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A Network at War

by Tom Gomez Wednesday, Jun. 08, 2005 at 7:36 AM (202) 588-0999x310 2390 Champlain St Washington DC 20011

Since ostensiblly winning a campaign to recapture the small progressive Pacifica network that spanned years, involving at one time three seperate lawsuits, and 10's of thousands of its active listerners, the tiny network is once again at war with itself.....Having, along with senior producer Ryme Kakthouda, joined in filing complaints of discrimination on basis of national origin and ethnicity at the last meeting of our national board in NYC, ( and with women angry about sexism, and the networks failure to do anything more than deny its existence, planning an actual march on Berkley to file similar complaints next month, all matters likely to head into litigation within a matter of weeks now, this seemed like a good time to carve up all the sacred cows.

A Network at War...
pacimages.jpg, image/jpeg, 111x110

I'm not winning any popularity contests at Pacifica anyway so why not? Before I do so I'd like to thank Alex Strinberg for inspiring me to write this peice by asking me a simple question namely "Do

I beleive in listener democracy?" To which I gave a simple But if my answer was a simple one,

my reasons are not .

Each and every one of our stations has millions of potential listeners in its signal area. Each one of

those listeners has in a certain way, at one time or another, 'voted' for us. By choosing to listen to one

of our programs at some time or other. All Arbitron gives us is a guess as to how many do so at once at

any given time. Most of our potential listeners have probablly heard us at some or other. Of those who have some tune in more or less regularly for one or more of our program offerings. Weather they listen regularly

or sporadicly, each and every time a listener tunes in our signal he or she has 'voted' to listen to us. That

is no small thing. Collectively these listeners have hundreds of FM radio signals to chose from, and saying

that even avoids the wider question of how many different entertainment options they have available.

Now radio of course is free so most of these listeners, including most who tune in regularly, have

never and will never give us any of their time or money. If I recall correctly it is estimated that less

than 10% in fact do so. Of this small group of people most have no interest in our foundations governance.

In fact just over 10% voted our last election. Even out of these people, who themselves represent only

about 1% of the listenership and a 10th of the revenue, only a small fraction are interested enough

to go to candidate forums or have attended even one governance meeting. Those who run for governance

boards, attend regular business meetings, any fly, drive, and ride buses back and forth accross the

nation for national board meetings as I myself have done are not 'the community', nor even 'thelisteners', we are small groups of media activists with competing adgendas trying, with varying degrees of sucess, to exert influence upon the foundation. The outcome of our collective efforts has not been good governance, but institutional anarchy. As one activist described the board at the NY meeting it is 'a whole

which is less than the sum of its parts'.

Nor has the institution of this organizational chaos come cheaply. The NY meeting is reported to have cost

some ,000 dollars. Multiply that by five. Now add to that the cost of the elections themselves...and the

cost of special events like the coming bylaws convention. On top of these costs each station is

forced to give air time to the candidates running in station elections and preempt regularly scheduled

programing to do so. It doesn't matter that 90% of the membership would gladly forego this oppurtunity to

become more involved in governance...or that they never fail to remind us of their sentiments with phone

calls, emails, and outright cancellations of their memberships. At the end of that process a board is finally seated. But it doesn't end there. Those to go down in defeat in the election and their most militant

supporters now fill the chairs to demand seats on committees and to 'hold the board accountable'. That

is to say to scream loudly when those to win the election seek to implement the program they promised

to enact, which the others of course are just as committed to fight. Only a few board members have any

organizational history and know the issues and currently most opposed the strike at all! by the

time the other good souls comprehend anything at all about the working of the foundation, its time for a new

election and many of them are gone. To say that still ignores that even after the election our long

suffering listenership is forced to endure yet more LSB shows and national board meetings broadcast live

for their enjoiment.

Nor as we all know is the sum total of this a well governed institution. Local autonomy has come to mean

that we now have 5 foundations instead of one, each being torn apart by factional infighting over control

of the budget and airwaves. The ED (who resigned recently) had to appease the local GM's who in turn need the support of entrenched staff weather in NY, DC, or Berkley to stay in office.It's these staff involved in governance who most often constitute the largest group to have any institutional memory, and as they already hold institutional power their adgendas are identical even though their politics may be diametrically opposed from one station to the next. Simply put those to have institutional power, that being control of airtime and budget, wish to keep it. Those who lack institutional power wish to access it. The result is that in a time of large scale war unpreceedented since Vietnam, all of our organization energy is consumed in arguements over

points of process.

I do not beleive that democracy is the highest ideal of this foundation. Some of our active members are

reactionaries like Colin Powell. Now I don't care that he can, and has, given us 0 he opposes our mission.

I don't want such people to participate in our decision making just because they paid their nickle.

As many of you were, I too was part of the Pacifica campaign. It was not to give Colin Powell a voice in

foundation governance, nor even to have such a voice myself, that I joined that campaign. I did so to

facillate certain outcomes, and to hold this accountable to its mission especially to local

communities, not to enshrine a process that I have never known to do anything more than to legitimate the

status quo. At the end of the day however it has left us with Ambrose I. Lane, who opposed the campaign, as both chairman of the board and CEO, since June 1st.

For two years until being forciblly disbanded we at the DC co-op put forward and implemented a different conception of 'a democratic Pacifica' one which put the community back into community radio. Rather than stations where as one member put at the national meeeting in NYC this year 'you have to wait for

someone to die to get on the air' our open trainning initiative aired some 120 new voices from this

community in the 2 years before its cancellation in October of 2004. We have gotten away from a community

based approach to radio, and opening our finance committee to everyone while closing are air to anyone won't make it better either. Not a single young person that I have met wants to attend governance meetings and argue about such topics as 'directors inspection rights'. They want to get on the air and talk about contemporary movements for social change, to 'spin', and perform and that is not happening. Instead we have a death grip on our listenership. The average member is 52 and we have next to zero growth. Moreover

the current structure makes any change difficult, and a complete format change anywhere impossible.

Rather than the insane and innane expense of a 'democratic process' that has enshrined institutional

chaos as the apogee of sound governance why not 'democratize' the damn airwaves? Instead of making

sure Colin Powell has a voice in our coverage of the war how about assuring us that our mission will be

upheld! Instead of governance by random people who've paid .00 how about opening the studio to the

community and letting those to create the work listeners 'vote' for from the janitor to Amy decide

what is to be decided? Instead of a tiered and secret wage system how about everyone gets paid the same and you're either full time, half time, three quarter time, or a stringer? Instead of voting why not make

decisions by 80% consensus? If nothing happens without broad agreement people will either agree or the ED and the station managers will run it until they do, its their choice. Hell if more than 20% of our listeners

walk out, or we bury ourselves in 10's of millions in litigation, we can turn the lights off anyway. Instead of

paying staff who come to work listening to Rush Limbaugh, or cheer for CIA backed coups in places like

Hatti, how about getting volunteers committed to fight for a better world? That doesn't mean a politics check

at the door. In the DC Co-op it just means that if you're all for the war Ryme's gonna assign you to

cover the Kwansa celebration not the state department, you'll still be on the air and we don't have to

paralyze ourselves with infighting. What we have now sucks! This ain't freedom folks, a better world is


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