A history of the struggle at Pacifica
- by Maria Gilardin (Berkeley)
(posted here 8-12-01)
( posted by the email list at: http://savewbai.tao.ca
Maria started as volunteer in the KPFA news department in 1982. Was co-founder of the women's department and later became KPFA's promotion and development director. She was banned by the Pacifica National Board from all Pacifica stations in 1993 and became a co-founder of Take Back KPFA. After losing her voice on KPFA she founded TUC Radio, a weekly national radio program on globalization, local resistance, and Native Nations that is aired on 55 stations - still excluding KPFA.
The group photo at the Fillmore Auditorium included the "Best of the Bay's" Hairdresser and Sushi bar, the "best" film makers, several KPFA staffers for their resistance to Pacifica's takeover and a new category: the first ever "I told You So" award. Jeff Blankfort and I were the recipients in the annual San Francisco Bay Guardian "Best Of" awards of 1999. Thus ended - we thought - a several year long period in which the efforts of Save KPFA and Take Back KPFA were belittled by Pacifica managers and certain KPFA staff members as the work of just two people.
The story of the early history of resistance to the long drawn out execution of Pacifica' s dream, mission and reality includes the over 200 listeners who met at Berkeley's Ashkenaz to prevent the dismissal of the community programmers on KPFA in January, 1993. That gathering followed a tension-filled meeting, held in the pouring rain, (in what then was the empty office next to the station which later became Pacifica's headquarters). That January night, attended by more than 150 people, staff members, backed by supporters from the community, stepped to the microphone to denounce the regime of then general manager Pat Scott and with that energy, saved the 7-8 pm weekday programs for just another three years, and left Salniker with no choice but to remove Scott from the job. But as we will see later, she would come back with a vengeance Even though the cancellation of Living on Indian time, the women's, labor and Pacific Islander's, gay-lesbian programs and many more was protested by an even larger group of listeners, and this time, by some members of staff, they were not rescinded after the purge of August, 1995. The dismissal of Mama O'Shea and of Bill Mandel, in May of that year, also led to large demonstrations - but to no avail. And some key members of the paid staff sided openly with the management's decisions.
The group of people who early on saw the systematic nature of the shift in Pacifica was always fairly small. In an ironic clash of Pacifica National rhetoric and reality the early opponents of Pacifica were almost all African-Americans.
When Pacifica held its Spring Board meeting in February 1993 at Berkeley's posh Claremont Hotel a huge delegation arrived from KPFK in Los Angeles. One contingent represented the "African Mental Liberation" program that brought African history by African scholars to the air. It had come under attack for alleged anti-semitic remarks. The other group, also African-Americans, included Ron Wilkins, a former National Board member and host of a "Continent to Continent," a program on KPFK that dealt with current African history and politics. They carried banners into the meeting room with slogans such as: "Liberation radio, Yes, Plantation Radio, No!"
At that board meeting representatives from the KPFK contingent, Jeff and I, and WBAI program director Samori Marksman met. The atmosphere was one of defiance. Pat Scott had made herself so unpopular with KPFA staff that it seemed just a matter of time that she would be forced to leave. Samori, as he continued to do until his death, would personally protect WBAI with his negotiating skills, courage and strong personal sense of direction. Even if there had been a method of pulling it off, there seemed no desire or need to come up with a "national" plan of resistance. We wished each other luck and promised to stay in touch. Little did we know that the first purges were to begin only three months later.
One of the things that made me unpopular with the Pacifica National Board (PNB) was my insistence on access to the books. A friend had helped me analyze the annual reports of the previous four years and we found a disturbing trend. Pacifica had begun building an ever expanding central office, using funds from stations to increase the pay of national officers by several thousands of dollars each, while claiming in union negotiations that there was no money to adequately pay station staff.
Legal and consultants' fees were going up. The 990 tax forms showed $145,000 in fund-raising expenses for KPFA that were not explained. What were those expenses for?, I asked in my three minute presentation at the February 1993 board meeting. And why did Pacifica National change their accounting procedure to disguise the rising cost of management? Unexpectedly the controller, Sandra Rosas, jumped up from her seat at the board table and shouted: "Are you accusing me of fraud?" I had not used the words. So her response seemed an admission. And today, eight years later, we still have not seen the books and she has been in charge all that time.
At the February '93 board meeting I was told that I had to wait until the next board meeting for answers to my question. And so I submitted my list with all the other public comment contributions to the board's chair, Jack O'Dell.
I sensed that something unexpected would occur when I entered the board meeting in Los Angeles in June of 1993 to pick up my answers. I found my questions had been omitted from the minutes of the public comment section. At the board table Pat Scott started whispering to David Salniker. Chairman Jack O'Dell, who had promised both Jeff Blankfort and myself that we would have time to make personal statements (in addition to reading prepared statements from Take Back KPFA, and the staff, respectively) adjourned the meeting before I was allowed to speak on the issue of Pacifica's faulty financials.
My shouted protest was drowned out in the bustle of people leaving the room. Later Pat Scott and Marci Lockwood claimed that I had blocked the door and kicked a board member. Dozens of people knew that that was untrue. A video taken by a former KPFK volunteer was later shown at La Pena. I could be seen standing to the side of the door with an armful of papers pleading with people not to leave.
Three days later I received a letter signed by Jack O'Dell banning me from all Pacifica stations for threatening the board with violence. Five others, including Jeff, Sue Supriano, (a long-time KPFA programmer), and Jeff, were banned from speaking at future meetings of the board. A letter to Chairman Jack O'Dell, requesting a hearing and the due process that Pacifica ostensibly supported, was summarily rejected.
In hindsight that was the beginning of an era of bannings and selective claims of violence with which to discredit the critics and to spin stories for the media or the courts. As of this writing over 300 people have been banned from the five Pacifica stations and the numbers rising weekly at WBAI. The purges at KPFA in 1995, when more than 60 programmers were fired, many of them community activists, brought out more than 400 angry listeners at two successive meetings at the No. Berkeley Senior Center. With very few exceptions, staff at KPFA did not support the fired unpaid staff. It is no secret that Philip Maldari was among those in favor of the dismissals - he said so on the air.
Subsequently, in a move that turned out to be a serious mistake, KPFA's paid staff voted to leave the United Electrical Workers and join another union, the Communication Workers of America. To the dismay of the UE union members at WBAI they then voted to exclude the unpaid staff from the union contract while WBAI workers fought up to the NLRB to keep union representation for unpaid staff.
Those two actions created a rift between paid and unpaid staff that exists to this day. The paid staff also relinquished the influence that the UE contract provided in terms of the management of the station (managers had to take pay cut before staff would be laid off) and voted for the first time in KPFA labor history to sign a no-strike clause.
All along Take Back KPFA and listeners who were aware of the changes in the union contract tried to influence staff and shop stewards to stay in unity with WBAI and to not abandon the unpaid staff - but again, it was to no avail. In a surreal episode of parallel universes, most of KPFA paid staff made an appearance at the Pacifica National Board meeting in Oakland in June of 1997. We had a huge picket line outside the hotel, and packed the audience for the public comment session. KPFA staff filed in, wearing new CWA T-shirts, and then filed right out again after Kris Welch said a few words about their contract negotiations. We ran after them and pleaded with them to stay. That session was extremely important, Mary Frances Berry was chosen as Pat Scott's successor. Roberta Brooks claimed that the board had already voted to exclude the LAB representatives from the National Board. Jeff Blankfort had taped that preceding meeting and was able to prove that she was mistaken, if not lying. It would take Pacifica National two more years to remove the LAB members.
To recount all major events up to today with this level of detail would fill the pages of the Folio. The examples above are simply there to make a point - or two. The most sinister aspect is the intent, planning, and criminal energy expended on this by Pacifica National. The plan to execute Pacifica and the method by which to do it was first outlined in the Strategic Plan of 1992; preparations took at least four years. The Strategic Plan began under David Salniker with Dick Bunce, (a former editor of the Socialist Review!) as the co-author with now departed Gail Christian, continued under Pat Scott to Mary Frances Berry, Lynn Chadwick, Bessie Wash and their numerous helpers. What is frightening is that The Plan survived a changing cast of characters and was expanded into a Five-Year Plan which was crafted in a series of board meetings that were described as "retreats.". They all operated in the same fashion: centralization of the organization and of money, destruction of programming and of unions, firing and banning of staff, suspension of free speech, use of armed force, and the replacement of listeners.
If all this were reported from a Central American Country, or an African country, we would recognize it immediately for what it is: the wholesale destruction of a society, colonialism, imperialism, or structural adjustment; and we might see a national movement of resistance to these policies and of support of the people of that country. Applied internally we might use some of the same words to define it. The colonizing of the voice of Pacifica. But we do have a more exact term to use: counter-intelligence. If Cointelpro was used against the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, the Anti Apartheid Movement, Earth First - why would we expect Pacifica to be exempt?
The situation reminds me of the story of the burning books told by Bertolt Brecht in exile. Brecht, whose own books went up in flames, wrote about the anguish of a writer whose books were left unburned by the Nazis. "Was I not also telling the truth, did I not show courage in face of suppression?" he has that writer say. "Why do you discredit me by not burning my books?"
Pacifica was certainly challenging power and some voices still do at KPFA and WBAI. It was certainly a deserving target for a Cointelpro action and remains that today. If not for the present reality of some of the programming, then at least for the dormant potential to really be a voice of the voiceless, as intended by the founders.
All these elements are finally clear to see and recognized by most listeners and even by a large number of programming staff. I'm using the word "even" not because I want to be unkind. The people most acted upon, most targeted, most made collaborators in their own demise are almost always the last to recognize the pattern and its systematic nature.
The listeners however, even without knowing many of the details that the gag rule and the acquiescence to the gag rule by so many staff members for so long concealed from them, became alarmed by the programming and format changes. They also wanted to know where their money went and became furious at the abuse of funds and the prospect that those bent on destroying Pacifica, which includes almost all members of the Pacifica's National "unit" were so handsomely paid for their work.
You may agree with the line of reasoning so far but still not be willing to take the next step. You may say that Pacifica indeed was deserving to be targeted by a Cointelpro operation but, since the most serious onslaught came while the Democrats held state power, during the Clinton years, it could not have been a government program since Democrats don't do such things. The flurry of recent efforts to personalize the Pacifica National Board members, to meet with them and talk, is an expression of that mind set. The assumption that they are just misguided persons who will see the light if spoken to reasonably is promoted by many. What is overlooked is that the effort to initiate these meetings is made in most cases by the other side and that they are making any such events into political hay.
After Dan Siegel, the lawyer for the LAB suit, talked KPFK LAB member David Adelson into coming to Washington to meet with John Murdock, and his boss Daly Temchine, Ken Ford, and Bessie Wash; Pacifica National violated a promise to keep this meeting confidential by issuing a press release that hit the Houston Board meeting like a bomb shell, claiming "substantive negotiations" had occurred.
Pacifica's lawyer, John Rappaport, used the meeting in the hearing before the judge to issue a temporary restraining order to keep Pacifica books from being moved from Los Angeles to Washington. He told the judge that substantive negotiations were occurring, and that there was no need to stop the transfer of records. The judge denied the temporary restraining order. The books are now in Washington in the hands of a person hired by Pacifica National. He claims they are in such bad order that he needs to fix them.
Philip Maldari's meeting, in February 2001, with Pat Scott, David Salniker, Roberta Brooks, Jack O'Dell, Ying Lee Kelly, and Judge Jenny Rhine falls into the same category. He called for it without consulting with staff or the LAB. Apparently nobody else participated in it. To this day we are not sure what exactly was discussed because Philip has not reported to anybody except for the bare essentials.
Many KPFA LAB members have resisted even discussing this meeting on the LAB's agenda. Vociferous voices came out asserting that Philip has the right to freely assemble and that it would be something like an inquisition to ask him to report to the LAB. The idea was floated that two LAB members should see Philip and talk to him. My name came up as a candidate for that delegation. I resisted it because I do not see the need for a filter. The report should be made directly. The listeners have a right to hear the report as well, directly. How would Philip ever be fairly represented if he was not speaking directly?
My sense of urgency around the issues of those two meetings comes from personal conviction that we are at a very crucial point in the battle with Pacifica. After ten years of skirmishes - most of which we lost - we may see the end of it all - probably even before the end of this year. The lawsuits, especially the listener's suit, have defined the issues in a sharp and clear light: This Pacifica National Board is illegitimate with only three exceptions, and the listeners have standing to demand the return of "their" network. Legally, ethically, and based on Pacifica's mission, the outcome in the courts should be a victory. However we can't be sure of that. In the pro-corporate neo-liberal world Pacifica is a potential danger to the status quo. The suit might set a precedent for other anti corporate suits. The famous, long disused question: "Quo warranto? By what authority?" that is part of the essence of the listeners suit and that was once a rallying concept of the populist movement, may not be allowed into the public discourse again.
So, sadly enough, we need to be prepared not just for victory but for defeat, at least in the courts. Of course that does not have to be the end of it by any means. We can still protect Pacifica. But we need to come up with a common strategy among all five stations and we need to put the question to the staffs at all the stations whether they want to be on the side of Pacifica National or with the communities they are serving. We don't even have to spell out in great detail what serving the community might mean. A few programmers are already doing an excellent job of it. If we manage to have truly open, democratic structures that will work itself out.
The problem in doing this is compounded by the fact that WPFW in Washington DC, which censors Democracy Now on a regular basis, and KPFT in Houston are Pacifica in name and in legal ownership only, having long ago become largely music stations--jazz in DC and Country Western in Texas. And in Los Angeles, General Manager Mark Schubb, backed by Marc Cooper, rules the station like a petty dictator.
The simple question, that seems too hard to answer for many staff members at KPFA and WBAI, is: will they stand up to Pacifica National? Will they refuse to be gagged, will they support their fired colleagues, will they go on strike? Are they willing to defend more than their jobs? Are they willing to defend Pacifica even if it means that they lose their jobs? How many are willing to recognize that all these potential sacrifices are really very small compared to the prospect of finding the SOLD sign pinned to the door one day?
And I guess the argument returns again to the question of how serious all this really is and whether or not there are just a few misguided individuals on the National Board who can be talked into seeing their errors.
Take John Murdock for example. How reasonable he sounded in the interview with Juan Gonzales. Is he the same man who just re-wrote the bylaws, making it possible to sell with ease not just one, but at least two of the stations, pocket a hefty commission for his services and disburse the funds donated by listeners to another organization? This is the blueprint for the "legal" dissolution of Pacifica, the administrative execution, far worse than previous schemes developed by Mary Frances Berry. She simply suggested to sell KPFA or WBAI or both, and buy a string of radio stations in the South. Murdock's position enables the end of Pacifica as an institution.
Far from abandoning the bylaws that elicited an overwhelming amount of thoughtful and spirited negative comments, Murdock, at this very moment, is moving forward with a "process" by which the LABS and station managers are ordered to take part in a discussion. They are made complicit in the re-writing of the most precious asset, the old bylaws of Pacifica, butchered and amended but with the basic premise that Pacifica needs to survive as an institution still intact. Murdock's process focuses on changes or amendments to his new bylaws. LABs should not become complicit in a process whose outcome is preordained. And, on the topic of complicity, this same Murdock offered to Dan Siegel power sharing of 15 LAB and 15 nationally appointed members in their recent meeting in Washington, (an offer that was refused).
Revisiting for a moment Philip Maldari's meeting. The little we know about it is that the idea of a local management agreement for KPFA came up. KPFA staff who spoke to Philip briefly thought that his intent was to find a way to rescue KPFA from a collapse of the Pacifica system. Since Pat Scott put the deed to the building in Pacifica's name a rental agreement would need to be entered into.
In terms of supervision and control of staff and programming, I was told that Philip wanted to find out if there might be a way of making KPFA independent from Pacifica. The same staff members who gave me this information expressed surprise that Philip appears so divorced from the analysis of and debate over the role of the current Pacifica leadership as well as the role of the very people he is now asking for help, to have taken that step.
First of all any local management agreement is still just another way of destroying Pacifica. To take the strongest station away from the others has the same effect as a sale. It just does not look as brutal. By now the majority of the people organizing to protect "their" station are clear on the concept that Pacifica National is the adversary and that the five-station federation needs to be saved. Secondly the fact that the meeting took place at all confirms that none of the old guard ever went away. After having set in motion the events that now bring Pacifica to the brink of destruction, they are still partners in this game: Roberta Brooks and Ying Lee Kelly represent the tie in to the Democratic party as staff people for Ron Dellums. Brooks initiated the removal of the LAB members from the PNB. Jack O'Dell, once a member of the Communist Party, was dropped by Martin Luther King from his staff after John Kennedy, acting on the advice of J Edgar Hoover, told him to get rid of him. Somewhere along the line he had become acceptable to State Power and presided, in defiance of all term limits, as Chair of the PNB only to resign in 1997 in favor of Mary Frances Berry. David Salniker groomed Pat Scott, while she served for several years on the Local Advisory Board, to become his successor when he moved up to become the Pacifica Executive director. He talked the staff into accepting her as manager when she caught herself in contradictions in her interview with staff and listed among her credentials the fact that she had helped dissolve the Berkeley CO-OP. When the KPFA staff finally succeeded in getting rid of her as manager, Salniker created a job for her as a lobbyist in Washington from which he was to later move her into the position of Executive Director when he took over directorship of the Tides Foundation.
Scott herself, probably the most hated manager KPFA has had, disappeared into the Washington circuit for almost a year and created her bonds with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). She returned to become the most destructive Pacifica Executive Director ever: In 1994, on the CPB task force, she brought down the heavy hand of the market on all recipients of CPB funding. Purges began at WPFW that same year.
In 1995 she fired KPFK management, and seized control of the books. She hired consultants and retained the services of David Giovannoni who continues to advise to this day, that programming needs to be mainstreamed in order to comply with the funding guidelines she and Lynn Chadwick voted for on the CPB task force.
In 1995 Pat Scott began the successful campaign against the unions at KPFK and KPFA, hiring the American Consulting Group, a national union-busting firm. The WBAI union took a principled stand and escaped. To this day Pacifica is following ACG's advice: The ACG instructs employers to make claims that staff and union members are violent - even if those claims are false, and to threaten or bribe people of color into collaborating with management. These techniques are laid out in their training film.
Also in 1995, Pat Scott finally felt strong enough to request major purges of programmers and whole programming departments at KPFA. She closed all finance committee meeting on the PNB to the public - in direct violation of CPB funding rules, and she issued the famous: "My way or the highway memo" announcing vast changes in management of the foundation, advising LAB members who disagreed to resign. When Pat Scott had members of the audience removed from Pacifica National Board meetings later that year, an investigator from the CPB's Inspector General's office, Brian McConnville, looked into Pacifica's possible violations of CPB guidelines. 17 days after beginning the investigation, and after Pacifica's lawyer called his boss, McConnville was fired. After failing to get any satisfaction from Chair Jack O'Dell, Take Back KPFA filed a formal complaint with the CPB. Over a year later, on the eve of recommending defunding of Pacifica for numerous violations of federal communications law and CPB regulations, as he told Jeff Blankfort, the Deputy-Inspector General Mike Donavan, was fired as well, and his office would give us no forwarding phone or address. When the next Inspector General finally managed to come out with a critical report even that was whitewashed by the CPB Board that brushed its critical aspects aside and expressed confidence in the job that Pat Scott and Jack O'Dell were doing.
When Scott announced her retirement, CPB President Robert Coonrod, who formerly headed both the Voice of America and Radio Marti, praised Scott for the transformation she had effected in Pacifica. That Scott, who also admitted to having been a member of the Communist Party, had received a commendation from such a source, rekindled suspicions of a Cointelpro operation. Add to this the curious fact that the presence of two former members of the US Communist Party at the head of Pacifica, O'Dell as well as Scott, elicited not a word of Red-baiting from Capitol Hill. To borrow a title from A. Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, it seems like a case of "The Dog That Didn't Bark in the Night."
Former PNN news director Dan Coughlin's recent talk at a fundraiser for investigative reporting added a chilling new dimension. He said Lynn Chadwick would call the President of the CPB , Robert Coonrod "Uncle Bob" and she claimed that now that KPFA was in trouble the CPB would shell out some money to see the matter through. The "trouble" of course being the occupation of the station by police and the arrest of staff. Dan was careful to note that he did not know if that money ever came through but in the light of the earlier firings of CPB inspectors it is a story that makes sense in an eerie way.
If after reading this far, you still do not agree with my theory that this really is a government operation, I hope you will at least entertain the thought that the difference of opinion and intent, between listeners and much of the staff on one side, and the PNB and Pacifica National on the other side, could not be larger. Many new people have recently joined the battle for the survival of Pacifica recently and this ought to be our best time ever.
We now have links from station to station; we have eloquent speakers and we have a new, wider appeal to the public-at-large. But with the influx of new people there will invariably be many who were not witnesses to the systematic, long term dismemberment of Pacifica; who think it is just a couple of people gone mad or astray. Those of us who know the history have a responsibility to pass it on.
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