"Whose Network? Our Network!: Voices of the Free Pacifica Movement" Back toOn the Road with John Tarleton

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"Whose Network? Our Network: Voices of the Pacifica Network"

by John Tarleton
March 2001

Table of Contents

I.Juan Gonzalez: Former Co-Host of Democracy Now!
II.Duane Bradley: Former KPFT Program Director
III.Kirstin Thomas: KPFA Programmer
IV.Dan Coughlin: Former Director of Pacifica Network News
V.Ron Robinson: WPFW National Board Member
VI.Rafael Renteria: Pacifica Listeners Union-KPFK
VII.Errol Maitland: WBAI Producer
VIII.Sonia Rosen: WBAI Listener

HOUSTON, Texas—The clamor for a more democratic mass media system recently erupted here (of all places) in "Free Enterprise City". The focal point: The Pacifica National Board's March 3-4 spring meeting which was held in an upscale hotel adjacent to Houston's largest shopping center. Not the kind of place you would ordinarily find grassroots peace and justice activists. But if Pacifica's leaders thought they could lay low in shopping mall country, they guessed wrong.

The Pacifica Foundation, which oversees the nation's only independent, listener-sponsored radio network, has been embroiled in a leadership struggle in recent years between national board members who want to NPR-ize the network and activists who want it to remain true to its tradition as a bastion of left, alternative thinking. Hundreds of Pacifica employees and volunteers at its five stations in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Houston and the San Francisco Bay Area have been fired or banned over the past decade. Things got uglier in December when Pacifica's national management sacked senior staff and popular programmers and producers at WBAI in New York with no explanation and installed armed guards and a $23,000 surveillance system.

The Pacifica board came to Houston prepared to consider a new set of by-laws that would further centralize power in the hands of a few board members. But it was media activists from Houston and around the country who took center stage during a tumultuous weekend of protests, rallies, teach-ins and walkouts. The weekend represented a particularly hopeful moment in the struggle to free Pacifica. Perhaps, a turning point.

Juan Gonzalez: Former Co-Host of Democracy Now!

Juan Gonzalez is an award winning journalist and until recently was the twice a week co-host of Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio's popular morning news show. His dramatic on-air resignation on January 31 reflected the deepening crisis at Pacifica. He vows to return someday but only after Pacifica's national board has been cleansed of the "corporate vultures" he accuses of hijacking the nation's only independent, listener sponsored radio network. Gonzalez, who was flooded with thousands of emails in the wake of his departure, has launched a nationwide effort (www.pacificacampaign.org) to unseat the Pacifica board and have it reconstituted along democratic lines.

JT: You sure hit a nerve with Bertram Lee JG: I saw they had to hold him down. He must be the source of it, obviously. But, I think it's despicable the way they have attempted to use race to try to divide the Pacifica community. There's no doubt there's racism in American society. There's racism among many Pacifica listeners and programmers. But, the principle contradiction that is occurring here is that a group of neo-liberal oriented folks have gotten together with a bunch of comprador African-Americans to throw smokescreens up while they do a classic corporate grab of the Pacifica Network. Anybody with any sort of small understanding of how race has been used in American society can see through this scam. We have to confront it head on. And, we've got to educate people not to be taken in by what they are attempting. JT: Assuming you succeed in this struggle to restore a grassroots Pacifica, where do you see the network fitting into this larger movement for a democratic media both in the US and around the world? JG: Pacifica has the potential to be the anchor of the movement. But, as people are saying, the movement is much bigger. These Independent Media Centers have enormous potential. The public access movement within cable television, the alternative radical press, the alternative African-American and Latino press. There's a huge alternative press movement out there even though it needs to be better coordinated. But, Pacifica is the most valuable asset within that overall structure. The Indy Media people didn't even want to have Pacifica within their structures. They only made an exception for Democracy Now! They had already made a decision that Pacifica had gone corporate. The Indy movement is the new generation. And those young kids are phenomenal. They are the next generation of journalists in the country. We have to nurture them and help them and learn from them as well. JT: What originally inspired you to become a journalist? What's your vision? JG: That's a whole other thing. I'd rather not get into it tonight. The main thing is understanding the critical role the mass media play in American society. We need the independent media as well as the good progressive people that are in the corporate media. There's got to be a battle in corporate media. You just can't give up all that space. There's got to be a battle in corporate media to mount resistance from within while we help to build the independent media from without.

Duane Bradley: Former KPFT Program Director

Houston's KPFT-90.1 FM was Pacifica's "Southern Front" when it opened in 1970. Duane Bradley, then an idealistic teen-ager, first heard about it when it was bombed off the air later that year by the Ku Klux Klan. Later, he began to work as a volunteer and would ultimately rise to become program director before being forced to resign in 1989 just as Pacifica was beginning its quest for larger audiences and mainstream respectability.

It was during that period when I saw where we were beginning to head. And I attempted to challenge that vision and to hold true to the original mandate of Pacifica as it reads in its charter. It was at that point that the manager and I diverged.

JT: This was Garland Ganter?

DB: No. Garland was actually the news director back then. He's been able to draw a paycheck from KPFT for about 15 years. The manager was Jean Palmquist. Jean and I diverged on the mission. I asked her to resign. She had been there over eight years and I felt she had outlived her usefulness to Houston as the manager of KPFT.

She refused and demanded that I resign. She was in a better position corporately and I was forced to resign. Garland Ganter became the program director upon my leaving in 1989 and has moved up from there.

JT: How did Pacifica come to be here? This would seem like one of the last cities in the country to have a radical, independent, non-corporate radio station.

DB: I moved to Houston the year (1970) that Pacifica moved to Houston. I was in high school and I remember when Arlo Guthrie came to Houston to re-open the station after it had been blown up by the Klan. It was covered on a PBS show called "The Great American Dream Machine" that came live to Houston and did a video link of Arlo Guthrie playing Alice's Restaurant, which was the song that was playing on the air three or four months earlier when the station had been blown up.

I started volunteering a few years later coming downtown and helping with program guides, taking satellite feeds in converted broom closets, things like that. Houston was the Southern Front for Pacifica.

JT: That couldn't have been easy.

DB: The people who were brave enough to bring it here gave Houston a great gift. And it's a gift I don't want this city to lose.

JT: What was it like being a program director at a Pacifica station with such an eclectic mix of people, personalities and egos?

DB: For me, it was a dream come true. When I was in college studying broadcasting and writing my thesis about Pacifica Radio I could only dream that one day I would have the privilege to work at one of these stations and be one of the very few people who would actually be paid to work there.

I consider that like a sacred trust. It was a joy. It was a lot of hard work and it was always peaches and cream. There were problems that had to be dealt with. There was a lot of hard, nitty-gritty work that had to be done. But, it was very fulfilling. It expanded the horizons of my life.

JT: Do you think these community groups can actually win the battle and reclaim Pacifica. And if they do, what sort of Pacifica do you see emerging?

DB: I don't want to live in the past. I do want to draw some of the good things from the past and re-institute them into the future. I wouldn't be out here and all these people wouldn't be out here today if we didn't feel we had every opportunity at winning this radio station and this network back from the corporatists who have taken it over.

So, what we can hope to do is bring Pacifica back to its original mission and take these community radio stations back into their communities and give them back to the people who deserve them.

Kirstin Thomas: KPFA Programmer

The long simmering Pacifica situation exploded in July 1999 when the Pacifica National Board tried to impose the same kind of changes on Pacifica's flagship station, KPFA of Berkeley, that it had on its Houston (KPFT), Washington (WPFW) and Los Angeles (KPFK) stations.

Rumblings began on March 31 when KPFA's popular station manager, Nicole Sawaya, was unilaterally fired by Pacifica's national office. Longtime journalist Larry Bensky was sacked soon thereafter. Mary Frances Berry, Chair of the Pacifica National Board, head of the US Civil Rights Commission, and long-time friend of the Clintons, sought to reassure the Berkeley community that the board was only trying to improve the station's "diversity".

Then, on July 13 board member Michael Palmer accidentally emailed a memo to the San Francisco-based Media Alliance. The memo, intended for Berry, urged her to continue forward with plans to overhaul KPFA and look into selling it for as much as $65-75 million. The memo was forwarded to KPFA reporter Dennis Bernstein who read it on the air. Stunned listeners could hear Bernstein being hustled out of the studios by armed security guards. In the ensuing uproar, 52 staff and community members were arrested for trespassing on the station they had helped sustain for decades.

Weeks of protests followed outside the boarded up station, culminating in a 15,000-person march on July 31, the largest in Berkeley since the end of the Vietnam War. For Kirstin Thomas, a community activist and KPFA programmer who has done a show for the past 10 years on women's' issues and US political prisoners and prisoners of war , it was a revelation.

"I'm a '60s child. It's the first time I've ever seen anything like that other than having old-timers talk about it or reading about it," she said. "It was my piece of the movement and?it was awesome."

Ultimately, the Pacifica National Board retreated. After 23 days, the station was re-opened. All banned staffers (except Sawaya and Bensky) were allowed to return. And the infamous "gag rule" was lifted. KPFA had been restored to the community, at least for the time being.

"Everything Is Interim"

JT: After that huge uprising, you guys managed to hold onto your station. Talk a little bit about where things stand now.

KT: We are in an interim state. We have an interim general manager. We have an interim gag order that's lifted so that we're able to speak on the issue. Everything is interim. The feeling is, "yes, we're continuing to fight and do good radio and organize among ourselves among ourselves as well as with other outside contingents". But, it's by no means a business as usual feeling. We're still in an alert status, but pushing forward.

JT: Would you say the mood is tense or fearful or pretty confident because of the victory in the last battle?

KT: From my perspective, it's a hopeful mood with all the rest mixed in. Because with WBAI and the Christmas Coup, it's put right back in your face that this could happen again tomorrow. So in that there is some fear. But I believe that there is hope and people have faith that justice will prevail.

JT: Talk about the role KPFA plays out in the Berkeley-Oakland-Bay Area. What kind of programming do you all try to do and what kind of impact does it have in the community?

KT: KPFA is a community-based and supported operation, which has always been a haven for folks who are working in a number of grassroots movements. That's what we have tried to stick to. And, I think that's what we are to our respective communities.

KPFA reaches northern and central California. It's a huge signal area. What we try to do is be a voice for the people.

You could come in, if you were fighting for a cause, and make a public service announcement, or approach somebody to be on the air or get trained to be on the air yourself. It's the only place that exists where you can hear news about what's going on locally as well as nationally and internationally. It's the only place where people in the community and different grassroots organizations can come and and get their voices heard and their message out to a large listening audience It's worthy of all the support it gets. It's so necessary in this time of corporatization and downsizing and the few owning all the media outlets. The fight is so much bigger than KPFA or WBAI.

In the Streets

JT: What was it like being there when 15,000 people took to the streets to defend their community radio station?

KT: It was awesome. I was born in the movement. I'm a '60s child. It was the first time I've ever seen anything like that other than hearing old-timers talk about it or reading about it. It was my piece of the movement and my part in it. It was like, "Fight the Power", "Freedom for the People". It was awesome and a real education and a real validation that what we're fighting for counts and that it matters to a whole lot of people.

JT: How did you get involved and acquire the skills to produce programs to put on this station?

KT: KPFA has an apprenticeship program. It's for women and people of color. It's a free program and they train you in producing and engineering. I applied. I went through the selection process and came in through that way.

JT: When the whole thing went down in Berkeley, Mary Frances Berry's explanation was that the station needed to be updated, that it was a haven for 50-year-old white male leftovers from the '60s. What are your thoughts on what she is saying?

KT: It's twofold. Personally I was offended by this. But, she wasn't telling a lie. She also wasn't available for the people of color at the station when we tried to talk to her. I was offended that she would try to pull the race card as the reason for this corporate takeover when she had no time to speak to the people of color who are in that station. I was completely offended and outdone by her, this woman I've always admired.

Her civil rights record is impeccable. As a black woman, I've always looked up to her. But when that happened, it made me feel like, "oh well does that mean the work we've been doing doesn't matter?" She was gonna come in and just take the station away and without even consulting the people who've been on the frontlines. How rude. How very rude!

What happened when we realized the race card was being pulled, and it was, different contingents started meeting. You had the Pacific Islanders, the African-Americans, the Latinos. We met collectively and formed the People of Color Caucus. We wrote letters individually and told her we didn't appreciate that she was doing this. We all wrote these letters and tried to make arrangements to talk to her. But, she never did respond.

JT: This week in Houston, there are people from all five stations and around the country. What are your thoughts about the way people are coming together as a national network of resistance. And where do you see this headed from here?

KT: I'm very pleased. I think it's the necessary next step because of the coup that happened at WBAI being the same thing that happened at KPFA, exact same way, exact same tactics. It's the logical next step that we come together to create some sort of strategic agenda for the future. I don't know what that is. But, I do hope from this weekend we do come away with a long range plan for how to keep democratic radio at Pacifica, how to keep our stations and how to work together to do that.

Dan Coughlin: Former Director of Pacifica Network News

Dan Coughlin was the director of Pacifica Network News from 1995-1999, producing a 30-minute daily newscast that was carried by over 60 Pacifica affiliates. He was abruptly "terminated" in 1999 for reporting on an item that he thought his listeners might find of interest: an going strike by Pacifica stringers and a one-day boycott against the network by 16 of its affiliates. He's now working on the Pacifica Campaign with Juan Gonzalez.

JT: How does it feel to be fired for telling the truth?

DC: It's better to die standing up than to live on your knees. You have to stand up for what you believe in, especially as journalists. You have to stand up for truth and what is right. That's what many of us have done at Pacifica and unfortunately paid the ultimate price which is losing our jobs.

JT: The board seemed to be very civil and considerate today. Some of the criticisms against it would seem like hyperbole based on what we saw this afternoon.

DC: You can't always judge a book based on its cover. Some individuals are going to be open and attempt to be nice. But, behind the veneer is an ugly reality where longtime workers are fired without cause, in violation of union contracts, where individuals are banned, where a climate of hate and hostility is fomented by Pacifica bosses and managers targeting workers including Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! who is under direct assault.

"On the Tip of the Arrow of Time"

JT: What are you looking t achieve with the Pacifica Campaign that you and Juan and others have started?

DC: We basically want to do one thing: get the resignation of the corporate clique now running Pacifica. These people have been unaccountable. They have sown a reign of terror in the network, disregarding basic journalistic principles, firing and banning workers, installing armed security guards in radio stations around the country and creating total chaos and mismanagement throughout the system.

JT: Where do you see things headed with Pacifica?

DC: There's two things the Board is trying to do. One is to crush dissenting and radical voices from the Pacifica airwaves. They've been trying to do this with Democracy Now! and with the national news and the local stations. If you listen to KPFT now, you hear very few radical or dissenting voices. A lot of programming on KPFT is music. A lot of public affairs programming is provided from outside-of-state or out of the country. BBC or Public Radio International's "The World" is not something generated from below and there tend to be voices of those in power or privilege.

The second thing Pacifica has tried to do is centralize power in the hands of a very few individuals who are accountable to no one but themselves. They are eviscerating internal democracy, ending any kind of grassroots participation from listeners, from staff, from local boards. The various stakeholders in Pacifica are now excluded from the decision making process. It's a kind of dictatorship.

JT: Assuming this campaign succeeds and this grassroots movement rescues Pacifica, where would you see a newly democratic Pacifica going from here? And, where would it fit into a burgeoning movement to democratize mass media systems?

DC: Pacifica needs to be in the leadership of the movement not behind it. It needs to be open, accountable, participatory; involving and expressing the points of view of the people at the grassroots whose voices are not heard. Not just playing the voices of those in power and privilege. Pacifica should be reaching out and building organic relations with a variety of communities, especially communities engaged in struggles for peace and social justice. In that way, Pacifica can once again be at the tip of the arrow of time.

Ron Robinson-WPFW National Board Member

Ron Robinson is a polite but persistent critic of the Pacifica National Board (PNB). He began listening to Pacifica when he was a child growing up in the Bay Area in the 1950s. He later moved to Washington, D.C. and has been a devoted listener to WPFW since its inception in 1977. He joined the Washington, D.C. Local Advisory Board in 1993 and has been a full member of the PNB since March 1998. He is currently a plaintiff in one of three lawsuits being pursued against the Pacifica board.

"They don't know what they are supposed to be doing as a board," Robinson says. "That's why you see a board that does not have minutes, and standing committees that don't meet, that don't have agendas for their committee meetings, that don't produce reports for their committee meetings."

I caught up with Robinson after the Saturday meetings wound down. He was on his way to a teach-in at the Unitarian Church. But first, he stopped to reflect some more on the situation at Pacifica.

The Board Backs Down

JT: We just got through with the first day of meetings here. What are your impressions? It seems that trying to pin down your fellow board members is like trying to catch a greased pig.

RR: I think what we saw today was the executive committee of the governing board, which controls about 2/3's of the votes, is coming to realize that their policies have been productive of an extraordinary amount of chaos and conflict and are overwhelmingly unpopular with listeners. They're now faced with at least three lawsuits. It's conceivable that their legal representatives are beginning to realize they don't have a particularly good case and secondly that their side is not particularly strong.

They will do controversial or provocative things that disempower the listeners and then after there's been an uprising at the board meeting the board will try to staunch the outrage and say, "well, we didn't really mean to do that". They will try to distance themselves from their actions. And then as soon as that's over, they'll go off and do something else.

JT: Do you think the growing public resistance to the board played a role in John Murdock not wanting to have a vote on his proposed new by-laws? The gist of that whole conversation was about getting communities involved, trying to create an inclusive process.

RR: I think the board felt they could ram through some by-law proposals, that based on the sheer numbers they had, the community would not react to that. Unfortunately (for the board), they engaged in some really provocative and fairly ridiculous activities at WBAI in terms of changing the locks and firing a bunch of people willy-nilly and then continuing to harass the only national program they have, Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!

I think they realize that was not a good idea. What Mr. Murdock was basically saying was, "we didn't mean to do that". The subtext of that was, "we certainly didn't mean to do it if it was going to turn out so badly".

Pacifica Memories

JT: What was your background with Pacifica before you came onto the board?

RR: I've been listening to WPFW just about since they began operating in 1977. But, my history with Pacifica goes back further than that.

I grew up in the Bay Area and when I was 9 or 10 years old my father made me a combination phonograph/radio and I would sit in my room and listen to records -"Peter and the Wolf", "Tubby the Tuba", that kind of stuff. Then, I gradually started listening to rhythm and blues and one day I was twisting the dial and I heard this man screaming and yelling and it was Alan Ginsburg reading the poem, "Howl". It was a complete moment of epiphany for me. I had a vision and I saw this is what the future is about. I became a listener to KPFA.

The other thing that was interesting about KPFA was Linus Pauling's discussions about nuclear energy. It was something they played for every kid. In the '50s if you were a kid, you went to bed praying at night that you weren't going to wake up in the morning as a potato chip.

The politics of KPFA were always very left wing. But it always provided a chance for the far right to put their point of view on the radio. So, my parents were thrilled because they could listen to people who said things they like about fluoridating the water, putting nuclear power plants in the bay and stuff like that. Many people don't know this but Casper Weinberger was a programmer at KPFA many, many years ago. JT: How did you come to be on the board? And, what is the general situation in Washington right now?

RR: WPFW is a great station. It's a particularly good station if your interest is in jazz and blues. It's not a great station if you're concerned about local community events and a lot of political commentary.

I got involved with Pacifica because a good friend asked me in 1993 if I would be willing to sit on a local advisory board. I did. We had a wonderful local advisory board. It was a very diverse group of people from DC and Maryland northern Virginia. And for three or four years everything we tried to do got quashed by Pacifica's governing board.

JT: I was asked in 1997 if I would serve as an alternate for the meeting of the national board. I agreed to do that. After I saw what went on in the meeting, I said "don't ask me to go back there unless you want me to get involved because this is much worse than we realized". So, I got elected by the Local Advisory Board in January of 1998 and came on the board in March of 1998.

The Vision Thing

JT: What kind of vision do you think the majority of board members have right now? What are they looking to accomplish with this path they've taken?

RR: Unfortunately, I don't think there is a vision of the board right now. I don't think there's been a vision for a long time. Pacifica's board has been governed for many years by an executive committee floating between 6-10 people. It's always been a very hierarchic, cliquish group of people who believe they have the correct wisdom about Pacifica because they're there.

The issue has ceased to become whether these people have a background with a Pacifica station. The issue is not whether they have a view of radio as a vehicle for community action and for bringing communities together. It's basically a group of people that will promote a certain agenda to maintain power and control.

Besides the fact that it doesn't have a vision, this Board does not understand, nor are there guidelines and procedures in place, that tell them what they should be doing to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. Nor do they have a sense of what they can do as a board to insure that the organization is healthy. They do not know what they are supposed to be doing as a board. That's why you see a board that does not have minutes, and standing committees that don't meet, that don't have agendas for their committee meetings, that don't produce reports for their committee meetings.

I'm on one committee whose last meeting outside these board meetings was October 1998. It's not that they're bad people. It's not that the Board is bad. Our job is to create a nurturing environment in which outspoken, creative and alternative voices like Amy Goodman can do a good job. Instead, We have created an environment in which the most competent people are the ones the national staff goes gunning for. I don't know whether that's out of envy or jealousy or what.

The Fall of WPFW

JT: What happened at WPFW seven or eight years ago? And how has it changed over to become a jazz station with just a little bit of news and public affairs?

RR: They had a dispute with a program director who locked himself in a room and started broadcasting. I think they had to get him out with police or something like that. There was dead air on the station for x number of hours. Then, they put a bunch of speeches on the air for three, four, five, six, seven days, in rotation. So you could learn all about what was going on in Chile under Pinochet.

I don't know all the things that led to that. The difficulty that Pacifica has struggled with is that we have a tendency when we select executive directors or station managers or other board members to try to bring people from within the ranks that people feel comfortable with rather than looking for people of a particular ability. One of the difficulties we have, because we don't pay people very much money, is that we wind up with people that can't go anyplace else.

We don't have a strong management culture. If you look at the five Pacifica stations, each one of them grew up completely on its own, somewhat idiosyncratically. There are not many common threads of management practice. While I'm not saying that every station should do the same thing and adhere to the same format, I think there should be certain things about the way you treat and pay the staff.

When Samori Marksman (former WBAI program director) of New York died, we found out there were no death benefits. In fact, there were very little benefits of any type. The response of one of the board members was, 'well, we voted to do something about that years ago. I don't know why people think it's our fault'. Well, as a governing board you have to do a little bit more than vote on things.

I don't think we should be afraid to give more autonomy to local stations and as a governing board focus on how can we do more programming, how do we open more stations, how do we develop and articulate a progressive agenda nationally, how do we make coalitions with organizations and institutions on the left. Both those that have large constituencies as well as those that have access to resources. We need to be involved with La Raza, the NAACP as well as think tanks like the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and universities and the entertainment industry. We are, after all, a broadcast organization.

We shouldn't be fighting with the LABs. We heard from the general managers today that the LABs are out of control. That's not the case. The problem is that Pacifica doesn't understand how to use the LABs.

"We Have to Find A Way to Poll the Listeners"

JT: What do you think it will take for grassroots activists to win back Pacifica?

RR: I don't think an effective way to deal with the issue is to withhold money from the stations or on the other hand to confront people. But, I'm not going to tell people that your campaign can't do x, y or z. Anybody that has disagrees with Pacifica has a right to disagree with them and a moral responsibility to engage in civil disobedience. I don't think people should be abusive and harassing. And, I don't think most of the people who are opposing the policies of the board are committing some of the acts they are accused of.

I think we have some fundamental problems in the Pacifica family. If what we're about is housecleaning, then I think that's good. Housecleaning means we're going to have a different board that operates in a different way.

JT: What do you think it will take to make this transformation happen?

RR: We do not communicate with the listeners who provide more than 8 out of the $10 in any kind of systematic way. There's a board meeting this weekend and there's not going to be any communication over the radio. There's going to be no communication directly to the listeners about what took place at this board meeting.

Part of the problem at WPFW in Washington is that most of the people who are big supporters of the station live in complete ignorance of what the hell Pacifica is up to. I know I did until I got on the local advisory board.

There's going to have to be a systematic way of communicating to the listeners. What are the problems? And, why are they there? You then have to articulate to the listeners what a reform agenda is going to look like. Because we're really not trying to go in and destroy your station.

I've heard people say, 'well, I want to take all the jazz and blues off WPFW'. People will say that. But, that position is not being seriously advocated by any bloc of people. There are people who are concerned that WPFW should be playing a more provocative role in the community. Our signal goes into four media markets.

JT: What would you want listeners to do once they became informed about what's going on with Pacifica?

RR: I think we have to find a way to poll the listeners to see whether they agree with policies we've seen recently that have antagonized Amy Goodman, that have locked the station at WBAI, that fired Dan Coughlin and drove Verna Avery Brown off the air, that terminated Larry Bensky and Nicole Sawaya without just cause.

We didn't need to do what we did the way we did it. That doesn't work. We need the listeners to let the board know that while it is entitled to make mistakes, it is not entitled to ignore the concerns of the listeners to participate in the governance of Pacifica and to be informed.

Rafael Renteria : Pacifica Listeners Union-KPFK

Rafael Renteria is a small, compact man with a sonorous late night kind of voice. He is a radical from way back. A child of Hispanic and Anglo parents, Renteria, 45, grew up on the tough streets just east of downtown Houston. He filled various positions at KPFT, including news director, from 1975-1981. Later, he moved out to Los Angeles where Pacifica station KPFK was "reformatted" in the mid-'90s.

Zapatista, Seattle, Mumia generation" that is confronting corporate globalization. He founded the Pacifica Listeners Union in 1998 and is the author of PLU's detailed 15 point program as well as its corollary Plan of Action that envisions the overthrow of Pacifica's ruling board and the installation of a PLU elected "government-in-exile".

After its initial inception, PLU collapsed and was revived by Renteria. When Pacifica convened its spring board meeting in Houston, Renteria was the national spokesperson for what was essentially a small Los Angeles based organization. That changed over the weekend. Renteria was a presence at every event from the first press conference to the last committee meeting. Along the way, he met up with kindred spirits who embraced his vision of a Pacifica Network that not only is listener sponsored but listener run.

"We have to look deeper at what are the structural causes that caused Pacifica to go out of line in the first place and correct that," Renteria said.

PLU organizing is now moving forward in Houston, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area. Meanwhile, Renteria is working on launching a web-based KPFX, the Pacifica "station in exile". Tireless visionary, or charismatic caudillo? One thing is certain: Renteria is always a fountain of insights and opinions about the struggle for Pacifica and independent community radio in this country. Before he returned to Los Angeles, he shared some of his thoughts on the forces that are shaping the battle over Pacifica and what his vision for the network is.

The Gentrification of KPFK

JT: You've been in Los Angeles the past few years. Describe the situation that has unfolded out there with KPFK?

RR: The point of departure was in 1995. What happened at that point was that the Pacifica National Board carried out a series of very dramatic purges and made moves to bust the three unionized stations, KPFA, KPFK and WBAI. They were systematically successful in busting those unions in Berkeley at KPFA and at KPFK. What I mean by that is that they were able to split the unions and no longer represent unpaid staff and producers.

That put the Pacifica board in a position to purge the stations. What occurred in Los Angeles, to make a long story short, is Mark Schubb came to power as general manager and during his reign of terror 140 staff, volunteers and producers have been purged at KPFK. The end of that is they have a station that sounds professional, I'll give them that, and that is designed in terms of its programming content to appeal to a west side audience, an upper middle class district.

JT: So they transformed the content of this station. It wasn't just a cost-cutting thing?

RR: No, no, no. They very specifically took the station to a liberal bent. And what you have is more or less a menage of forces that are integral to what is happening at KPFK.

There is Radio Nation, which is the national voice of The Nation magazine. There is a constant interviewing of Nation writers and editors. There is also an alliance between them and the LA Weekly. There's another little bent to that. Arianna Huffington is very tight with Mark Cooper (host of Radio Nation) and has access to really, really big money. In effect, Cooper is the real power at the station. His connection with Huffington is not only a social and a financial connection but more importantly it's a political connection.

There's a whole trend in politics called "3rd Position". These people say, "neither left nor right but forward", as it were. It's sort of a melding of left and right populism. You also see in strategic alliances between Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan or Ralph Nader and Phyllis Schafley. There's this left-right populist merger that's happening. And, that's the broader political, philosophical backdrop that is reflected in KPFK's programming.


JT: What kind of resistance has emerged among KPFK listeners? I didn't see many LA people here this week. Does that reflect the situation?

RR: It's more militant than the fact that I was the sole listener representative who showed up. There's a difference between the situation in Berkeley and New York where the traditional programming still reigns and there's a strong connection between staff rebels and listener rebels and the situations at KPFK, KPFT and WPFW which were taken down years ago and in which those alliances don't exist anymore. It's that alliance that brings forward large numbers of people.

If you want to judge the situation, the KPFK listeners group is in a much more advanced situation than KPFT or WPFW though that may be changing with all the people who came forward here in Houston this weekend. There's a listeners' group in LA that numbers about 150 and has a mailing list of 300-400. There is a very active LAB (Local Advisory Board) contingent in Los Angeles. And then, there are a number of smaller groups. Pacifica Listeners Union has about 15 members. There's a splinter group that has about a dozen members. There's been a lot of infighting in Los Angeles.

JT: Why is that?

RR: I'd like to beg off that question. (laughs)

JT: Well, the follow up to that question is do you foresee that the different groups will come to re-envision what they have in common being greater than what separates them?

RR: Why is that? Let me ask you?

JT: You all must have more in common with each other than with the Pacifica board?

RR: Of course we do. But, you see factionalism in all listener groups and between different listener groups throughout the movement. And we are broadly united. All the groups that exist are active in fighting the Pacifica National Board. And more active in fighting the Pacifica National Board than we are in fighting each other.

The second thing is to recognize there are two broad trends in the movement to free Pacifica. There is a group of people one might call "restorationists" and a group one might call "democratizers". Basically, there is a group of people who want to return the network to the situation that existed when the LABs Chose the Pacifica National Board and leave it at that.

Then there's a group of people who say, "no that's not enough. We have to look deeper at what are the structural causes that caused Pacifica to go out of line in the first place and correct that". That's some of the political backdrop to why things have happened like they have in LA. Some of these conflicts have been very sharp.

JT: It seems like you should win your station back before you fight over how you're going to run it.

RR: That's really an unfair comment. This same kind of factionalization exists everywhere. I think a certain crystallization has occurred in Los Angeles that has led to some sharper political divisions.

Houston Memories

JT: Further back in time, you were KPFT's program director. Talk about what Pacifica was like 15 or 20 years ago here in Houston.

RR: We achieved the highest level of diversity ever achieved at a Pacifica station. We broadcast in 11 languages. The projections were that Houston was going to become a very international city and we decided to reflect that as a part of the Pacifica mission. We were ahead of the curve. We internationalized KPFT before the city became fully internationalized.

We had an opportunity to do that because there was an amazing level of political action and activity here in Houston during the late '70s and early '80s that enabled us to do things that were radical by any standards.

During the Iran hostage crisis, there were songs on the air like "Bah-bah-bah, bomb, bomb Iran". There was a furor of nationalism and white superiority against people from the Middle East and Persians in particular. During that period, we put the Persian program on the air. What eventually happened to that program was that Garland Ganter took it off the air when US warships were poised in the Persian Gulf ready to attack Iran.

We put the Arabic program on the air, one of the most politically and intellectually respectable shows to ever exist at KPFT. That was taken off the air during Desert Shield, which was before the US invasion of Iraq to seize control of the world's oil supply. We put on the atheist hour at a time when the Christian Right was beginning to really peak. We put on the first black nationalist program,. We expanded feminist programs. We had radical gay programming. One KPFT programmer, Fred Paez, was actually murdered by the Houston Police. We felt it was a way of sending a message to Ray Hill, also a Gay activist, who was also the station manager. We were doing very daring programming.

JT: And there were people on the other end listening to it?

RR: That's an irrelevant question, on one level. The communities we were intending to serve were listening.

Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the Pacifica board, claimed the new KPFT was a model of diversity, which is nonsense. The station now broadcasts in English only when it broadcast in 11 languages. Tell me the difference between English only and whites only? And the argument about racism that the Pacifica board makes against our movement is bogus from start to finish if they can uphold the destruction of the most diverse programming in the history of Pacifica and its reduction to a country and western jukebox with no locally produced news programming.

I think there's something we have to understand more broadly. The backdrop for what has happened at KPFT and what has happened nationally stems from threats against Pacifica from the highest levels of government over a long point of time. It stems from direct intervention on the part of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

What they did was raise the standard stations had to meet in order to be funded. What that meant was those stations that wanted CPB funding had to raise more funds before they could get CPB money. In effect, they had to mainstream and appeal to a whiter, more mainstream, more middle and upper class PBS or NPR type audience. This has had an impact across the country.

Pacifica was one of the last places they tried to take down. They took down whole sections of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) before they ever got to Pacifica. What we have are gross and blatant examples of CPB's interference in Pacifica's internal affairs from forcing the national board to make itself self-selecting to threatening WBAI right before the Christmas Coup.

JT: And there's a close relationship between CPB and the Voice of America.

RR: The head of CPB (Robert Coonrod) is a former official of the Voice of America which is widely considered throughout the globe to be some sort of CIA or national security operation on the part of the US government. It's a propaganda machine. And those people now run the CPB. And they're being brought into Pacifica itself. The Pacifica National Board tried to make a former Voice of America person Amy Goodman's producer. And it just goes on and on.

A Turning Point

JT: Shooting forward to this weekend, what did you make of the way things unfolded with the actions of the board, what people did in response and the organizing that came out of this?

RR: I think the most significant thing happened internally. We made a determination that we are going to call for the formation of a national steering group made up of representatives from all the listener groups across the country so that we have a formal, accountable, authoritative body that can actually steer this movement and respond to crisis and organize national actions and events.

What had been a regional California movement has, with the crisis at WBAI and the vast response of WBAI listeners, suddenly turned into an incipient national movement and this effort to organize nationally reflects that. I think when the Pacifica Board gets wind of the fact that we're organizing ourselves at that level just as the Pacifica Campaign is now national, that's going to put some fear into them. Laying the groundwork for that was tremendously important.

The second thing we saw this weekend is that the Pacifica board has gotten advice from its public relations firm to completely alter its approach. It would appear that Pacifica has received advice from its lawyers and its PR firm and forged a strategy to change its hard-ass public image. It's for public consumption and the press and more importantly for whatever judge or judges are handling the three lawsuits.

The Pacifica board put out a spin document yesterday that basically says they are involved in in-depth discussions with the plaintiffs in the Adelson LAB lawsuit. That's obviously meant to divide the movement. What's clear from their tone and from the two public comment periods they allowed is that they are trying to create a spin that they are the good guys, that they are trying to create a climate for settlement out of court.

RR: Every single person who spoke this weekend was against them. Are they going to take that to the judge to?

RR: No, of course not. They are going to take their documents and whatever negotiations are going on with the plaintiffs and spin it to the judge. Judges love to hear the word "settlement" because it's another case off their docket. Pacifica is going to try to spin this so that if affects them positively in court. They are trying to search for a weak link to divide the movement and create the appearance of a win-win situation where in fact only one side really wins.

Another significant thing is that they have called on station management and LAB chairs to convene dialogue sessions with listeners in order to discuss, "process, by-laws changes and policies". This is a significant departure. I think this is a part of the public relations move to split the movement, create impressions for the judge, etc.

It's important for us to resist that. And that resistance began already this weekend among the listeners who gathered. A tremendous thing occurred. After an all night meeting, people devised a set of demands. They were up until 7 o'clock this morning writing. A heroic effort. Janice K. Bryant, a banned producer from WBAI, read the demands to the board. At that moment the room turned its back en masse to the Pacifica board and began to chant variously "Resign Now!", "Democracy Now!", "Whose Network? Our Network!" and walked out of the room singing "Nah-nah-nah-nah saaaay gooood-bye".

It sent a clear message. We nearly succeeded in closing down the board meeting before they voted on anything. In fact, David Acosta fled the building and never returned. We set a tone of resistance to all these manipulations and efforts to paint themselves in a new light.

We are reaching a dangerous juncture. We're reaching an endgame scenario here. Prepare for a telescoping of events, for an increasingly rapid set of developing contradictions, an increasingly rapid set of twists and turns that we have to respond to at a moment's notice because all kinds of funky things are going on right now.

Pacifica in the Era of Globalization

JT: Assuming democratizing forces reclaim Pacifica, what do you want to see this network and its stations become in the future?

RR: The Pacifica mission statement is like a Constitution. In various political eras and sub-eras, it's been interpreted in different ways. In the '50s, Pacifica was a place of resistance to McCarthyism. As the '50s turned into the '60s, it was a place where the civil rights movement was given great voice. It was the place from which the Free Speech movement was born. It fostered the early stages of the anti-Vietnam War movement. It was a place where the gay rights and the second wave feminist movement found a home?

JT: What would you like to see it do now?

RR: Now, we have different conditions. We've entered the era of globalization, the era when the rich get richer and the poor go to prison. My sense is, once we seize power again, is that we need to reflect those conditions. Heretofore, we had a general situation where a lot of white people represented oppressed people on air.

I think we need to make a concerted effort to make sure the voices of the oppressed themselves, especially youth of color whose generation is being decimated and criminalized, be brought into Pacifica. We should make a special effort to define our mission in this era as providing a direct voice to those voices as well as reflecting the global political struggle around globalization, orienting our programming to have an international scope that is reflected both politically and in terms of cultural and musical programming. We must interpret the Pacifica mission in a suitable way for the era of globalization.

Errol Maitland: WBAI Producer

Errol Maitland has been a producer at Democracy Now! since its inception five years ago. He was severely beaten by New York City police on March 24, 2000 while covering the very public funeral of Patrick Dorismond, the unarmed Haitian-American who had been gunned down by an undercover police officer after refusing to help out with a proposed drug buy.

img src="texas_greens/pacifica_6.jpg" align="left" Thousands attended Dorismond's funeral. Many more followed Maitland's live coverage on WBAI until he was struck down. Maitland's apparent crime: Reporting While Black.

Maitland suffered serious heart damage and was in coronary intensive care for two weeks. His "disorderly conduct" charge was only recently dropped. In December, Maitland returned to work only to suffer another blow-the takeover of WBAI by Pacifica's national management that has since become known as the "Christmas Coup".

JT: What is it like working at WBAI these days for someone like yourself who is a radical?

EM: As you may know, I was injured by the New York police in a mugging on March 24, 2000. Like a runner or a bike rider, my instinct has been to get back on my bike, to get back on my feet to continue the race. It's been a slow and painful recovery. Part of my therapy, both physical and mental, was my desire to get back to what I like to do, which is engineering and producing Democracy Now! And making that show happen.

I've been conditioned in the past eight or nine years to be up at 4:30 a.m. regardless of what time I go to sleep. I've been conditioned that whenever I hear a story or see an article that is the truth to illuminate that, to expose it, to bring it to the listeners of WBAI and Democracy Now! Before the coup, I had vowed only if I was dead would I not go back to work. I had gone back to work three weeks prior to Christmas. I was feeling much better. Then came the coup.

It's (now) a workplace that is occupied by the New York City Police Department. By corrections officers. It is not good physically or mentally for me. I avoid that place as much as I can.

JT: It must be hard.

EM: It's very hard. But what gives me heart and keeps me going is that there is greater work to be done. The greater work is to reclaim Pacifica. It's the work to reclaim WBAI, a crown jewel of Pacifica for the last 41 years. A radio station that reflects the best of humanity, that reflects the best of what media should be.

When I wake up in the morning and I turn on the radio or the television in the largest media market in the world, I don't see or hear the diversity of voices and accents I hear on WBAI. I don't see issues of significance to a community being covered. When I say community, I am talking about people of like mind, people who are seeking truth, people who are seeking social and political and economic justice, people who are trying to unravel the lies they are constantly being fed.

We have good humor. We have great fun. It's good to wake up to in the morning. It is something that jumpstarts your day. That's what WBAI and Democracy Now! meant to me.

It meant going to Haiti and covering stories and feeling at home. It means going to Seattle and feeling welcome by the young people in the street. It feels good to walk down the street in New York and be recognized by people of all races, colors and religions and who appreciate the work that we do. It is humbling. That now does not exist and we must reclaim it.

March 24, 2000

JT: Talk a little bit more about what you were doing last March 24 that got you into so many medical difficulties.

EM: I was responding to the need of the people. I was doing the work that needs to be done. I was being the conduit bringing the message to the countless thousands of people who could not be in Brooklyn physically that day but who wanted to have a psychic and spiritual connection with Patrick Dorismond and his family.

I was there all day reporting live on that funeral. I believe at some point I was targeted by the police and a mugging occurred. At one point I was reporting. The next thing I know I was on the ground.

After that, I was in a police wagon being driven around Brooklyn for an interminably long time. After that, I spent hours in a police station asking for medical attention. After that, I was finally taken to a hospital, handcuffed to a gurney, handcuffed to a chair and finally handcuffed to my bed from Saturday to Monday. I subsequently spent almost two weeks in the hospital. Since then, I am suffering indescribable physical pains from my injuries. I am optimistic I will recover. I am also optimistic I will be able to resume my work.

Behind the Scenes at Democracy Now!

JT: Talk about the work you do and how you all as a team go about putting Democracy Now! together? It's a remarkable show to listen to every morning.

EM: The credit for the success of that show must go to Amy Goodman's singularity of purpose and her total dedication to that program. Amy Goodman lives Democracy Now! She breathes it. She sleeps it if she ever sleeps.

JT: Do you think she does?

EM: I have my doubts (laughs). I actually have my doubts that Amy Goodman ever sleeps. She works on the program nearly non-stop. The rest of us just get swept along.

It is a program that is tremendously understaffed, tremendously under resourced. But, we work in an institution at WBAI where people don't work for a paycheck but for a cause. So, you have many hands who chip in and contribute to the success of that show. You have many people who step aside so that Amy can do an interview at 3 o'clock in the afternoon or 3 a.m. in the morning across the world to catch a guest.

You have people come in and help with production, who go out and gather the sounds that you hear on Democracy Now! Many of them do it because they feel it is a worthwhile effort to share information with a broader community.

Terry Allen and Chris Abrams do the show full time, which means being in at 7a.m. and still working at it at 10, 11, 12 o'clock at night. Anthony Sloan, who is ably filling in for me and engineering the show, is working as Amy's protector and defender. He and she and everyone who is right-minded at WBAI are working under a climate of fear and intimidation.

JT: What are some of the things they have been doing to Amy?

EM: It's a bad situation for Amy where she's been personally attacked on the air, her credibility maligned, people talking about Amy's family being from South Africa, which is a lie. They call her a racist, which is a lie. They claim Amy is the hidden hand behind the scene whose manipulating events and causing all the turmoil at the station, which is a lie. They said she has no children and that is a lie. She does have a child and that child is her work and she's totally dedicated to that.


JT: Speaking of recoveries, after what you saw this weekend what do you see as the possibility this present board will be overturned and replaced by something more democratic?

EM: I have been in this struggle for quite a while and I've never been happier. I'm also mindful of the fact that the struggle has to be won with compassion. And based on the reports I've heard and what I've seen this weekend, we are conducting ourselves with dignity and compassion.

The message to that board is clear. There is a force of peace that is going to sweep them out of office. The best they can do is relinquish their illegal control of Pacifica Network and step aside. Otherwise, this tsunami is going to wash over them. We will try to reach an end with them and wash them up to shore on some desert island where they won't ever again be able to inflict damages on anyone. I hope they heed the call and get the hell out of the way as soon as possible.

JT: What kind of organizing is going on in New York?

EM: We have had as many as 700 people turn out in front of Epstein, Becker and Green, the law firm that is defending Pacifica, which John Murdock sits as a partner on. This law firm has been hit across the country by waves of protests and civil disobedience. Hundreds of people in the cold in New York in February turned out in front of the law firm. Unions came out and denounced them for their anti-labor, union busting techniques that they brag about.

These guys from David Acosta to John Murdock to Michael Palmer to Ken Ford will be told and their bosses will be told by the most dedicated bunch of activists in this country, Pacifica listeners, that they will have to go or sufffer economic repercussions.

"As Long As Communicating Over the Air Is Something That Is Coveted?"

JT: What inspired you to become a journalist?

EM: It started with listening to WBAI. I was involved in the student movement at City College Of New York (CCNY). When there was a student takeover of the school, the corporate press at first gave us very positive coverage. As the takeover lasted one, two weeks, the tone and the tenor of the press began to change and become negative. And they started calling for a crackdown.

The only place that gave us decent coverage was WBAI. At that point, I came to WBAI and started to work on the Morning Show which Democracy Now! has evolved from.

JT: What would you see the new Pacifica looking like? What would you like to see it evolve into and how do you see it fitting into the world of independent media?

EM: Pacifica has to be rebuilt. But, Pacifica has endured for 50 years because the mission is sound. It is still sound. We just have to protect the outer shell. We have to understand that with the founding principles Pacifica is an institution dedicated to peace, dedicated to understanding, dedicated to giving a voice to the voiceless and to challenging the conventional and popular opinions of the day.

I see Pacifica today as not being irrelevant but being at the core of this renaissance in communications spreading out across the globe. As the media is being swallowed by conglomerates, Pacifica is becoming a focal point where dissenting voices can be heard.

We are in this country, and probably throughout the world, the only independent , self-sustaining, people-supported network. We give courage to mainstream reporters to take a look at other issues. We link communities of activists together. We link people of liberal tendencies together.

I see Pacifica branching out into the Internet. Many of the people in Pacifica were involved in pioneering the Internet in developing real audio and Internet broadcasting. We have the best archive there is from the past 50 years. We have voices nobody else has because we were out there. And we will continue to do that. As long as communicating over the air is something that is coveted, then Pacifica will have a place.

Sonia Rosen: WBAI Listener

Sonia Rosen, 23, is an activist and a humanities teacher at a New York City high school. She spends much of her free time working on local campaigns to reclaim WBAI. For her, it is one small step toward a much deeper and far-reaching vision of genuine democracy. And, she's found that her students are behind her.

JT: What originally brought you into the Pacifica movement? And what have you been up

SR: What originally brought me in was the scare of the Christmas Coup of December 23. I have listened to WBAI for less than a year now. But, I found it sustained me in this time of national crisis. We're at a point where George Bush has taken the office of President. I feel that represents a general move even further to the right by both Democrats and Republicans. For me, WBAI has been a place where I can hear news and information that will not ever be covered in the mainstream media, that is completely out of the frame of every question the mainstream media poses.

I consider myself an activist. I'm also a teacher. It frightens me to think that we could lose the only progressive media that has a chance of helping rally us so we can pull ourselves out of this crisis.

In terms of what we are doing, I personally have been involved in some media alliances and mostly a push toward creating a community that exists outside of the airwaves. One thing this movement for the democratization of WBAI and the Pacifica Foundation is going to do is to bring together a community of progressive listeners and activists to work together against this horrible national crisis that is symbolized by George Bush's taking control of this country.

I feel there are so many issues that affect me as an individual, as a woman, as an Arab, as a teacher and they affect my students as disenfranchised citizens. If we cannot rally together as a community in order to attack them together, we are really lost. That's what scares me the most. I can't imagine being stuck in a world like the one we have today without the hope of getting out of it, without a hope of moving to the left.

JT: What's been the response when you have gone out into the community to organize?

SR: The response is really positive. There are a lot of progressive organizations that have worked on their own and in smaller alliances that have really banned together because 'BAI and Pacifica in general has been a voice for them.

JT: How did you first find out about WBAI? And what was your first reaction?

SR: I was first turned onto WBAI by my ex-boyfriend, Kenneth. I think that what interested me most about 'BAI was its willingness to challenge the messages that flood our lives daily from the mainstream media and other institutions.

And 'BAI isn't even as radical as I would like it to be, but it pushes the envelope. It forces the mainstream media to expand the frame through which we view the world; it makes visible issues that would otherwise be ignored. 'BAI brings issues of marginalization into the center of the debate and encourages its listeners to challenge what they hear, even if this means that we do not agree with the way a producer frames the issue.

I don't always agree with the producers at WBAI, but I appreciate my privilege to voice my disagreement. Kenneth once pointed out to me (at the very beginning of my listening to the station) that 'BAI is the only station that doesn't screen its on-air calls. Interesting, isn't it? My first reaction to this concept was, "You mean they trust us to make appropriate, politically correct comments on the air?" Then, I realized that the whole point of having a listener sponsored radio station is to allow us to control what is broadcast from 99.5 FM. So now my mission is to honor this vision of progressive media by bringing true democracy to the Pacifica Foundation through institutions like the Pacifica Listeners' Union.

JT: What do you make of this weekend's (March 3-4) events? What are you going to tell friends back in NYC about how things went in Houston?

SR: This weekend was unbelievably energizing for me! I think the most important message to bring back to NYC is the message that we have now gone national. This weekend I witnessed the coalescence of many local movements into a pool of people from across the country with similar goals, and the experience made me feel like our group was less alone in this struggle. I personally found people with goals that were much more in line with my own ideology than anything I've encountered in Concerned Friends of WBAI, and I'm inspired to act on these ideas and bring back to NYC a more diverse perspective about democracy in activism.

JT: What did your students say when you told them you were going to Houston to protest at this weekend's Pacifica board meeting?

SR: My students were surprisingly aware of the fact that the mainstream media suppresses dissident voices and pacifies people with commercials and video games. It followed, then, that they were extremely sympathetic to my activism. I explained to them that free speech, listener sponsored radio was in danger of extinction at the hands of corporate monsters, and they cheered me on. I think they were also happy to have a day off from Humanities class, though.

I think that it is absolutely necessary for my students to see their teachers act as movers and shakers in a society that is attacking them from all sides. We, as adults, as teachers, as activists, have the responsibility to protect our students from the viciousness of the outside world and to help them to navigate that world and then change it completely. They tend to sense that kind of commitment, and they begin to understand why institutions like WBAI and movements like ours are so important.

JT: Where do you see this thing headed in the next 6 to 12 months, especially in the New York City area?

SR: I see us gaining velocity. We are now nationally connected, and there are a number of very talented and energetic organizers in our midst. I see us strengthening this web of activists and identifying specific roles that individuals and groups need to play. This coming year should be about laying the groundwork for our commitment to a long-term push toward a democratic Pacifica.

This movement won't be easy, and it won't be quick. We are in it for the long haul, and right now is the time to establish a constituency of activists who will stick with this struggle. The Pacifica National Board already feels strained by our presence - this fact is obvious based on our weekend in Houston.

In six months, we will have established a small (but strong) Pacifica Listeners' Union group in each of the five signal areas, providing the listeners and the broader Pacifica community with an alternative to the governance structures that are already in place. In twelve months, I think we can have people rallied around our alternatives. If we organize vigorously right now, this next year can be our time to harness the anger that listeners feel in response to the most recent of the five takeover attempts.

With that kind of energy, we can do anything. My vision of what democracy would look like in the world would be creating small pockets of communities that are democratic that would eventually work together in an interdependent relationship. To me, this is one step toward that vision. This movement has the potential to transform all media (and, consequently, all other institutions) into progressive peoples' institutions. But we must first be willing to accept how gigantic this vision actually is and stick with our work until we've attained it.

Save Pacifica
Pacifica Campaign
Pacifica Listeners Union
Official Pacifica Web Site

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