Resolving the Pacifica Crisis Revisited
an institution like Pacifica devolves into dysfunctional infighting involving
police interventions, lock outs, firings and protest resignations, rallies and
recirminations, many possible causes invite investigation.
Perhaps individuals at Pacifica are abusing their positions or have otherwise lost touch with their responsibilities.
Or perhaps some discordant features of Pacifica's agenda or process have grown stale or otherwise outdated.
Or perhaps the daily Pacifica strife and conflict derive directly from functioning in the hostile U.S. environment.
Or perhaps Pacifica's defining attributes themselves have generated its conflicts.
determine Pacifica's true situation and if there is a constructive way forward
we might first ask what should all progressives and leftists be able to
minimally and uncontroversially agree on regarding Pacifica's situation? Trying
to be as impartial as I can, I come up with this list:
That Pacifica has vast potential and huge resources allowing the possibility of addressing a significant percentage of the U.S. population, and that while Pacifica has historically made great contributions to progressive media outreach, its product ultimately falls far short of what its assets ought to facilitate. Trying to collectively narrow that gap is a priority.
That the conflicts at Pacifica arise from many factors including (but not limited to) the authoritarian decision making of its administrators over the past few years (firing employees, censoring shows, going into stations and changing locks in the dead of night, badgering and harassing people, creating a climate of fear and intimidation, etc.), the unwillingness of some employees (quite awhile back) to consider diverse changes in the interests of Pacifica's growth, the inappropriateness of some outdated agendas and shows and the difficulty of eliminating them, and the inevitable difficulty of working in a sea of oppressive social pressures from without.
That at a minimum, if Pacifica should function even in part under the auspices of an authoritative board of directors, surely that board ought to represent Pacifica's audience, supporters, workforce, and the broad progressive and left communities that have sustained and benefited from Pacifica over the years - and not be composed instead of sports team owners, strike breakers, and real estate agents, now typically included among and even dominating decisions on the Pacifica board.
That Pacifica's conflicts have become so exacerbated that trust and cooperation within and around Pacifica is largely worn out.
That pursuing culpability for the past few years firings, censoring, and reactive recriminations, and for those occuring daily, now, at WBAI is unimportant compared to bringing Pacifica's product into accord with its potential.
That Pacifica's renewal can only occur via changes in many facets of Pacifica's operations.
suppose we could all agree on the above six points, recognizing that beyond
them, in the details, there are many disagreements, of course. Now what?
of the difficulties of trying to relate to this battle from a distance has been
the absence of clear, shared, and definitive positive aspirations among those
dissenting from Pacifica. From outside the fray, however, here's what seem to be
the issues in dispute:
The role and sway of the overseeing board, assuming it persists at all, including who is on it, and the allocation of decision-making power within and over Pacifica more generally.
What to do with underutilized assets.
The basic norms and aims of the station regarding programming, evaluating content, seeking audience, fund raising, and just plain old interrelations among employees, employee rights, etc.
Pacifica's job definitions for both paid and unpaid participants, and the power that each position has over work life and programming, etc.
the complexity, a precondition for even seeing a possible route forward is no
doubt a clear set of demands regarding these and any other points in dispute.
said, and again from well outside the fray, and now venturing into my own
analysis of the events, it seems to me that a very important potential virtue of
the Pacifica conflict is that it raises the question should our institutions be
organized with divisions of labor, pay rates, and decision making methods that
elevate a few and that subordinate the many (always embodying unjust corporate
values and providing the conditions for fierce competition, repression, and
recrimination as well)? Or should our institutions reject corporate norms, just
as we reject racist and sexist norms? In other words, the Pacifica struggle is
at least in part about class and power relations inside our movement
organizations, not just about who fills what board positions or what
personalities people strive to have while doing their daily work, as important
as these personal choices can be.
Many of Pacifica's critics urge the need for thorough change to uproot corporate norms and roles. If this is undertaken, it will surely have implications for a great many other progressive and left institutions with similar corporatist misallocations of power and economic privilege in their structural definitions. If Pacifica needs revamping due to its internal corporatization being inappropriate for a progressive institution, then why not -- fill in the blank -- also? Good question.
We all ought to welcome this type inquiry and progress, it seems to me. And avoiding it, I have argued for a few years now, in favor of paying attention only to proximate threats and abuses, simply misses the point. Trying to punish or redress yesterday's grievance is not wrong, but it is superficial, ignoring root causes, whereas what is needed requires going much deeper.
the other hand, it isn't hard to understand why folks might worry about the
effects that such changes could have on their own power and circumstance in
their own institutions, or worry about the turmoil that trying to transcend
corporate structures could have on our on-going operations. Predictably,
therefore, many of our more corporately structured print projects have been
organizationally quiet about or supportive of managerial prerogatives at
Pacifica. And similarly, predictably many well meaning leftists concerned about
the possibility of over-enthusiastically tearing apart the most powerful single
vehicle for progressive communication in the U.S. in the name of improving it,
urge at most calm changes or even a stoic return to business as usual.
the trouble is, both these approaches, minimal reformism and stoicism, however
well motivated, will yield at best only the status quo ante, a far cry from
fully utilizing Pacifica's assets for progressive ends. And more, neither would
solve Pacifica's travails in an exemplary way that charts a path forward for the
whole progressive community. And most of all, in fact, at this point even a
cursury look tells us that short of overhaul that gets to the root of problems,
Pacifica is going to hell in a hand cart.
a July/August 1999 Z editorial we wrote that:
"At Pacifica we have a struggle being waged between people doing the bulk of the work and people consuming the product, on one side, and managers and what are virtually "owners," on the other side, over the class structure, the remuneration patterns, the job definitions, and especially the decision making allocations inside the institution. So given this, when are leftists going to support those fighting for change and even more to take the lessons from this case and extend them into so many others where they are equally valid and important to pursue? When are we going to say, hey, not only should we not allow racist or sexist or homophobic role definitions and decision-making presuppositions and structures into our projects and movements - we shouldn't allow classist structures or behavioral biases there either, even if it means we have to fight against entrenched leaderships to make that change?
That's what's at stake at Pacifica. People shouldn't go berserk about it, trying to create perfect institutions overnight and in the process creating so much turmoil and hurt that we do more harm than good. But at the other prevalent extreme, passively permitting our institutions to be structural carbon copies of what we claim to hate is also wrong. Let's be clear, this means that if other media institutions in particular are going to take a principled and thorough stand regarding Pacifica, they will have to take the same stand vis-à-vis themselves--which is what should happen and why this struggle is so important."
what can be done?
the bitter hostility within Pacifica's camps -- and really, folks need to
understand that this isn't rhetoric, these people are in a kind of warlike
situation regarding one another -- those who seek a rejuvenated, redefined, and
exemplary Pacifica, need to continue to educate and agitate, of course, but
there needs to be a new wrinkle. Their positive aims have got to be made
evident. There must be clear and succinct, demands which, if met, would move us
from a condition of struggle to one of renewal.
of a "Save Pacifica" battle being waged against each specific
violation of progressive values by Pacifica's management, the battle for a
renewed Pacifica needs to be waged under a rubric such as "Make Our
Movement Reflect Our Aspirations - Pacifica First," and it needs to have
clear principles and demands that would permit rank-and-file progressives all
over the country to understand what's at stake and to say: "Hold on, those
principles make sense. Of course our organizations should reflect our
aspirations rather than mimicking the structure of Time Magazine, NBC, the State
Department, or General Motors. We should support the Pacifica struggle, and you
know what, we should patiently and calmly and constructively address the
inadequacies of other institutions, too."
is how the effort to rid the progressive community of racism and sexism in our
institutions was waged, at least at its best, and how it is still waged, for
that matter. And it is how, in parallel, the effort to rid the progressive
community of classism and authoritarianism in our institutions needs to be
waged, assuming we are to have any chance against the objections many leaders
will raise against such innovations.
where can the specific demands sought by the movements seeking Pacifica's
renewal come from such that they capture the imagination not only of Pacifica
dissidents, but of the broad rank and file constituencies of progressive
sentiment in the U.S.?
possibility is to convene a panel of respected representatives from various
progressive constituencies to examine Pacifica's recent history and put forward
comprehensive proposals for changes to end the current strife and to establish a
firm foundation for future progress. Such a panel would meet, hire a small
staff, assemble information about Pacifica including interacting with relevant
involved parties, arrive at proposals for Pacifica's renewal, refine the
proposals in light of feedback from various directions, and offer them publicly.
would be the short-term changes advocated by such a panel? I don't know. Maybe
it would call for a new board with a third being elected representatives of
employees, a third elected representatives of listener-donors, and a third
elected representatives of diverse progressive movement groups. Perhaps it would
call for a clear statement of political and journalistic values, for a
commitment to outreach without compromising content, for norms regarding
diversity, and for (I would hope) changes to job definitions designed to instill
a culture and practice of democracy and workers self management throughout the
such a panel came up with as goals and proposed demands, could it enforce
compliance by the parties at Pacifica? No, of course not. But it could at least
establish a positive agenda, widely supported by public dissent and
demonstration, which could then inform and perhaps galvanize the movement for
innovation at Pacifica, thereby helping to engender a viable resolution.
the issue is even bigger than that.
that our movement institutions were run by boards of overseers, managers, and
bosses who by their backgrounds, their other occupations, their culture,
manners, style, and commitments evidenced as their foremost allegiance serving
patriarchy and/or fostering racism. Would we anticipate that those organizations
and movements would appeal greatly to women, blacks and Latinos? No, of course
not. By the same logic, having subordinated the vast majority of our
organizations to professional managers, owners, fund raisers, big donors, and
overseer boards of everything from real estate agents to strike breaking CEOs,
as well as having incorporated inside our organizations hierarchical
remunerative and decision making norms little different from those that workers
suffer in society at large, we should not be surprised that our efforts aren't
trumpeted and celebrated by the working class.
lose Pacifica, our loudest and broadest media tool, would be the height of
stupid, suicidal politics for the left. Therefore, at a minimum, serious reforms
have got to be engineered. But more, at some point we need to democratize and
de-class all our projects, so why not turn adversity into accomplishment and
take the first big steps here and now?