have to sit down at the same table and work things out. Aside from moving things along more quickly, the cross-fertilization that can occur when two different groups get together will in all probability enhance the democratic nature of Pacifica's new governance structures.

The Subscriber-Only Model
Up until now, we have been discussing in depth our proposal for the constituency model, which is actually a combination of the constituency model and the subscriber model. At this point, the subscriber-only model is the only other proposal out there and the one people are most familiar with. We will now briefly compare the two competing models for the democratization of Pacifica.

The template for what is serving as the jumping-off point for most bylaw discussions around Pacifica is the subscriber and volunteer model used in the elections for KPFA's Local Advisory Board in 2001. In this case, listener-sponsors who contributed at least $25 or three hours of volunteer labor a year were entitled to vote. Candidates essentially nominated themselves. Out of KPFA's guesstimated listenership of 200,000, lets say 20,000 are subscribers, and out of that total, approximately 10%, or 2,000, went to the trouble of filling out and mailing back the ballots that were sent to them. When the votes were counted, a quota-based voting formula kicked in at a certain point to ensure that a minimum number of women and nonwhites were elected even though some of them received less votes than certain white male candidates.

In New York, it has been suggested that the KPFA model be essentially adopted with the addition of a nominating committee that would serve both to vet candidates for their fidelity to the Pacifica mission and to outreach to obtain a broader and deeper pool of qualified candidates. Meanwhile, there has been much outrage expressed on the New York bylaws list-serve about KPFA's quota system. And among the charges leveled against a previous public presentation of the constituency model was that candidates would supposedly be "self-selecting."

In brief: at KPFA, voter participation was minuscule and overwhelmingly white. As is the norm in all open elections, all the candidates selected themselves. And whatever affiliations or activist backgrounds they might have had, they ran as individuals who represented only themselves and were not answerable to any broader constituencies or disenfranchised groups. Contrast this to the proposed constituency model, under which candidates would be put forward and elected by communities of interest to whom they would be answerable. Representation of oppressed and marginalized communities would be guaranteed by assigned seats. Which model is more democratic and would do more to strengthen Pacifica's position with what should be its natural audience: the poor and working class?

A more detailed analysis and comparison will be appear in the days ahead.

Who Are Pacifica's Voting Members?
1. The subscriber to Pacifica is a member. However, subscribership fees should be pegged to income. Fees should be graduated so that people on fixed incomes, or with no incomes are not excluded or forced to choose between membership and the necessaries of life, including whatever amenities they may indulge in. Yes, a fee not commensurate with peoples income serves as a metaphoric "poll tax" limiting the franchise.

2. The volunteer, who contributes their unwaged labor to the network is a member. However, there must be recognition of the fact that family needs, work responsibilities, physical limitations, incarceration etc. act as impediments to contributing sweat equity/volunteer hours to the network.

3. The employee, waged and unwaged.

4. Communities of Inclusion are members. Affirmative action is a concept which if accepted must be tailored to overcome the historic inequity and the exclusion faced by people of African descent and other disenfranchised and under-represented groups within our society. Clearly there are other groups subject to racism, ethnic, gender and discrimination predicated on sexual orientation and disability. While affirmative action implemented by proportional representation is a method of inclusion it is insufficient for our purposes. Yes, we should have them, but individual representation does not encompass actual representation of group interests. It also ignores the fact that there hasn't been sufficient involvement in pre-election gatherings by a diversity of peoples.

Looking Ahead
It is not yet clear exactly what powers, functions and responsibilities the new station boards will have. But whatever final bylaws are adopted, the role of the boards should not be to impose a new managerial elite over the stations. It should not be to dominate, hire, fire and micro-manage the day-to-day work lives of the employees or the operations of the stations. Of course, input from the listeners and community at large is vital, and the new boards will be well-placed to provide that. However, it must not be forgotten that Pacifica stations are work sites, and should be accorded the same respect for workers' autonomy and dignity that progressive-minded people would give in any other context.

We appreciate the continuing anxiety around the issue of safeguarding the Pacifica Network. However, the network's protection will not occur merely through the implementation of new bylaws. Rather, it is predicated upon genuinely progressive perspectives, not those that emerge either from fear or resentment of station personnel who failed to act as a collective force to protect the network, or through overly zealous listeners who believe themselves to be the sole guardian of Pacifica or that they single-handedly wrested back control of the network.

The "takeover" of the Pacifica governance apparatus occurred over many, many years. Its was occasioned by the inertia of national board members in conjunction with a lack of involvement in governance issues by most staff and listeners. The takeover capitalized on the inadequacies of the board itself, both structural and individual, including the contradictions of racism within our network, as it imposed a neoliberal ideology dominated by market-driven constructs. A few bylaws were changed to facilitate and institutionalize the rule of the new governing element, while many of the bylaws that remained in place were simply ignored. In essence, the national board was inept, unproductive, and ideologically vague, and thus acquiesced to the imposition of aggressive neoliberal politics and its progenitors.

It is strategically important to have pluralistic bylaws and a progressive governance apparatus to safeguard the institution. However, unless there are people at the ramparts whose lives have been informed by struggle and who have the ideological mettle to stand up to unbridled power, we will remain vulnerable to takeover from within and attack from without by an increasingly reactionary government. That is why the principles and practices articulated above are so important, as they go to the heart of what Pacifica should be about.

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