New York City--Plaintiffs in the three lawsuits against the Pacifica Foundation have reached a breakthrough in negotiations that would give dissident forces a slender majority of a newly configured national board when it meets later this month.
"We believe that the implementation of this agreement will begin the rebuilding of the Pacifica Foundation," the plaintiffs said in a joint statement that was released Saturday.
The left-leaning Pacifica Network, which has radio stations in New York (WBAI-99.5 FM), Los Angeles, Houston, Berkeley and Washington, D.C., has been engulfed in recent years in a power struggle between grassroots activists and corporate modernizers. The parent Pacifica Foundation is currently facing lawsuits from dissident national board members, four of its five Local Advisory Boards (LABs) and listeners.
Facing a historic court battle, Pacifica's leadership entered into mediation talks with its opponents on November 1. According to a source close to the negotiations, reformers will have a 10-9 majority when the Pacifica Board meets November 17-18 in Washington, D.C.
The final agreement is still being worked out in closed-door talks with Pacifica Board chairman Robert Farrell and former Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Berry. Speaking at a Saturday night benefit for "Democracy Now in Exile", Juan Gonzales, Director of the Pacifica Campaign, warned that "the devil is in the details."
Plaintiff representatives participating in the negotiations are Dave Adelson (Los Angeles LAB), Pete Bramson (National Board member), Leslie Cagan (National Board member), Sherry Gendelman (Berkeley LAB), Barbara Lubin (Friends of Free Speech Radio), Miguel Maldonado (New York LAB), Thomas Moran (National Board member), Robbie Osman (Friends of Free Speech Radio) and Carol Spooner (Committe to Remove the Pacifica Board).
Saturday's announcement was greeted with cautious optimism in New York.
"I think this looks very hopeful and I'm looking forward to hearing the details," said Amy Goodman, the award-winning host of Democracy Now in Exile. Goodman's show has been dropped by four out of five of the Pacifica stations (including WBAI) but is still being carried on close to 30 community radio stations as well as cable access channels around the country.
"We hope this change in the board will bring Pacifica home to its mission," said Valerie van Isler, the former station manager of WBAI who was sacked by Pacifica management last December 23 in what critics have dubbed the "Christmas Coup." Twenty-five WBAI programers and producers have been removed from the station since then.
WBAI is New York's only listener-sponsored community radio station and loyal supporters have rallied to save the station. Debra Michaud, a CUNY grad student, expressed quiet satisfaction with Saturday's news. She discovered WBAI last year while living and working in the New Jersey suburbs and estimates she has attended more than 30 pickets, rallies, marches and vigils since the station's crisis began.
"The combination of Bush and losing Pacifica was enough to get me into the streets," Michaud said. "And, I knew I was in for the long haul."
Pete Korakis was driving home from work on January 25 when he heard that nine WBAI LAB members were being arrested for trying to hold their monthly meeting at the station. He threw himself into the fray, designing the wbaiaction.org web site and later starting a round-the-clock vigil outside WBAI's office at 120 Wall Street.
"It was guerrilla tactics all the way," Korakis said. "...It (the vigil) gave a human face to this movement. Programmers would come out at 3, 4, and 5 p.m. and see people there and realize that these were just people trying to do the right thing."
Stacking chairs at the end of the benefit, Korakis voiced a wary optimism about Saturday's turn of events.
"I'm skeptical but I'm happy," he said. "...I don't trust them (Pacifica) further than I can throw them."
(Ojette Brundage contributed to this report.)