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Composition of the Electorate at Pacifica\WBAI:
A Draft Proposal

From: Robert Dickey
Date: Tue Jan 1, 2002 11:27 pm

Composition of the Electorate at Pacifica\WBAI -- A Draft Proposal

The role of community elections for the Local Advisory Boards (LABs) and the Pacifica National Board (PNB) is to take an initial step toward developing meaningful community control of a significant national media network, to protect the original mission of Pacifica and to refuse to accept the current corporate/government controlled media. Electing the members of the LABs and the PNB not as autonomous representatives but as delegates with full recall and provisions for referenda will organically link the communities involved to the process of rewriting the bylaws. It is in this cauldron where such things as empowering the LABs as station or control boards can occur; where the structural adjustments the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) imposes can be undone; where program councils can be made effective and air time dedicated to the internal governance of Pacifica; where totally transparent budgets including both expenditures and funding sources are mandated; where outreach for training and apprenticeship programs can be built; where the gag rule is permanently lifted and rational and respectful parameters for free speech are made; where the internal structure of the network can be revisited; where the functions of various offices are defined, etc.

Of course the danger with elections is that they will achieve the opposite of their intended goals. That they will simply reproduce the spectator democracy that continues to elect leaders that are the most pernicious enemies of the people. That they will reproduce the malaise, apathy and complacency of most western States while maintaining the illusion of popular control. That they will be used against the people.

There are many reasons this happens but to be sure the corporate media plays a significant role as do the engineered barriers to substantive control and power distribution, the fostering of rigid hierarchies, etc. So, the danger at Pacifica is that the elections will be bought or raided by a well financed organization or give the listener a false sense of security that what they are hearing has the integrity and authenticity that community control evokes but where the bosses are actually putting the words in the mouths of those behind the mics. All of this would be aided by the illusion of popular democracy at Pacifica.

Over the course of the last several years struggle the ethereal community defined by Pacifica's radio waves has been manifested on the ground and has developed a physical form. We have had forums, committees, meetings, dinners, arguments on the street. We have gotten to know each other by name and face, some have even fallen in love. In a very rewarding way a physical community has been built and the preconditions for a participatory democratic control of Pacifica have been laid. This has been a tantalizing glimpse of the organizational power of radio to form communities of free association. The key aspect has been the physical, face to face community building around the network, where the radio and the internet have augmented this community formation. The texture of democratic control at Pacifica will be largely decided by how the electorate is defined and the actual degree of power that electorate is satisfied with. As an example, say we succeed in getting Democracy Now! and the Fired and Banned back on the airwaves and a big propaganda effort is mounted to declare our victory and the elections process and bylaw changes is either left to flounder or worse still hijacked behind closed doors further dismantling the network, this would be a failure of enormous magnitude. And a very real danger in my opinion. In the above example no power or control will have been distributed to the community and really nothing will have changed structurally. In a few years time either Democracy Now! will be off the air or will have become a mouthpiece for the State Department. We loose again. Another case might be where the electorate was defined as paying subscribers, this would allow for the ingress of moneyed interests or a shifting demographic and control might be stolen from the community. Limiting control or consciuosly obfuscating or distracting from the goal of full democratic participation by emphasizing highly limited or localized goals will have the effect of holding down the level of power that the community will expect to achieve thus undermining the entire project. The effect will be to suck the life out of the struggle and deliver an empty shell that is labelled as a win.

In order to protect the network and allow it to continue to thrive while reinforcing the enormously healthy effect of it forming physical communities as we have done over the last few years around the struggle to take back Pacifica, the electorate should be defined according to sweat equity and not paid subscription. Those who volunteer their time to physically construct the network are the ones most informed about what is going on. They are the most energetic about the mission and social change. They have an idiom that will reproduce the integrity and concerns of the mission statement that we all have fought for. We know each other and can argue various positions. It is much more difficult to volunteer an army than to put up thousands of paying subscribers. By basing the ability to vote or participate in control of the network upon work and not money we insure that the electorate is known to each other and is not an abstraction in a database.

The proposal is that in order to vote an individual must commit x hours a year - say 36 -- to the station. This is not so much actually, I belong to a food coop that has the same requirement and although it is not utopia it works pretty well. Many people on the lists have made similar statements. There is an unlimited amount of work to be done to continue to strengthen Pacifica. Work teams can be formed to meet 3 hours a month to do any number of a range of things from producing the Folio, to organizing dance parties, teach-ins, technical training, radio journalism, community outreach, etc. A working group that keeps track of hours and tasks could help foster the projects. And it would be a lot of fun and damn meaningful. Control and power would be distributed to those who are the most invested and informed making the democracy at Pacifica meaningful and radically different from the spectator democracy we are familiar with. Rigid hierarchies of power and the barriers to that power will be dissolved.

If the electorate at WBAI is only 500 that would be much better than the nothing we have now and also much better than an anonymous station list with all its unknowns. Substantial time for self governance will be dedicated to the radio waves and community involvement will be promoted. Since their will be real power associated with participation, I believe people will be motivated to get involved.

Regarding the paying subscribers, many, as some have stated, simply want a product that is consistent with what they have known as the Pacifica mission and would be happy if that is provided. So the listeners, as some have commented concerning the recent KPFA election, don't really need or want input.(Seems nothing could be further from the truth.) I believe that at KPFA the "problem" is that having a vote really doesn't translate into influencing or controlling the station (the LAB has no power) and that is the prevalent reason for the apathy. This will be the case in all the stations until the LABs are empowered through bylaw changes. In one sense the sweat equity model is an acknowledgement of the fact that those who do turn out a vote are the same as those who physically put out the work to keep the network going. And having a sweat equity model in place will act as a defense against take over when the LABs become empowered and there is a real incentive to control them in order to control the network. In any event an electorate defined by sweat equity would be the most informed and active electorate and therefore the best situated to preserve the integrity of Pacifica's mission making those who choose not to be involved happier than they currently are while offering an open structure to encourage and accept their involvement whenever they choose to participate.

As an aside, the effort to achieve elections at KPFA has been monumental and what many regard as a weakness, the seemingly low turnout, is not that at all and clouds the potential of what they have made. In addition, how much airtime was actually committed? It is really painful that some have used the turnout as a justification to claim that democracy is not wanted or to ridicule the hardwork of those at KPFA. This is nothing other than a self serving manuever on the part of vested interests to cut the "listener" out. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the struggle they have waged at KPFA. This proposal is a friendly and respectful modification on their work.

Regarding the paid and unpaid staff, volunteers and producers at the stations, they will have met their time commitment and would be entitled to a vote. In a sense this model simply extends the boundaries of the stations to include many more participants. As power is distributed, the interior structure of the stations, the power relations of management to worker, will transform dialectically. And, I believe will produce a worker cooperative model.

This is in no way a novel proposal. WORT in Madison has a similar structure as do many food coops. Others on the lists have made similar proposals and contributed to this idea and helped lay out the framework for a cooperative structure at Pacifica. It seems like a very appropriate model and much better than what currently exists. Although the sweat equity model is no panacea it seems to avoid some of the problems that broad listener list elections might entail.

The quality of the democratic participation based upon sweat equity will be informed and invested with a history of physical interaction and therefore will be high. The community that composes Pacifica will see its level of expectation and demand increase. This will positively effect the programming content and help transform Pacifica from a network that distributes information to a network of communities that both distributes and produces content and action. The stakes are very high. This struggle has a last stand quality to it. It would be a tragedy to loose. In many ways developing the praxis of democratic control at Pacifica is of more significance than the actual programming. Success in realizing true democratic control of Pacifica and all that is learned from that will have profound implications for a democratic media and for the struggle for social justice.

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