KPFA/Pacifica: Lords & Ladies vs. the Peasants

KPFA listeners remember 1999 as the year of the Lockout and the massive response. 10,000 people marched through the streets of Berkeley chanting “Save KPFA!” “Save Pacifica!” That dramatic moment was followed by a decade of board meetings, mostly held inside the dark chambers of the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse. And yet, basic issues are still not settled, their resolution still up for grabs.

I missed the French revolution, but I wonder if the lengthy parliamentary struggles which ensued were anything like this? The Bastille was stormed in a day, but what followed were meetings, meetings and more meetings. A huge amount of parliamentary stuff. That’s probably what all revolutions are like, including the one at KPFA/Pacifica.

The upheaval of ’99 began, as many revolutions have, with a split within the power elite. A headstrong monarch quarrels with her courtiers, throws them out of the palace, locks the gate, and calls in mercenary troops — rent-a-cops. The disenfranchised nobility, acting out of sheer desperation, ally themselves with dissidents, appeal to the rabble, and call for mass insurrection, which, to the astonishment of everyone, succeeds. The intolerable monarch goes into exile, leaving the kingdom to the rebels — a motley assemblage of commoners, nobility and bureaucrats from the old regime — all of whom profess enduring loyalty to the revolution.

At first there is wild jubilation, dancing in the streets, and a huge amount of good feeling. All the worthy people are sisters and brothers, in a splendid state of living happily ever after, and the lords and ladies graciously tolerate the situation, putting a good face on it. The trouble is that this very ungracious mob expects to have a say in the running of the new regime. So the lords and ladies are now faced with the problem of getting this horde of loud, smelly, cantankerous, meddlesome peasants to leave the castle, go back to tilling the lands, and give up any idea of involving themselves in governance.

The revolution at KPFA/Pacifica has been no exception to this pattern. There were negotiations and compromises; nevertheless, the outcome was a radically new system, instituted in a set of bylaws establishing a listener democracy. Listener members became voters, choosing their representatives to oversee the network. In radio governance, this is a revolutionary concept, though in the eyes of the bluebloods it is absolutely revolting.

One can sympathize with the plight and outrage of the once proud aristocrats who wound up sitting on boards shoulder to shoulder with unwashed peasants who even had the audacity to bring their supporters to meetings. In an open letter of 2004, a rising KPFA princess derisively referred to this audience of listeners as “the grey-haired 40 people who come to every LSB meeting with such regularity that you could save seats in advance for them all.” Ranting on about the supposed unworkablity of listener democracy, she declared, “I do think the bylaws are a disaster.”

This particular princess, Sasha Lilley, who happened also to be a progressive, hosted a popular KPFA radio show, often interviewing interesting guests, analyzing how the exploiters exploit the exploited and keep them down. She loves the people and hates their oppressors, but she clearly doesn’t want the people in her castle.

Another advocate for the downtrodden is Attorney Sherry Gendelman, who’d spoken eloquently for the insurrectionists. But she hadn’t really meant to empower them. It appears that she hadn’t wanted an elected board. “I was in favor of the election, but not for every seat on the board,” Lady Gendelman told the Daily Californian. “I was afraid that the election would not produce people who were what was needed. If that was so, we needed some members to be selected in the same fashion that old board members were. My suggestion was turned down, though.”

Such statements, though rarely voiced openly, expressed the resistance to listener democracy from the beginning. KPFA and other Pacifica stations remained in the hands of cliques of insiders who joined together in an unholy alliance, dominating the national office. The decade after ’99 saw a slow return to a regime with too much power in the hands of too few people — a self serving power elite, rigorously defending the status quo to the detriment of the network.

Nor has this elite ruled wisely. Key management jobs go to cronies. Financial problems, like the non-payment of rent at WBAI in New York, are overlooked or even hidden until they become economic crises. Magical thinking, just as in the days of Merlin, seems to dominate.

But disenchantment among the commoners with the gross mismanagement of the network has finally resulted in changes. There is now, as of this year, a new Pacifica National Board (PNB), unique in that it managed to select two competent and courageous people who took decisive action during the crisis at WBAI. That was just this spring.

The new PNB and national office are attempting, with notable success at WBAI, to steer the network towards financial stability — hardly a radical concept. They also replaced several officials, reassigning one to a position allowing maximum use of his considerable skills, but even this is perceived as a threat to the status quo. What really outrages the lords and ladies is a strengthening of the electoral process, requiring the stations to actively and comprehensively promote the election on the air. with sanctions for some of the loopholes and outright disinformation allowed in previous years.

This summer’s Pacifica elections will decide the future of the network. The bluebloods have (again) recruited a slate, the “Concerned Listeners,” to do their bidding. Opposing them are three slates of uncommon commoners and an independent. Listener democracy is what’s at stake in this election, and through it, the survival of Pacifica. It’s up to us peasants to vote in our own interest.

Daniel Borgström is an ex-Marine against the war, a veteran occupier. He writes about progressive actions. He can be reached at: danielfortyone@gmail.com. Read other articles by Daniel, or visit Daniel's website.

22 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Fred Nguyen said on October 1st, 2009 at 1:58pm #

    This article is full of unproven statements and mischaraterizations. It is really uninformed, manichean, partisan and unworthy of publishing on this web site.
    Fred Nguyen
    Reporter
    WBAI Radio, NYC

  2. TakeBackWBAI said on October 1st, 2009 at 2:49pm #

    Unfortunately, the writer has the wrong people on the wrong sides. The elitists have taken over – Grace Aaron, Steve Brown & Co. are not the workers or peasants – they are the parasitic class that is purging people of color around the network, has imposed an on-air gag rule, and is replacing local, activist programming with national, celebrity programming a la NPR.

    Check out http://www.TakeBackWBAI.org and decide for yourself.

  3. Don Hawkins said on October 2nd, 2009 at 3:25am #

    The War of the Worlds
    COLUMBIA BROADCASTING SYSTEM
    ORSON WELLES AND MERCURY THEATRE ON THE AIR
    SUNDAY, OCTOBER 30, 1938
    8:00 TO 9:00 P.M.

    ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, I have a grave announcement to make. Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars. The battle which took place tonight at Grovers Mill has ended in one of the most startling defeats ever suffered by any army in modern times; seven thousand men armed with rifles and machine guns pitted against a single fighting machine of the invaders from Mars. One hundred and twenty known survivors. The rest strewn over the battle area from Grovers Mill to Plainsboro, crushed and trampled to death under the metal feet of the monster, or burned to cinders by its heat ray. The monster is now in control of the middle section of New Jersey and has effectively cut the state through its center. Communication lines are down from Pennsylvania to the Atlantic Ocean. Railroad tracks are torn and service from New York to Philadelphia discontinued except routing some of the trains through Allentown and Phoenixville. Highways to the north, south, and west are clogged with frantic human traffic. Police and army reserves are unable to control the mad flight. By morning the fugitives will have swelled Philadelphia, Camden, and Trenton, it is estimated, to twice their normal population. At this time martial law prevails throughout New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. We take you now to Washington for a special broadcast on the National Emergency . . . the Secretary of the Interior . .

    SECRETARY: Citizens of the nation: I shall not try to conceal the gravity of the situation that confronts the country, nor the concern of your government in protecting the lives and property of its people. However, I wish to impress upon you — private citizens and public officials, all of you — the urgent need of calm and resourceful action. Fortunately, this formidable enemy is still confined to a comparatively small area, and we may place our faith in the military forces to keep them there. In the meantime placing our faith in God we must continue the performance of our duties each and every one of us, so that we may confront this destructive adversary with a nation united, courageous, and consecrated to the preservation of human supremacy on this earth. I thank you.

    STRANGER: Well, there won’t be any more concerts for a million years or so, and no nice little dinners at restaurants. If it’s amusement you’re after, I guess the game’s up.

  4. Don Hawkins said on October 2nd, 2009 at 4:25am #

    ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, I have a grave announcement to make. Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings who landed in the Jersey farmlands tonight are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars.

    Isn’t it strange what the thinking has come to in the first part of the twenty first century? In 1938 it was only a radio program and yet many people thought it was the real thing. Today this second the problem, problems we face are big and very real and we are made to believe by people who control sort of the bank’s the policy the media business and our thoughts that the biggest problems the human race has ever faced are not real it’s under control sure it is. We can not solve these problems with missiles and bombs will not work. If you watch Fox New’s the talk seems to be bomb bomb Iran and on CNBC last night this man Larry said cap and trade and this health care bill will hurt the stock market, what. We just saw a random noise generator in Pittsburgh and in the coming years I am sure more of that because you see these problems so far are being solved with something called illusion. Illusion of knowledge on a grade scale. The big plan so far appears for some old thinkers in mind and body get to go out in style I guess that’s what they call it as the rest of the human race goes down the drain in not such so motion. The problems are of course climate change and nuclear weapons not strange beings from Mars. Although there are strange beings among us and now control sort of the bank’s policy media business and our thought’s. You see them on TV with suits and designer dresses and use second grade level thinking illusion of knowledge and foolishness so I guess some of them can move to Hawaii in 20 years and we that’s we the people get random noise generators as a start. There is away. Face the problems for what they are use knowledge, imagination, working together reason and the big one something called a soul. A good start would be for the President the leader of the free World to give a speech.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, I have a grave announcement to make. Incredible as it may seem, both the observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that we are all in deep do do”.

  5. mary said on October 2nd, 2009 at 6:22am #

    I saw the bloody great jet Air Force 1 or 2 or whichever deliver Obamarama and the Mrs to the Olympic bid. Global warming? A stupid use of fossil fuel? Us? Mais non!

    I expect the Chicago mobsters who helped to put him in power have told them to get over there and lobby. Lots of shekels to be made in 2016.

  6. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on October 2nd, 2009 at 1:50pm #

    Don,
    Let’s consider probability that US won’t do enough to prevent the world temperature to rise above 2C.
    Most scientists believe that we or nature shld not increase global war beyod 2C.

    I do not think that world plutos care if temperatures rise by 4 or 6C . We are not the world. The song writer who wrote those words was one of them and not one of us.
    They are [plutos] the world. And as always before or since , let’s say, at least 10k yrs ago.
    Six millennia ago world pop numbered no more than 200mn people. With global warming destroying much of the planet and 5-6bn darkies, there will be enough left for plutos to thrive around the two poles.
    In any case, they appear not to be worried about own fate. tnx

  7. rosemarie jackowski said on October 2nd, 2009 at 1:56pm #

    How could they even think of having the Olympics in the country with the worse health care delivery system!

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain said on October 2nd, 2009 at 2:44pm #

    mary, the quick elimination of Chicago is wonderful. It shows the world’s actual attitude towards the ‘Real Evil Empire’ and its ‘House Negro’ confidence-man President. I imagine Obama lost not a few African votes with his nasty speech in Ghana, sneering at Africa’s travails and basically blaming them for all their problems. The Zionists’ idea to have an ersatz black face fronting business-as-usual GW Bush-style thuggery was really creative, but Obama has been a little too enthusiastic a lackey. Not retreating one inch from the Bush/Netanyahu agenda has even the dullest bone-heads beginning to wake up. And the inescapable, visceral race-hatred of the Right has been shown to be uncontrollable. While Obama is doing the white Bosses’ work, the white loser rabble have been stoked into a frenzy of racial antipathy. Even the Bosses are not careful, they might lose their Uncle Tom-in-Chief, but I guess that they have total faith in Zionist stooge (and proud of it!) Joe Biden.

  9. Don Hawkins said on October 2nd, 2009 at 4:16pm #

    I do not think that world plutos care if temperatures rise by 4 or 6C . It appears that World plutos are in very simple terms not to bright. Yes they did read the book on how to win friends and influence people that I don’t think had a chapter on the way to run a planet in the outer ring of the milky Way Galaxy. They must know that as the World starts to run out of food and water and of course that on time delivery will not be what it used to be well those large bombs hotter than the Sun just might be used. They will not have to move to the poles as rather cold and dark for a few years and who will do the work for them?

  10. Don Hawkins said on October 2nd, 2009 at 4:26pm #

    The song writer who wrote those words was one of them and not one of us. Bozh yes that is the way it work’s and if only more people knew that then what. Nice game of checkers cup of coffee. And what knowledge did we gain today?

  11. Don Hawkins said on October 2nd, 2009 at 4:32pm #

    In the meantime placing our faith in God we must continue the performance of our duties each and every one of us, so that we may confront this destructive adversary with a nation united, courageous, and consecrated to the preservation of human supremacy on this earth. I thank you.

    That should read the preservation of all life on this earth to the best of our knowledge.

  12. russell olausen said on October 2nd, 2009 at 6:33pm #

    Back here on earth, I think its great that some of the unwashed pushed into the Pacifica management Bastian if for no other reason than to show its executive the power of democracy. I give them a blast at my local Teamster’s hall. They invited me into the backroom where they would open their hearts to me. I declined, realizing my brass knuckles were not nearly big enough. I applaud the fact that Pacifica is worth a fight, no side taken.

  13. Annie Ladysmith said on October 2nd, 2009 at 6:48pm #

    ALL HORSECRAP! HORSESHIT if you like, plain and simple CRAP!
    Nero fiddling while Rome burned, lunacy, mixed with chronic verbal flatulence. What’s coming down the pike should wake everyone up.

  14. Mitchel Cohen said on October 2nd, 2009 at 9:51pm #

    Good article. The main worth of the coming Local Station Boards will be to determine whom to place on the Pacifica National Board. It is absolutely imperative that the Concerned Listeners slate at KPFA be turned back, same as the misnamed “Justice and Unity” slate at WBAI, or Pacifica may as well say goodbye now. That’s how serious this election is. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to vote at KPFA for the independent and peoples’ radio slates, and reject the Concerned Listeners who have facilitate the worst of the worst in their attempt to take over WBAI and turn it into a megaphone for the Workers World Party — no one else need apply ….

    Mitchel Cohen
    Chair, WBAI Local Station Board

    And I write this as someone who appreciates the WWP’s antiwar efforts but who disagrees strenuously that that monolithic policy should become imposed on the functioning of a people’s radio station.

  15. Don Hawkins said on October 3rd, 2009 at 4:42am #

    STRANGER: Well, there won’t be any more concerts for a million years or so, and no nice little dinners at restaurants. If it’s amusement you’re after, I guess the game’s up.

    Mitchel let’s look into the future just a little and what the people’s radio station will be broadcasting in say 20 years.

    “Be well this is the people’s radio station. First reports this morning are saying more troops are massing on the Southern boarder of Russia. China has called for calm and trying to get food and water to the estimated 200 million people now on the Northern boarded. Reports out of India are hard to get and the best we know today July 2029 India is still under Marshall law. The fires in California have stopped for now and the central valley is almost uninhabitable and LA still under Marshall law gas in short supply. Temperatures in Southern California are expected to reach records again today. The government is asking for calm in Texas and promising more water and food and gas as people move North. Flooding again in the Northeast and more new settlements on the border with Canada. The government and NASA again in talk’s to see if aerosol injection into Earth’s atmosphere can be used. All for now and temperature updates in one hour save energy be well”.

    Let’s watch the Senate in a few months on the climate bill and what was it that a Senator just said. “The climate bill is as dead as a door nail”. “All for now and temperature updates in one hour save energy be well”.

  16. Don Hawkins said on October 3rd, 2009 at 5:14am #

    What that Senator said the other day well I think some of these so called leaders read DV and probably the word will go out to not say things like that. So clever these people and there second grade level thinking. The words will change as they do two things nothing and zero.

  17. Lance Watson said on October 6th, 2009 at 2:36pm #

    What has happened to our beloved WBAI?

    …..Under Aaron’s tenure, the stations have been under serious pressure to increase listenership and fundraising by offering miracle cures and 9/11 conspiracist DVDs as donor “thank you gifts”. Pacifica station WBAI in New York made tens of thousands of dollars on gifts promising protection from fungus-causing aerosols that the government is supposedly spraying on its population. It is also symptomatic that at the same time that Aaron favors depoliticized self-help shows, she is reported to fulminate against “pro-Palestinian, pro-immigrant” public affairs programming on the network……

    check out From Farce to Tragedy :The New Crisis at Pacifica By IAIN
    BOAL
    http://www.counterpunch.org/boal10062009.html

  18. lichen said on October 6th, 2009 at 4:42pm #

    I just read the counterpunch article, which was much more explanatory than this one on DV, and also quite interesting. Conspiracy theories are not journalism; journalism is based on facts, not an ideology of formulaic, prewritten responses/explanations for every single event. I’m glad democracy now doesn’t air them…

  19. Lance Watson said on October 6th, 2009 at 7:49pm #

    Mitchel Cohen said on October 2nd, 2009 at 9:51pm #
    Good article. The main worth of the coming Local Station Boards will be to determine whom to place on the Pacifica National Board. It is absolutely imperative that the Concerned Listeners slate at KPFA be turned back, same as the misnamed “Justice and Unity” slate at WBAI, or Pacifica may as well say goodbye now. That’s how serious this election is. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to vote at KPFA for the independent and peoples’ radio slates, and reject the Concerned Listeners who have facilitate the worst of the worst in their attempt to take over WBAI and turn it into a megaphone for the Workers World Party — no one else need apply ….
    Mitchel Cohen

    Mitchel Cohen campaign statement for seat on the WBAI station board states inter alia : Wbai should be a beacon of truth but has been looted by the Justice and Unity faction which controls the station. Do not be fooled or diverted by the race baiters, the opportunist the anti-semite.
    They want to take back the station and turn it back into their gravy-train…

    Hi Mitchel, I woulld love to be recruited and vote for you but before that could you give some documented instances of opportunism and anti- semitism by the Justice and Unity faction. During the recent phone in to the Station Board there ware constant references to anti-semitism on WBAI but it was never stated as to what had occurred. One examnple would do.

    Also, please state your role in the banning and firing of Bernard, Tony and the other WBAI staffers. We all love WBAI and we need to know whats going on.

    This morning on the Arron’s KPFA import, Background Briefing, I was saddened to hear airtime wasted on a piece by Max Blumental on Sarah Pallin’s Kenyan witch doctor. http://archive.wbai.org/files/mp3/091006_090001backbrief.MP3

    Have just finished listening to that wonderful couple Mya Shone and Ralph Schoenman on Taking Aim. Target Iran: Orchestrating the Duplicity re the impending Israeli nuclear-genocidal attack on Iran with the likelihood of killing 70 million Iranians
    http://archive.wbai.org/files/mp3/091006_170001taim.MP3

  20. demize! said on October 7th, 2009 at 11:23am #

    I have to agree with the poster who said that you have your factions backwards here. It can be confusing for a listener who is not immersed in WBAI’s infighting to keep track, but this article adds to the confusion. BTW. What the hell is with these rambling offtopic rants?

  21. Nuuon said on October 19th, 2009 at 8:00pm #

    Thanks for publishing this article. It really opened my eyes for the FIRST TIME with regard to who the people at “dissident voice” really are.

    Hence forth, I will not be reading any of the articles on this website; I will not be linking to any articles on this website, nor will I ever again recommend this website to anyone.

    Again, thank you for opening my eyes to what this website is really about– most probably nothing more than yet another government disinformation operation.

  22. margaret kaigler said on October 23rd, 2009 at 12:59pm #

    Matthew is telling the honest truth…they like the idea of fairness and honesty they just don’t practice it, nor do the KPFA princesses and princes want the unwashed minorities on the air or breathing the same air the present elite management clique fought to own and struggles to keep power over.