Last updated: Jan. 5, 2004

Pacifica Radio's Historic Elections Begin Today January 5, 2004

by Brad Taylor for Out-FM. Click here for sound file.

Today is the 5th of January and it's the day of the mailing of the ballots for the new network-wide Pacifica elections. Registered members in the WBAI signal area as well as the other four signal areas around the country - and anywhere else where currently subscribed Pacifica Foundation members reside - should receive their ballots in the next  few days and be able to vote for their preferred candidates for seats on the Local Station Boards.

This is a very important development in the structure of the Pacifica network.  For the first time in the history of the network, all the stations will have listener- and staff- elected governance boards with real power to influence policy and substance at the stations. The sensitive work of forging new communications and respectful collaboration between staff and listeners must begin now.  Any governance system should, in my view, protect the freedom and autonomy of staff at the stations, particularly in terms of programming and content.  But now, listener members, through their elected station board representatives, will also have serious input into the work and quality of their community radio.  For instance, Local Station Boards (or LSBs) will be directly involved in hiring station managers and program directors, will conduct yearly evaluations of their work and will work directly with station managers in the context of regular LSB meetings.  They will also oversee the station budgeting process, participate in fund-raising and will be responsible for holding bi-annual town meetings to interact with other listeners and receive their feed-back.  This is very real community participation in the work of making radio and it has the potential to be an important and effective new paradigm for community radio on a national level.

Before I say more about the elections process, I'd like to go briefly into some of the history behind this exciting development in the structure and essence of the network.

Since its origins in the late 1940-s, there has always been disagreement and debate around the network and within the individual stations. These differences, which are natural to any very political milieu, have at times escalated into serious divisions, threatening the stability of the stations. One such recent period resulted in the actual takeover of the entire network by an inside faction, widely seen to have been motivated by a combination of financial and political greed and to have been closely aligned with aggressive neo-liberal elements within the centrist wing of the national Democratic Party .

Contrary to the perceptions of many, this hijacking of the network did not take place in a single midnight coup, but was a sustained campaign, beginning at least in the early 90-s, of severe tactics - occurring varyingly at all the stations - of lockouts, on-air and off-air intimidation of producers and other staff, abrupt firings and replacements, union-busting, and censorship.  As noted, these tactics, while network-wide, varied from station to station but were characterized generally by a top-down attitude toward  management, both practically and philosophically, and were carried out by directors from the national board, their allies in management positions in stations and their supporters and hired accomplices. Here at WBAI, the takeover culminated in the infamous "Christmas Coup" when then Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash summarily replaced WBAI station manager Valerie Van Isler with the producer of the afternoon call-in show, "Talk Back", Utrice Leid.  Leid came into the station on the night of Dec. 22nd, 2000 with locksmiths (followed the next day by a security team), and proceeded to change the locks on the doors to the station.  Firing the program director and other producers, she interrupted regular programming to go on the air herself at 1:48 AM of the 23rd to announce her takeover of the station.  In the following months, Leid went about a series of firings, bannings and censorship of producers and volunteers. Between her and a successor after she was promoted, a total of 28 producers were fired, suspended and/or banned.   Ms. Leid barred the Local Advisory Board from having public meetings at the station, and harassed listeners coming to the station.  This repression was met from the very night of the 22nd of December by a concerted campaign on the part of dissident producers and listener-activists of community organizing, street activism, subversive on-air treatment of the new regime by dissident producers, and a financial boycott. These tactics wo rked in conjunction with already pending national  lawsuits by listeners and progressive local and national board members against the legal violations of the corporate-dominated Pacifica National Board. After 13 months of hard work, this campaign, in conjunction with similar efforts at other Pacifica stations and affiliates,  triumphed in the Alameda County California State Court of Judge Ronald Sabraw in January 2002 in a negotiated legal settlement between the hijackers, who were the majority members of the old board and the dissidents, or the minority members of that board which, effectively, wrested control away from the hijackers.

In legal terms, it appears that the biggest single factor in the dissident factions being able to take back the network was the following:  That Lew Hill, with Richard Moore and Eleanor McKinney, all key figures in the founding of Pacifica, had the tremendous insight and skill to craft for the network an important and resonant mission statement when they set up the foundation which articulated in beautiful and legal language their intention that Pacifica Foundation should be a self-sustaining organization to provide an educational service to the community and not to be a profit-driven enterprise - that it should go to "encourage and provide outlets for the creative skills of the community" - that it should "promote the study of political and economic problems and of the causes of religious, philosophical and racial antagonisms" and that it should bring in uncommon and varied sources in order to present accurate, objective and comprehensive news on all matters vitally affecting the community.  It was Judge Sabraw's perception that the hijackers, or the majority members of the old board, were taking Pacifica away from this mission and engaging in other activities destructive to the foundation and its purposes that resulted in the producer and listener communities regaining the network.

The resulting settlement agreement held that the then-current Pacifica National Board would be replaced by an interim national board made up of five of the majority members of the previous board, five minority or dissident members and one member elected by each of the five station LABs; that the bylaws for Pacifica Foundation would be extensively rewritten to bring them into compliance with current California non-profit corporate law; and that elections would be held to establish new democratically-elected Local Station Boards, from which would be elected a new Pacifica National Board.

This truly hopeful and innovative development in the network led to another trying 2-year period of difficult and demanding work because the bylaws had to be revised before elections could be held.  The bylaws revision process, occurring at all five stations and nationally, was lengthy, work-intensive and often contentious.  This could not have been otherwise in the opinion of this reporter, who was involved extensively with the work, because Pacifica is and would always be a large community of individuals with very diverse backgrounds,  politics and agendas.   And after all, the network is largely made up of very opinionated and passionate people - but there have been substantive disagreements which bear mentioning.

The first serious question which arose was how to define membership in the foundation.  We didn't have universal agreement that the subscriber model for membership - that payment of a financial or in-kind donation to a station should be required for membership - was necessarily optimal.  There were some who felt that payment as a prerequisite for full participation in a community radio station was inappropriate - that perhaps we should  leave membership open to everyone in the community regardless of their ability to contribute financially.   The decision  was to go with so-called subscriber-membership because of expressed fears that not requiring a $25 contribution could make it easier for hostile groups to organize a takeover, but the question of including those in the community who are not in a position to give either money or volunteer time to a station persisted throughout the bylaws work as the issue of how to organize a waiver policy to include those individuals continued to be debated. Whether to extend waivers at all and who should - and how they should- decide eligibility for the waiver remained a topic, but the bylaws presently read that waivers can be extended on a case-by-case basis, as determined by the individual LSBs.
Another important question was how to balance the powers of the directors between the national board and the local boards.  Of course some people felt that the central spirit of the campaign to take back the network from the hijackers was a belief in direct listener participation which would most naturally take shape in strongly empowered listener-elected local boards while others felt that the strength of the network to protect itself from potential attack from outside would be in a strong national board and that the national directors were more vulnerable personally from a legal standpoint than the local directors and should therefore have more power with which to be better protected.  The eventual decision there was that many nominal legal powers would remain with national directors but that the bulk of real on-the-ground practical decision-making for stations would continue to be made by station managers and program directors and that local boards would have considerable involvement in certain key aspects of that. The feeling that listeners should be much more empowered than previously as participants in the stations through their elected station board representatives enjoys fairly thorough consensus.

One issue about which wide agreement developed was that there should be a bylaws convention between one and three years after adoption of the current bylaws in  order to continue the process of refining or correcting the bylaws, in the light of experience.

But by far the most difficult and contentious question confronting people working to revise the bylaws was the political question of diversity. This was, and remains, a very passionate debate.  The basic question is whether Pacifica Foundation should have, written into its bylaws, a legally enforceable affirmative action mandate to ensure governance positions for people from historically disenfranchised communities such as people of color and indigenous people, women,  lesbians/gay men/bisexuals and transgendered people, people with disabilities,  and others.   While the principle of inclusion of all peoples is an easy agreement and is, in fact, in the language of the foundation mission statement, the actual mechanics for achieving that end have been hotly contested.   Early on, one  group of the bylaws revision folks advocated that there should be designated LSB seats for representatives from the various marginalized communities, ensuring their voices at the governance table.   Opponents held that having designated seats for anyone, regardless of affiliation, would violate the democratic principle of elections.  The diversity proponents countered that it would be undemocratic to omit an affirmative action provision and that Pacifica, of all organizations, should exemplify the principle of affirmative action now more than ever when affirmative action programs in employment and educational access are under attack from the right all around the country.

 Inevitably, the race politics of this dynamic led to bitter opposition, because racial divisions in this culture are an undeniably key factor, even after years of what many see to be substantial legal and political civil rights gains.  Economic  inequities and many other injustices along lines of race, gender, sexual orientation and other differences are still primary disputes in our communities, so proponents of this form of institutionalized inclusion argue that bringing representatives of disenfranchised communities to the decision-making table advances Pacifica's mission to explore the causes of antagonisms between peoples, thereby promoting unity rather than divisiveness, while those on the other side of the dispute hold that their legal advise is that Pacifica Foundation would be tredding on very thin ice to provide  this type of affirmative action remedy in the present ultra-conservative political climate when opponents of free speech and all other progressive principles would attack the network at any opportunity.

This essential political disagreement in our community is far from resolved, but the present set of bylaws has been adopted with only a goal-orientation toward diversity in governance with Committees of Inclusion mandated within each station board with the purpose of attracting various marginalized communities to governance work through outreach.

Whatever one's feelings about this outcome, it takes us to where we are now - with a new set of bylaws and an election in progress.  All the candidates are in place, the ballots are printed and going in the mail and today is the first day of the month-long voting period during which Pacifica members will elect their Local Station Boards.  On Feb. 5th, the voting closes, the counting begins and the election results will be released within a week afterward and within a week after that, LSB-s will hold their first meetings, electing officers and also delegates to the national board.

So let me give a brief run-down of how the balloting works. There are 24 seats on the Local Station Board with 18 seats for listener representatives and 6 for staff. There are two separate elections for listener and staff seats.  Only staff members vote in the staff election and staff are barred from voting in the listener election. So I will address here only the listener election. Anyone who contributed at least $25 to a station or logged at least three hours of volunteer work within a year before Nov. 21, 2003 should be receiving a ballot.  At WBAI, we have 53 candidates for the 18 listener seats.  The voting will happen within the system of single transferable voting, or choice voting - also known as proportional representation. This is a system in some limited usage in the U.S. and in very common usage in Europe and elsewhere.  Within this system, the voter lists her or his preferences for board members in descending order from one to any number down to 53, the full compliment of candidates. She or he essentially rates the candidates, ranking as many as desired of the 53.  When all the votes are in, a count threshold is determined for the minimum number of votes required to win a station board seat.  This determination is made, essentially, by dividing the total number of ballots cast by the total number of seats contested, plus one. So, for instance , if there were 18,000 votes cast, and there are 18 seats to fill, the count threshold would be 1000 plus 1, or 1001 votes would be required to win a seat. After "first choice" votes are counted, candidates who reach the count threshold are elected.  If that number of candidates is fewer than the 18 to fill the available seats, any "surplus" votes, or votes for these candidates beyond the 1001 threshold would be transferred to remaining candidates according to voters' "next-choice" preferences - and a new round of votes would be counted and the process repeated until 18 candidates are elected. This method maximizes the num ber of voters whose votes - or preference choices - accrue to winning candidates.  It also broadens the playing field for the candidates by bringing down the number of votes required for election.

A final note about the ballots: Ballots are being mailed out today by regular mail.  The voting period is one month.  To be counted, the ballots have to be received back at the station by Feb. 5.  They can't just be post-marked - they have to be received - which means they have to be regular-mailed back in time to arrive by Feb. 5, or they could be hand-delivered so long as they arrive no later than a month from today.

So that's the lowdown, in short version, on the WBAI and Pacifica board elections.  I hope this information has been useful in emphasizing the importance of these elections which are very meaningful indeed given the really crucial importance of free media in the present day and introducing, as they do, a new era for listener participation in our invaluable common resource, Pacifica radio.  We should all register our votes with pride and pleasure and elect a Local Station Board of sound, hard-working, optimistic and truly progressive people to assist our staff in making this a great new era for even better radio from WBAI, our four sister-stations and the Pacifica affiliates.

For more information on the election process, those with Internet access can go to www.wbai.org -- that's wbai.org -- or call the Local Election Supervisor, Joy Williams, at 212-209-2976.

Also, you can read a copy of this summary and other historical information at www.outfm.org.

Thanks for listening.  I'm Brad Taylor for Out-FM.


 

Reclaiming Pacifica

Mon. Dec 15, 2003

OUT-FM: Special on Pacifica History
Three years after the WBAI Christmas Coup, a look-back at the origin and legacy of Pacifica's hijacking and the successful battle waged by listeners and producers to reclaim the network. Local Advisory Board member Mimi Rosenberg discusses this history and the importance of listeners participating in the upcoming station board elections. Plus a documentary "We Are Pacifica," produced by Free Speech Radio News in January 2001.

History of the battle to reclaim Pacifica. Part-1 click here to download mp3 file. (w/Mimi Rosenberg-20 min) 7 meg sound file

Pacifica History Part 2, click here to download mp3 file by Free Speech Radio News (ed.25min produced Jan. 2001) 7 meg sound file

Click here for a detailed written timeline of the Pacifica Crisis

Text of 1999 Note by ex-treasurer Michael Palmer on the proposed sale of KPFA and WBAI.