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Inclusion/constituency model refined

Bylaws Implementation Proposal for Model of inclusion

This document prepared by Mark Sanborne and Mimi Rosenberg, with input from Bob Lederer seeks to provide a logistical guide to the accomplishment of and implementation of the model of inclusion or constituency model. It is a work in progress and its authors welcome the dialogue it will provoke and your input. Your comments should be communicated to merosenberg@legal-aid.org.


The model of inclusion, also known as the constituency model, is designed to broaden and deepen the concept and practice of democracy in the creation of new governance structures at WBAI and throughout the Pacifica Radio Network. Those who support the model are motivated by the conviction that only by mobilizing to include and actively involve people of color and other oppressed communities in those structures will Pacifica be able to remain true to its evolving mission and to protect itself from subversion and attack by its enemies, both inside and outside the government.

The model aims to expand participation in elections for the local boards of Pacifica's five stations beyond that envisioned by the so-called "KPFA model," in which listener-sponsors who contribute money or volunteer labor, generally during a fund-raising drive 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 anti-racist, class-conscious, grassroots activist groups from oppressed and marginalized communities and empower them to choose a designated number of representatives to the new local station boards.

It's not difficult to identify those larger communities (as opposed to various smaller sub-groups) that have borne the brunt of discrimination and bias-related violence in our society. Here in New York, a working list of such communities that would be encouraged to join in the inclusion process falls into two categories. The first is 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 process. For example, the plight of the immigrant, Arab and Muslim communities certainly calls out for special attention in the current atmosphere of wartime repression. In addition, the number of seats assigned to various categories can be varied to reflect the individual demographics of Pacifica's signal areas. The important thing is that board members chosen via this process will specifically represent, interact with and be answerable to activist constituents or communities larger than themselves. Affirmative action and proportional representation are imperative, but only by allowing oppressed communities the self-determination to choose their own representatives will the process be truly reflective of group concerns and issues, both presently and historically, rather than of any one individual.

If the model is adopted and implemented, the new station boards will consist of members chosen by the various constituencies, members chosen in general elections by listeners and subscribers, volunteers, and members chosen by station staff. Whatever the size of the board and proportion of seats allotted to the various groups, after the election process all of the new members will come together to serve on a unitary board with equal standing and powers. Though the board will function as a single body, the cross-fertilization that would result from incorporating the inclusion model with some variant of the KPFA model could only enhance the democratic nature of Pacifica's new governance structures.

The idea of inclusion must also be extended in the general elections to listeners for non-constituency seats. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that voting should be restricted to those who contribute a certain amount of money or volunteer labor, primarily during the marathon to the station. A slightly more expansive version would also allow ballots for people who sign a hardship waiver due to poverty, disability, imprisonment, etc.

Proponents of this view argue that only by contributing something materially to the stations does one demonstrate sufficient personal commitment to Pacifica's mission to be allowed to vote. We would argue that a reliance on such a monetary and materialist perspective fails not only philosophically but practically and politically as well.

The general assumption is that perhaps 10% of the listeners become paying subscribers. Does that mean they are more committed to Pacifica than the other 90%, or just that they have more disposable income? During the coup period at WBAI in 2001, a full two-thirds of those "committed" subscribers kept paying for their premiums, effectively supporting the Utricean regime. (Some were unaware of the issues, some were new listeners, and some were worried about the station's financial survival.) Nevertheless they ignored the call for a financial boycott a major tool for driving out the hijackers. Meanwhile, there were long-time listeners that joined the movement to save the station even though they had never contributed money (for whatever reason), but who had already more than demonstrated their commitment to Pacifica's mission by their lifetime of activist work.

Then there are those people who keep their radios tuned to 99.5 FM religiously but who don't contribute money or volunteer to come down and answer phones. These listeners similarly perform a vital service, indeed the specific purpose for which the station was intended. They are our life blood and their numbers are registrable. Their radios serve as recruiting stations, spreading the word to family, friends, students and coworkers. The listeners assimilate information and distill it throughout the broader public they interact with, on the front lines, on the ground . They are ambassadors and help cut the umbilicall cord for those reliant on the misinformation perpetrated by the mass media. Our loyal listeners are our strength and without their attention the network would wither and die. After all it's the larger pool of listeners, not merely the relatively small number of financial contributers whose attentiveness provides us with our vitality. Without the listeners at-large we would wither and die regardless of the material contributions from a relatively small percentage of our audience. The listeners are our shield and sword and their commitment over the years has kept us alive. Every time a listener demonstrates political activism because they were stimulated by WBAI they revitalize and protect the station.

Any listener who takes the trouble to call or visit the station to register to vote ahead of time or to request a ballot during the voting period should be allowed to register and/or receive a ballot. (Their names would be checked against the subscriber list to prevent people from receiving more than one ballot.) For those who fear we would be inundated with stooges dispatched by government agents or neoliberal Democrats, we propose a simple safeguard. In addition to giving their name and address, potential voters would have to answer a few simple questions, either in writing or over the phone:

• How long have you been listening to WBAI;
• How many hours a week (or day) do you listen and during what times of the day;
• What are your favorite shows and why;
• What new shows or perspectives would you like to hear.

Such a survey would weed out all but the most well-briefed stooges; it would be much easier for our enemies to spend a relatively few thousand dollars to purchase many hundreds of $25 subscriptions. In fact, to rule out such an outcome, and in the interest of treating all voters equally, paid subscribers should be required to fill out the same survey and return it with their ballot in order for their vote to count. That would be far more effective than signing a pledge to the Pacifica Mission, and not coincidentally would also serve as an extremely useful outreach and market research tool for the station.

Above is a summary of our previous writings on the constituency or inclusion model that went into greater depth about the history and rationale behind the concept. Below we offer a more specific outline on how to actually implement the model, including some possible variations. It is a work in progress, and further input from and engagement by the community will be necessary if the model is to succeed.

1. Seats on the local board will be elected via three processes:

A. general listeners will vote for general listener's seats;
B. members of designated communities will vote for constituency seats; and
C. staff (both paid and unpaid) will vote for staff seats.

An election board (selection process to be determined) will be convened to solely to facilitate and supervise the election process, making use of all the resources of the station and its listenership, including volunteers.

2. Two weeks before the opening of the nomination/election process the station will begin broadcasting, via both live and pre-recorded announcements, an open call to activist groups in all the designated communities to begin a dialogue with each other to discuss:

A. who they might want to encourage to nominate themselves;
B. what issues they think would be important for any candidates to address;
C. the best locations, dates and times to convene large, inclusive assemblies at geographically diverse locations throughout the listening area to choose their representatives.

3. The on-air announcements will include a phone number for the election board, which will serve as a clearinghouse and coordinator with the different constituencies about their plans for dates, times, and venues for the meetings, and how the station can facilitate them. Responsibility for actually convening these assemblies would rest with community groups themselves, but they would be strongly encouraged to make the process as collective as possible.

4. On the opening day of the nomination/elections process, a program (at least one hour) will be aired with the election board to explain the process. The program will encourage interested and qualified listeners to nominate themselves to run for either one of the general seats or the constituency seats, if they are members of one of the designated communities. It will also announce the times and locations of the meetings to choose the constituency members, which will be spread over the following three weeks.

5. Each community will be required to hold at least one assembly for each of the seats the constituency has been designated to fill. For example, if the Latino community has been designated three seats, they will have to hold at least that many meetings, with each one choosing one representative. If they wish to hold more meetings than there are seats to fill in order to seek greater participation, they will have to subsequently caucus among themselves to make their final choices.

6. In keeping with the principals of self-determination and direct democracy, the precise methodology of electing each representative will be determined by the designated communities themselves. They might choose a majority-vote method, whether by public or secret ballot, or they might employ a consensus process or some other method in keeping with the practices of their community and the expressed desires of those who have assembled.

7. The election board and station staff will work with the various groups to record as many of the constituent assemblies as practical so that portions of the deliberations can be broadcast, possibly live but more realistically on tape.

The model described above is the one we would like to see implemented because it embodies the concepts of inclusion, democracy and transparency. For the purpose of discussion we will now outline an alternative model that relies on more centralized and "traditional" Western-style voting mechanisms.

Sections 1 through 5 above still apply, except that the constituent assemblies, rather than actually choosing representatives, would be forums for previously nominated candidates to engage in debate. The election board would play a more direct role in coordinating these gatherings, and would designate one of the debates for each constituency that will be broadcast either live or on tape. During each debate, candidates will have equal time to make their case, and the audience will have the opportunity to ask questions.

The nominations will be submitted via regular mail, e-mail, or in person at the station in the three-week period following the opening day of the nomination/election process outlined in Section 3. Those seeking to nominate themselves would obtain a form (either from the station, its web site, or from other designated locations) that would include space for a personal description, commitment to Pacifica, and any other statement.

After nominations have closed, the election board will prepare and print a constituency voter guide, containing the statements submitted by all candidates, which will be made widely available. (The board will prepare a similar guide for candidates in the general election, and will organize debates for those candidates as well.) The election board will set up polling places, staffed by volunteers, at a designated number of locations throughout the listening area, for at least one full weekday and one full weekend day. To receive a ballot, each person must give their name and address and fill out the survey detailed above. They will also be given a copy of the Pacifica mission statement, as well as a solicitation to become a subscriber and/or volunteer. If they wish to identify with more than one constituency, they may cast votes for more seats as well.

Any subscriber or volunteer who cannot go to a polling place will have the option to call the station and request a ballot be mailed to them for as many constituencies as they wish to identify with. (Their status as subscriber-volunteers will be checked against the master list.)

Another possible option would be for the election board to use all the resources of the station and its listenership to organize a giant, one- or two-day nominating convention for both the general elections and the constituency elections. If they decided their attendance at the convention was large and diverse enough, a constituency might complete the process of choosing their representatives to the new station board. More likely, perhaps, they would use the opportunity to network, begin the nomination process, and organize more individual assemblies in the weeks ahead.

Such an event would be a lively, entertaining and an informative public display of democracy that could be covered on-air by WBAI in the manner of a national political convention. It would bring together the entire listener community, and help stimulate the kind of debate, exchanges, and connections between people that are at the heart of the Pacifica mission. And the Big Tent would represent a good symbol of what the model of inclusion is aiming to achieve.

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