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Inclusion model for governance

Subject: Inclusion document
Date: Sun, 7 Jul 2002 18:35:39 -0700

The document below was written by Mimi Rosenberg and Mark Sanborne as a follow-up to a longer proposal circulated in May and is aimed at addressing some of the questions raised since then by members of the Pacifica community in public meetings and on email lists. (The original document is available at www.wbai.net under the headline "The Constituency Model" dated 5-28-02.) It is our hope that it can serve to stimulate further debate and discussion going forward on how best to democratize Pacifica's governance structures. Comments should be communicated to merosenberg@legal-aid.org and mark.sanborne@tfn.com.

Q&A: A Model of Inclusion for Governance at WBAI/Pacifica

What Is a Model of Inclusion?

The term "constituency model" has lately come into use to describe proposals that seek to actualize democracy through pluralism and egalitarianism. The term became popular to connote the inclusion of those who have heretofore been under-represented in the Pacifica Radio Network's mandated election process for the constitution of new station boards in its five signal areas. Actually, the term "model of inclusion" is far more descriptive of the process being proposed than the term constituency model, so in an effort to clarify the concept underlying the original proposal and to sharpen the focus for its evolution we prefer to use "model of inclusion."

The model of inclusion is one that aims to expand participation in elections beyond the so-called "KPFA model," in which listener-sponsors who contribute money or volunteer labor vote for at-large candidates via a system of proportional representation backed up by certain limited diversity requirements. The inclusion model would augment that system by embracing class-conscious, activist groups composed of those historically subjected to institutional, bias-related violence. The envoys from those peoples would be representing the positions of their peers. Rooted in their unique culture, they would encapsulate and convey the experiences and aspirations of their community, historically and at this juncture, as understood by their collective. Thus, our station boards would encompass and represent more fully the needs of communities of interests, and not solely those of the individual.

The inclusion model would supplement and enhance the foundation laid by the KPFA elections. Oppressed communities marginalized in the election process thus far would be empowered to select a designated number of representatives to the new local boards. These seats would be in addition to those filled by open elections among the stations' listener-subscribers and staff, and would complement them by affirmatively ensuring that the boards include a diversity of voices that specifically represent, interact with, and are answerable to activist constituents or communities more comprehensive than the sentiments and responses of any one individual.

Why Is the Model Needed?

At a minimum, Pacifica's mission involves working for peace and social justice. Because it seeks to promote change in a world resistant to it, the Pacifica Network should be an activist and multicultural undertaking, and the form of its governance should follow that function. However, just as the U.S. Constitution is regularly flouted in times of national crisis, Pacifica will not be strengthened and protected merely by new bylaws that guarantee elections. In the final analysis, it's about a culture of activism and risk-taking, not words on paper. Pacifica survived the red-baiting of McCarthyism, the Jim Crow laws and police-state terror tactics of the Civil Rights era, and the national chauvinism of the Vietnam period under the old boards and bylaws, and yet was nearly destroyed in the "peaceful" 1990s with essentially the same structures in place because of opportunistic individuals acting on behalf of a neoliberal agenda. The inclusion model seeks to avoid such an outcome by securing the involvement of reliable allies who have demonstrated their willingness to engage in struggle despite personal risks and sacrifices. Our allies are those who have been forced to endure the weight of and then coalesced with others to overcome white supremacy, xenophobia, gender and sexual orientation bias, and have been nurtured in the struggle for survival and to obtain human rights.

Too many staff at WBAI capitulated and too many listener-subscribers acquiesced to the "Christmas coup" of Utrice Leid, raising the question of how they would stand up to an open police-state intervention that could lie in our future. And while the struggle to reclaim Pacifica was numerically dominated by whites, here in New York the Community for Progressive Radio (CPR), an African-ancestry collective, and its allies in conjunction with Latino activists played key roles in exposing the manipulation of racism, which ultimately took on the character of nationalist chauvinism and the neoliberal politics that defined the coupsters and the corporate-style raiders of the old Pacifica National Board. These forces were successful in revealing the exploitation of racism implicit in the conflict and then in mobilizing their communities to repudiate and isolate the Utriceans. Without their unwavering involvement, despite tremendous pressure and castigation the station would not have been recaptured. It is critical to understanding how strategic the involvement and leadership of people of color is in every aspect of the network and to vastly broaden and deepen that involvement if we are to sustain a network unencumbered by corporate and government interference and committed to radical social change in the wake of 9/11.

Throughout history it has been activist groups made up of the working class, disenfranchised communities, and so often people of color that spearheaded the struggles and made the sacrifices that created social revolutions that ultimately benefited society as a whole. Individuals are important, but it is only by working through groups and movements organized around ideas of transformation and social justice that we can change history. Thus it is only by including and embracing such groups that Pacifica can make its mission statement a living document rather than a dead letter, a document that is not calcified but grows to comport with the changing conditions and evolving standards that mark the progress of a maturing movement.

How are the Communities of Inclusion Determined?

It is not difficult to identify those larger communities (as opposed to various smaller sub-groups) that have suffered the most pursuant to institutional and codified policies of discrimination under society's current power paradigm. It's not a matter of "identity politics" (a phrase that was unfortunately coined to cast aspersions on those who seek the coming together and advancement of the needs of a disenfranchised group, indeed the self-determination of the exploited as a matter of necessity and benefit) or political correctness or infantile references to seats for "Green Martians." Here in New York, a proposed list of communities of interest that would be invited to select one or more representatives to the local board fall into two general categories. The first is made up of oppressed peoples as defined by racism, nationality, ethnicity and/or heritage: African ancestry; Latino; Asian and Pacific Islanders; and Indigenous Peoples. The second consists of other often-marginalized groups defined by other life characteristics, orientations, or conditions: women; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered; the disabled; and prisoners.

Other categories are possible, and flexibility should be a hallmark of the inclusion model. (For example, amid the current atmosphere of wartime hysteria and repression, the plight of the immigrant, Arab and Muslim communities certainly cries out for special representation.) In addition, the number of seats assigned to the various communities can be varied to reflect the individual demographics of the five signal areas. This structure also has much to offer other Pacifica stations, particularly those that want to reestablish links to the activist communities in their areas that were lost during the reign of the previous National Board, and to avoid local board elections dominated by a mostly white and/or middle class subscriber base.

How Do the Communities Choose Their Representatives?

If we want Pacifica to embody the ethos of activism and internalize the process of struggle, it is not so much a matter of reaching out to people as inviting them in. We need to announce an open-door policy and extend a genuine invitation for activists to come in and help shape our institution, rather than requiring them to fit into a rigid, preformed context. To be truly inclusive, we must respect people's different histories, and allow them to use their own unique cultural and political perspectives to devise their methods of participation. We must respect the continuing aspiration of the oppressed to realize self-determination. 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. (A recent decision by WBAI to install ISDN lines in two of the most progressive and active institutions in the African-American community, the Abyssinian Baptist and Bethany Baptist Churches, will facilitate such efforts.) In return, Pacifica gains new listeners, deeper strength, and street-solidarity to help defend it against the next onslaught by its adversaries, including the government.

The situation calls for mobilization, not simply outreach. The process will begin with people associated with the station (both staff and listeners) engaging and welcoming their comrades in the community and soliciting their involvement in the selection of potential candidates. It will necessitate on-air announcements and the organizing of meetings styled in a manner that conforms to the social moirés of the various communities. This will not be "cronyism" or "clubhouse politics" or a "bureaucratic elite" choosing their friends, as some have charged. The idea is to recruit the largest number of groups, all with proven public records of progressive, grassroots activism on behalf of their communities, and allow them to utilize a process of direct democracy to put forward their own representatives. We must realize the idea of self-determination.

Because there will be more groups involved than there are seats to be filled, the organizations will not simply be able to choose one of their own, but will have to caucus with other groups on how to select the best candidate or candidates. In some cases, that might involve as many people as possible from the various groups getting together and conducting a vote, while other constituencies might employ the consensus process or utilize other creative methods relative to their experience to determine their representative.

Here in New York, most if not all of those participating will probably already be familiar with WBAI, though in other signal areas they may be estranged from Pacifica. If those involved are already subscribers, they may have the opportunity to vote in the open elections as well as participate in the inclusion process. If that strikes some as unfair, bear in mind that we are talking about nothing more (or less) than an affirmative action program, which was once an accepted remedy of American jurisprudence before the conservative bloc rolled back those gains with cries of "reverse discrimination" and harkened back to exclusionary rather than progressive quotas. Surely here at Pacifica we are obligated do better than that.

How Can We Ensure the Process Is Democratic and That Those Chosen Are Committed to Pacifica's Mission?

In the subscriber-only model, the vast majority of those who vote will have won their franchise by paying for the privilege. While such financial support is obviously crucial to the network, such a body of voters will likely tend to be whiter and economically better off as a group than the listenership and signal area as a whole, and thus less representative. For those who came to the defense of the hijacked network, it wasn't their material contributions but rather the exceptionality of Pacifica as a conveyer of information towards and a stimulant for social change that evoked their involvement. On the other hand, as indicated above, the inclusion model contemplates "minority" participation in pre-election coalition building and deliberation as well as in post-election policymaking by working with a trusted, chosen member of one's own community of interest. Is such a process more or less democratic than a system that only allows subscribers to cast anonymous votes for candidates they may know little or nothing about?

Certainly inclusion candidates will have to know of Pacifica's mission, and the people selecting them will know that they're voting for the cause of "resistance radio." Which process is more likely to produce board members committed to Pacifica's mission: one in which people can vote simply by contributing money, or one where the participants embody and give life to the mission by their very lives of activism and community engagement? The process of inclusion would be transparent, with the particulars available to anyone.

Is It Realistic That We Can Implement the Model in the Time Available?

Some people have expressed support for the theory of the inclusion or constituency model but suggested it would be impractical to implement in the time available to us. We would submit that if interest is widespread enough, and if members of the designated communities and other interested parties engage them in the process and do the necessary work, implementing the model is far from unrealistic. There is no reason that mobilization could not start immediately, while the bylaws debate is continuing, to alert the activist community and gauge their interest in participating in the process. Such extension and inclusion would be extremely useful for the various stations even if the model in the end were not adopted. It also should be noted that making a provision in the bylaws for the inclusion model requires the approval of just three out of five of the currently constituted Local Advisory Boards. In addition, the "deadline" for Pacifica to adopt new bylaws and hold elections is not written in stone, and can be extended by agreement of the parties and/or on a motion to the judge. The fact is that legal agreements can be modified or extended to reflect the interests of the parties, and the court's function is generally to ratify such agreement.

How Would the New Board Function?

If a model of inclusion is adopted and implemented, there remains the issue of how those representatives would be integrated with the rest of the board: those "at large" members chosen in open elections by the various stations' listener-members, however that category is defined. Interestingly, the resulting structure would share some of the characteristics of a "bicameral" (two-chamber) legislature or congress, with the at-large members equating with a Senate and the inclusion members being more like a House or Assembly. And while the board would in fact have to function as a single body, the cross-fertilization that results when two different groups sit down together would likely enhance the democratic nature of Pacifica's new governance structures.

While it's not yet clear what the powers of the new boards will be, one power they should not have is control over day-to-day operations of the stations. Operations personnel and producers (most of them unpaid) provide the on-air content that actualizes community ideas, and contribute more in terms of hours, sweat equity, and even their own money than any subscriber or volunteer. Certainly input from listeners and the 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 seek to implement in any other context.

In the end, whatever the powers and duties of the new boards, mandating that they include an adequate number of proven activists from oppressed communities will insure that Pacifica remains true to its mission, and help protect it from takeover from within and attack from without by an increasingly reactionary government.

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