Don Rojas addresses WBAI staff
Audio of Rojas on WBAI 12-23-02:
Date: Thu Dec 26, 2002 11:27 am
Subject: Now That's Leadership! Welcome Don!
An Address to the Staff of WBAI by new General Manager Don Rojas
December 18, 2002
Sisters and Brothers of the WBAI family.
Many thanks for your warm welcome. I am humbled and honored for having been chosen to lead WBAI as its next general manager. To all who supported my candidacy I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude.
The selection of a new GM was, indeed, a long and tedious process but it was, nonetheless, a necessary exercise in participatory democracy and institutional transparency, particularly in the wake of the recent crises at WBAI and other Pacifica stations. Those crises are now behind us and we are moving forward with new energy, momentum and determination.
My first order of business today is to salute all of you for your past and present contributions to this station and for your commitment to the mission of the Pacifica Network. I would be remiss if I did not also recognize the many years of dedicated service to WBAI rendered by my predecessor Sister Valerie Van Isler. She has kept this ship afloat through many turbulent storms and we thank her for the steady hand. I want to offer my best wishes to Valerie as she moves on to new endeavors, new battles and new victories.
In order to facilitate understanding of each other, as well as to solicit your ideas and suggestions, I would like to schedule one-on-one meetings with each member of staff over the next few weeks. I would also like to meet with the LAB, with the Program Council, the union reps and with the various station caucuses. Furthermore, I intend to schedule all-staff meetings every two weeks and weekly 'cabinet' meetings; the 'cabinet' to be made up of supervisors, heads of departments and senior staff. Structure, co-ordination and strategic planning are key elements of efficient management. In other words, the left hand must always know what the right hand is doing. Communication mechanisms will also be established to ensure regular and consistent information sharing with volunteers and with the Local Advisory Board.
Today, I don't intend to outline a detailed work program or action agenda. I promise that will come early next year after completing the process of bi-lateral meetings and consultations.
But I do want to share with you on this occasion some of the
priorities that I'd like us to work on collectively over the next
Sisters and Brothers, let me state unequivocally that under my stewardship there will be no victimizations, no favoritism, no vendettas and no hidden agendas. No one on the staff should be fearful. I carry no brief for any faction or clique or camp but I will run a tight, disciplined and organized ship.
My style of managing and leading will be democratic, consultative, and open-minded. I will seek to build consensus whenever possible but I will insist on the timely execution of decisions taken and on respect for processes that are structured, democratic and transparent. I will be flexible on tactics, firm on principle, and uncompromising in the pursuit of excellence.
I fully intend to respect and honor the principle of fair representation for the various branches of the larger WBAI family on the station's paid staff and also in the content of its programming.
One of the great strengths of this radio station is the on-air talent, a beautiful rainbow of voices representing a universe of ideas and interests. Under my watch, WBAI will continue to be a platform for the free expression of New York's rich diversity but in utilizing that sometimes intoxicating tool we call a microphone, we must always be mindful of the sanctity of the WBAI airtime. It's an invaluable asset. Let's not squander it. Let's not abuse or violate this asset to wage personal battles against each other or to posture and profile our egos. Apart from legitimate concerns for FCC regulations, the trifling use of airtime to malign people we don't like or have disagreements with is not the exercise of free speech but rather the irresponsible use of the airwaves. Leave that to the trashy right-wing talk shows. It is below the dignity of this institution. Besides, our loyal listeners expect from us positive and consciousness-raising radio. We disrespect them when we give them negativity, mediocrity and egoism. Also, WBAI's airtime should not be used for promoting the commercial interests of producers or their guests. After all, this is still non-commercial, listener-supported radio. By the same token, I hope we can improve our care and concern for the physical plant here at the station, for the equipment and the furniture. We should not treat the BAI property with any less diligence than we treat our own private possessions.
Let us not forget also that each of us - staff members, LAB members etc - is an ambassador for WBAI. We are representatives of the station, of its mission, its ideals, and our conduct both on and off the air reflects an image to the world outside the station's boundaries. Let us therefore conduct ourselves with the dignity and integrity of good ambassadors.
Sisters and Brothers, some 20 years ago I had the privilege of working for the Grenada Revolution, which was led by the late Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.
For 4 years this popular Revolution succeeded in improving the quality of life for the people of Grenada. This "Big Revolution in a Small Country" (as one Caribbean historian titled his book) was admired and respected around the world because it had the temerity to stand up to the might of the US government and to state boldly that it did not see itself in the US's backyard or in its private lake, that it was going to follow its own independent path to development and that it was not going to accept dictates from any foreign power.
This revolutionary democratic process was led by a vanguard party known as the New Jewel Movement, which for four years maintained a semblance of unity until factional fights, cliquism, and narrow sectarianism tore the party asunder, alienated it from the Grenadian masses, led to a Stalinist coup d'etat which brutally assassinated Bishop and other revolutionary leaders and created the pretext for a military invasion by the Ronald Reagan administration.
When the US marines landed in Grenada a week after Bishop's murder the Grenada revolution had already destroyed itself. It had already imploded. The US invasion merely drove the final nail into the Revolution's coffin.
Twenty years later I, and many others, still ache and pain over those tragic events, over the loss of friends and comrades and the senseless loss of a social experiment that was full of hope and promise for people throughout the Caribbean and Latin American region and around the Third World.
WBAI is also a vanguard institution, a 21st century weapon in the struggle for peace and justice, and two years ago BAI itself almost imploded. But thanks to the courageous actions of many of you in this room our beloved station was saved from the jaws of defeat. I sincerely believe that progressives in this country can learn much from the lessons of Grenada and of other popular movements and processes that were destabilized from within. And the most salient of all the lessons to be pondered is that when we fight and destroy each other over secondary contradictions we are simply doing the dirty work for our adversaries and playing into the hands of reaction. So let us pledge today that the events of December 2000 will never be repeated at this station and let us also hope that one day, the truths that were crushed to the earth in Grenada shall rise again.
Today is as good a day as any other to celebrate WBAI's proud and rich history and to herald its many noteworthy achievements spanning four decades. But I am convinced that the value and relevance of BAI and Pacifica is not a thing of the past - our best days are ahead of us, not behind us. The future is bright for this institution.
You are a wonderful collection of racially and culturally diverse individuals, talented and committed folk. There's nothing quite like this in New York or in the Pacifica Network, for that matter. But the times now call for this marvelous collection of people to gel as a collective, to be connected to a common denominator without compromising our unique individualities.
But if we are to build a healthy, vibrant collective we must embrace all that increases our solidarity and reject all that attempts to divide us. We must not only work together as a team but we must also make time to play together, socialize with each other, applaud each other's individual victories and triumphs and empathize with each other's individual setbacks and difficulties. Sounds idealistic? Maybe so, but at my age and with a few experiences under my belt I'm not yet ready to succumb to cynicism. I'm not calling for touchy, feely love-ins but as mature adults we can at least begin to build a collective by being civil with each other, by being humane towards each other.
Acting individually we are relatively powerless. Acting as a collective we can be relatively powerful. But the operative word here is relative. Let us not harbor any delusions about our real power as distinct from our potential power. Compared to the power of our adversaries we are like a singular ant confronting an elephant in an utterly futile 'rumble in the jungle'. But a collective of 'guerilla' ants marching in unison up the elephant's tail, far away from his trunk and his crushing feet can, indeed, put a serious hurting in his butt.
Both WBAI and the Pacifica Network are feisty ants with huge potential power but that power will never be realized if we spend inordinate time and energy hurting each other and not fighting the stampeding elephants.
At the end of 2002, we are witnessing tens of thousands of people of all ethnicities, religions and political affiliations, cutting across the generations, organizing and mobilizing around this country and the world against an impending war in the Middle East.
Tens of thousands of youths continue to take to the streets in cities around the world in anti-corporate globalization and anti-racism protests.
Thousands of Americans, alarmed at what's being done to them in the name of fighting terrorism are beginning to organize a fight back to Washington's assaults on our civil liberties.
In the months ahead, these forces will turn to BAI and Pacifica for information, for inspiration, for analysis, for guidance.
It is therefore imperative that we prepare ourselves to more effectively serve the needs of these growing social movements. How do we do that?
Fundamentally, we must recognize the gravity of such a responsibility. Secondly, we need to modify our programming model to meet the organizational and mobilization requirements of the movements and thirdly we must allocate resources to training the staff in the skills and competencies that the times demand.
The super-power ideology emanating from Washington is an ideology that seeks peace and global stability through coercion, not through justice and fairness. It is an ideology of dominance, control, aggression, acquisition at the expense of others, disrespect for the sovereignty of whole peoples and nations, subjugation of other cultures, the foisting of a Western value system and way of life on others who have no interest or need for it. Such an ideology is life destroying, not life affirming.
This post cold war ideology of the sole super-power is exemplified in US foreign policy on two fronts: the doctrine of pre-emptive strike and unrivaled supremacy and the bullying of the United Nations. This pre-emptive doctrine is unprecedented in the annals of imperial arrogance. It is Uncle Sam's ego writ large. It not only dismisses the basic tenets of international law but, more ominously, it represents a dangerous threat to world peace in our lifetime.
There is no countervailing force at the level of state power to be found, no effective checks and balances originating from the capitals of the world. The once mighty Russian bear has been de-fanged. The Chinese star is rising in the East but it will be years before it reaches its optimum strength and Europe, while grumbling about Washington acting as an overly aggressive cop, has no appetite for confronting this type of global police brutality. Besides, the European elites understand quite clearly that the doctrine of pre-emptive strike is not directed at them but at those "unruly" people of color, the vast majority of whom were once colonized by Europe itself.
The corporate media, which is becoming less diverse each day thanks to the free-market policies of the FCC, has been cowed into genuflecting to this super-power ideology. Look at how it deliberately under-reports and discredits the peace movement or the actions of working people struggling for economic justice.
But there is an emerging force coming from the streets in cities and towns across the USA and the world, a populist force that is justifiably alarmed and wants to do something to reverse this perilous course.
In domestic policy, this ideology manifests itself in the emphasis on homeland security and tax cuts for the wealthy. Racism, sexism, chauvinism and uncritical patriotism are the handmaidens of this ruling class agenda. It is precisely this super-power arrogance that has bred so much hatred for the US government around the world and which fuels the terrorism that takes so many innocent lives in acts of mindless violence. I submit that the first step in making the homeland more secure is to make the homeland more compassionate. Giving the government the right to spy on every American and to gather data on their personal affairs is more than a blatant violation of privacy. It is the beginning of high-tech fascism in America.
This ideology is in contradiction to all of our vital interests, no matter if we're Black or White or Latino or Asian, straight or gay, believers or non-believers. The epic magnitude of this struggle commands us all to rise above petty differences, to sublimate our egos and personal agendas and instead to work in collaboration with each other and with this rising populism.
To not struggle against this menace would be irresponsible. The stakes are too high. As serious progressives we have a duty to both expose and oppose this madness in all aspects of our radio programming from news and public affairs to arts and culture as well as in our various community outreach activities. To dissipate our energy in sandbox fights over secondary contradictions is to render a disservice to the oppressed communities that we come from and to short-change the growing peace and justice movement that WBAI is part and parcel of.
In the weeks and months ahead, with unity and resolve, let the collective voice of BAI say to the critics and the nay-sayers-
No, the left does not eat its babies; No, the left will not render itself impotent with divisive squabbles: No, the left will no longer wallow in its own self-righteousness.
The Left will henceforth struggle mightily for life, liberty, democracy and the pursuit of happiness for all, not just for a few, that the Left is about building a future of peace and justice for all and that we will steadfastly oppose the conservation of a political and economic order that benefits a small minority at the expense of a vast majority.
This, dear friends, is the unique historical task of progressive institutions like WBAI. Our programming, therefore, must not only reflect our principled protest to this hegemonic agenda but also it must articulate an alternative vision for our listeners, an uplifting, liberating and empowering vision.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that I bring one simple agenda to this job - to work with all of you in a dynamic collective that grows WBAI into the most influential and respected alternative media institution in this country. I carry no water for any political party or political orthodoxy. All I seek is your support and co-operation and I pledge to you my best efforts.
In the months ahead let's make an effort to be patient with each other. Let us communicate regularly with each other. Let us lift each other up as we all lift the station up. Remember, we're running a marathon, not a sprint. We're in the midst of a protracted struggle against a mighty foe. We have to pace ourselves and conserve our energies for the big battles that lie ahead. We may all be required to make some sacrifices that are in the best interest of the station and of our movement. Let us try to make them with grace and without rancor.
A few days ago my father turned 80 years old. A long-time radioman, trained by the BBC, he managed radio stations around the Caribbean during his career. When I called him on his birthday to congratulate him on reaching this milestone I also asked him for a few words of advice from an old pro as I undertake my new task.
He said to me: "Son, treat your staff fairly and respect your listeners by giving them the highest quality programming the station is capable of producing." And then he added, "when things get a little crazy, as they inevitably will, take a moment to meditate and pray and remember the words of the poet Rudyard Kipling in the poem 'If'---keep your head on when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you." And I said to him, "thanks Pops, you're the man".
Sisters and Brothers, working in harmony, I am convinced we can achieve our lofty objectives. Let us now link hands and hearts and minds and let us march forward shoulder to shoulder towards the noble goal of using radio and new media to construct a better city, a better country and a better world for our children, our families, our friends, and ultimately, for all humanity.
Long Live WBAI
Don Rojas - Address to WBAI staff and volunteers.
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