Response to Ann Garrison Article on Pacifica

A response to Ann Garrison’s piece from April 15, 2021: Pacifica Radio: Let’s Talk About the Debt

Regarding democracy at Pacifica, Ann Garrison wrote: “In early June, listener subscribers and staff of the Pacifica Radio Network, which includes five nonprofit metropolitan stations, KPFA-Berkeley, KPFK-Los Angeles, KPFT-Houston, WBAI-New York City, WPFW-Washington D.C., and over 200 smaller affiliate stations across the U.S., will receive ballots to vote on yet another new set of bylaws that would largely do away with its democratic governance structure. “

The New Day Pacifica bylaws do not do away with democratic governance. The new bylaws have 15 Directors on the Board: 4 officers are directly elected by the full membership, and are accountable to the members; 8 stakeholders (5 stations’ listeners, the paid staff, the unpaid staff and the affiliates) have their representative Directors directly elected by the respective constituencies; and 3 at-large Directors are elected by the 12 elected Directors to bring experience and expertise that the elected Board members might not have but the Board needs. The New Day Pacifica bylaws actually have more direct democracy than the current bylaws.

Some complain that the New Day Pacifica bylaws do not give proportional representation to paid and unpaid staff. The current bylaws do not have proportional representation, for example the number of representatives from stations do not reflect the number of members at different stations. It is not possible to have proportional representation without increasing the Board to an unmanageable size.

Regarding programming at Pacifica, Ann Garrison wrote: “My other reasons for opposing these bylaws is that they are fundamentally undemocratic and that they will lop off Pacifica programmers’ anti-imperialist wing. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Pacifica was a radical, antiwar, anti-imperialist network, perhaps most admired when WBAI sent the first American reporter to broadcast from North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Today, however, much of Pacifica has—like the rest of what now passes for the left—given way to identity politics, Democratic Party politics, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and even national security state narratives.”

“The network still has an anti-imperialist wing and I’m on it, but the list of Pacifica staff endorsers makes me think that our days will be numbered if the New Day Pacifica bylaws proposal passes. There are certainly a few outspoken anti-imperialists among the staff endorsers, but the most prominent and far greater number represent the direction the network has taken since its heyday in the 1960s and early ’70s, before the national security state created NPR to counter its radical narratives. Many Pacifica programmers wouldn’t sound out of place on NPR, and some have moved on to NPR employment.”

The New Day Pacifica bylaws have the same provisions for the power and duties of the Board as the current bylaws.

The programming at Pacifica is determined by the staff at the each station as laid out by Lew Hill in ‘The Theory of Listener-Sponsored Radio’: “On the one hand, these happen to be subjects of primary interest to people working at KPFA. On the other hand, they happen also to represent the articulate interests of well-defined minorities in the audience of the San Francisco Bay Area. The correspondence is not accidental. A constant exchange between the staff and the audience enriches the schedule with fresh judgment and new ideas, materials, and issues. Thus members of the staff work out their own ideas and, if you like, categorical imperatives, with some of the undistracted certitude one feels in deciding what he will have for dinner, subject to the menu. Listener sponsorship makes possible this extremely productive balance of interests and initiatives.”

Pacifica was an anti-war anti-imperialist network during of the Vietnam War. The young people were engaged because the men faced the draft. Now the issues have expanded to include global warming, income inequality, etc. The challenge for the network is to engage the young people in the same way it did in the 60’s and the 70’s.

Regarding governance at Pacifica, Ann Garrison wrote: “Although New Day Pacifica implies that it will somehow save the network from looming debt, it has never put forward a plan to do so. Since this group also supported the brief, failed takeover of WBAI in October 2019, it’s difficult not to imagine that their secret plan is to sell WBAI’s license, or perhaps to turn WBAI and maybe other stations, into repeater stations playing a bland potpourri they call “Pacifica Across America,” as they did after briefly taking over WBAI in 2019. I wrote about that failed takeover in “Solidarity Never? The Battle for WBAI.”

“Or do they hope to take the kind of corporate underwriting that is rewarded with thank yous, aka advertising, at the top of the hour on NPR? If neither of those is their plan, or part of it, then what is? It’s magical thinking to imagine that creating a top down, anti-democratic structure with their new bylaws would increase subscriber income and reverse the declining number of paying subscribers.”

First, New Day Pacifica never implied that it will save the network from looming debt, and second, New Day Pacifica has nothing to do with takeover of WBAI in October of 2019. The takeover of WBAI in 2019 and the failure of the Board to come up with a debt repayment plan over the last three years, until the lender finally offered to extend the loan, are all the result of current Boards’ inability to address the financial issues that confront the network.

Auditors, Regalia and Associated observed: “As auditors, we strongly recommend an end to the infighting and unproductive arguments which we have witnessed by listening to and reading Board minutes.”

The New Day Pacifica bylaws keep Pacifica’s democratic governance, but with less room for paralyzing dysfunction and more room for governance.

Voting for the New Day Pacifica Bylaws is an important step to ensure the future of listener sponsored Pacifica.

To be fully informed, people can read the provisions of the proposed Bylaws and supporting documentations at:

Akio Tanaka is a Delegate of the KPFA Local Station Board, and was the Secretary of the Pacifica National Board in 2017.