Pacifica Campaign Statement on the Pacifica Radio Settlement
by Juan Gonzalez
Late yesterday we received news that there has finally been a legal settlement in the long and bitter battle against the corporate clique which hijacked the Pacifica network. (For the settlement text go to http://pacificacampaign.org/pacificasettlement.html)
Editor's note: To be sure that this settlement wording will never be lost, see the next section of this magazine for that settlement.
We in the Pacifica Campaign have, however, publicly stated for many months that such a negotiated settlement was not only possible but was in the best interests of preserving a viable network for the listeners.
We never deluded ourselves, however, about such a settlement, knowing that in this, as in any bargaining process, the "devil is often in the details." What we offer below is our preliminary analysis of the settlement and what it means for our movement. Given the controversy this settlement is sure to generate, we believe it is urgent to initiate reasoned debate over its terms as soon as possible. So here it is:
Bernard White who was fired during the Christmas Coup on stage at the rally outside WBAI at 120 Wall Street. White hosted the very popular Wake Up Call. April 28, 2001 © Copyright, Diane Greene Lent, 2001
The movement for democracy in the American mass media won a historic victory yesterday, one that is sure to inspire new struggles for media accountability.
For perhaps the first time in U.S. history, a people's movement of listeners, employees and political activists succeeded in wresting majority control of a radio network away from a small corporate clique that had illegally seized the reins of power several years earlier.
That movement accomplished this extraordinary victory by a persistent and creative combination of an amazing array of tactics -- including peaceful direct action, civil disobedience, massive public meetings and protests, a well-organized listener boycott, skillful use of direct mail and internet electronic picketing campaigns, as well as numerous court challenges.
Thanks to the combination of those tactics, which aroused tens of thousands of people around the country to unprecedented action and garnered nationwide press attention, the clique in control of the network and their few active supporters in the management and staff of the five stations were soon overwhelmed and forced to retreat.
The agreement reached yesterday is merely the legal reflection of our movement's enormous strength and a recognition of its victory.
There are those who will ask, how can we call this a victory when our movement has not totally ousted all the members of the former board majority? Under the agreement, the reform movement will most likely have a 9-to-6 majority on an Interim Board during a 15-month "transition period," at the end of which new bylaws will be written and a new permanent board elected. During that interim period, however, voting rules will be such that our "majority" will be unable to reach major decisions without, in effect, at least one member of the new minority voting with us. Any board decision by a simple majority vote that does not meet such criteria will automatically be referred to the California judge who is overseeing the agreement, and the judge will then decide the matter.
So how can that be considered a victory if the old raiders can still throw obstacles in the way of our new majority?
The answer is simple. A few weeks ago, our dissident board members were in the minority. Under this agreement, they will be in the majority. A few weeks ago, our dissident board members were powerless to block all but a few major actions by the corporate raiders. Now the raiders have no power to initiate any major actions. All they can do is throw roadblocks, but even then, at least during the transition period, the judge has the final decision, not the raiders.
Most importantly, the one area where a simple majority can rule is in the election of the Foundation's officers. That means that our dissident board members will have the power to elect the new chair, treasurer and secretary of the Foundation. That means the power to determine when the national board meets, what the agenda will be, who will chair committees and how votes will be conducted, will be on our side. That alone is an enormous change compared to the current situation where listeners and board members were given as little information about board meetings as possible. And this was all accomplished without spending millions of dollars more on a trial that may have ended up giving us less than what the settlement did.
In addition, the new settlement gives a majority of three of the five Local Advisory Boards (LABs) virtual veto power over the amending of any bylaws concerning the election of board members. If the LABs reject the bylaws, the Spooner listeners' suit and the Adelson LAB law suits can proceed to trial.
Moreover, the settlement forbids any sale of a station during the interim period and mandates consultation with listener groups and local communities over bylaw amendments.
There are some who are already lining up to criticize the agreement. They seem most outraged by the fact that the clique of raiders will retain a powerful minority position on the board. My response to that is two-fold:
1) The clique who remain are far different and far less potent than those who were on the board last December 22, the night of the Christmas Coup at WBAI.
Former Chairman David Acosta is gone. Former Vice-Chair Ken Ford is gone. Former treasurer Micheal Palmer is gone. Former secretary Andrea Cisco is gone. So is Karolyn Van Putten and Frank Millspaugh. Even the infamous John Murdock, the defiant, belligerent Murdock of the anti-union firm, Epstein, Becker & Green, is reportedly gone, since he will apparently not be part of the new board. Neither will Houston's Valrie Chambers. In other words, eight members of the one-time raiders will be gone, including the ringleaders of the coup.
But that's not all. Former director Bessie Wash was forced out. So was national program director Steven Yasko and his successor, former WBAI interim station manager Utrice Leid.
When you think about it, our movement has accomplished an incredible sea-change. In less than one year we have forced out from all the top positions of the network those who most sought to move Pacifica away from its original radical mission. No, we have not yet succeeded in ridding the network of all the bad apples. But that brings me to my
2) Those who believe that all of our movement's goals could be accomplished in one swoop, like some modern day version of a Bolshevik or Sandinista uprising, have perhaps underestimated the real world in which we live. We cannot isolate the Pacifica struggle from the capitalist environment that surrounds us, nor can we neglect the reality that we find ourselves in the midst of a new right-upsurge and weighed down by a horrible new war.
The progressive movement in America needs a strong Pacifica now more than ever. It needs to have Democracy Now! back on the air at all Pacifica stations, broadcasting news and information the American people cannot hear anywhere else on the radio dial. We cannot allow bitterness and anger to cloud our judgments. As I have told Pacifica activists repeatedly during the past few months, the great revolutionaries in history, the Mandela's, the Ho Chi Minh's, knew when to fight and when to negotiate. They knew when to stand on principle and when to make difficult compromises. They knew when to choose reconciliation over revenge.
A perfect example of this is former board member Bob Farrell. In retrospect, the election of Farrell as chairman several months ago, while certainly a move that many of us opposed, turned out to be a watershed moment. Farrell announced he wanted to make peace within Pacifica. Many of us were skeptical, but he went about doing just that. Yes, he had been part of the raiding clique. But Farrell chose to change, and he dragged the remaining members of his group to the table, even as they were kicking and screaming.
Farrell will not be on the new board. His own side chose not to elect him. But I believe that by abandoning the old bankrupt policies he played a pivotal role in moving Pacifica toward a new era, so I wish to publicly thank him for keeping his word.
Most importantly, I believe we owe much gratitude to the litigants in the three law suits. All of them spent countless hours, so many of them frustrating and seemingly fruitless, trying to find common ground first with each other, then with the rest of us in our complicated and amorphous reform movement, than with the various representatives of the raiders. They sacrificed so much time away from their families, their jobs, their own personal lives, all to save Pacifica. Thank you Leslie Cagan, Tomas Moran, Pete Bramson, Rob Robinson, Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, Dave Adelson, Miguel Maldonado, Sherry Gendelman, Robbie Osman, Barbara Lubin, and of course, Carol Spooner.
As for those who are dissatisfied, or who believe that this agreement sells out our movement's principles, I urge you to reconsider your views. There will always be some people who are not satisfied with an agreement. Many of us, myself included, had hoped for more. Many wanted several other issues to be resolved right away, including the immediate return of all the banned and the fired from WBAI. But my interpretation of the provisions of this agreement leads me to believe that the WBAI situation will be resolved very soon.
Remember, this is only a transition agreement. When North Vietnam and the United States negotiated an end to the Vietnam War, their Peace Treaty dealt primarily with the transitional conditions under which the U.S. army would withdraw from the South. The U.S. did not surrender and endorse the liberation and reunification of South Vietnam with the North. That momentous event happened later. Not very much later -- but still later.
So rather than quibble over what should have been in this transitional agreement now and what should be decided later, rather than begin attacking those we fought so hard to save the network, we should first take a step back, look at the forest instead of the individual trees, and celebrate the magnificent victory our movement has accomplished.
When I resigned from Democracy Now! on January 31, 2001 and we launched the Pacifica Campaign, few people believed we could drive out the hijackers and regain control of Pacifica. Some told us we would either destroy the network or meet a humiliating defeat. Neither of those things happened, as the terrific staff organizers of the Pacifica Campaign -- Dan Coughlin, Farah Davari, Linda Duggins, Arturo Lemus, John Martinez, Denis Moynihan, Bok-Keem Nyerere, Karen Pomer, Myla Reson, Ursula Ruedenberg, Darius Sarrafi, Don Underwood, Valerie Van Isler, Bernard White, Andrea Buffa, and the many volunteers dug in, criss-crossed the country and fought on relentlessly.
No, we do not yet have democratic accountability to listeners and staff. We do not yet have a return of Free Speech. We do not yet have the return of the banned and fired. But we have taken a giant step toward each of those goals by removing from power those who promulgated the dictatorial and retrograde policies at Pacifica.
We believe this agreement thrusts our movement into a new stage. During this transition period we have two important challenges. We must mobilize maximum support for the new board majority so that it can fashion a genuinely democratic structure for Pacifica, restore the banned and the fired, and end the gag rule. And we must end the boycott and rapidly move toward rebuilding the network's membership and finances and prepare for elections of new advisory boards so that Pacifica can emerge from this crisis bigger and stronger than ever. We welcome the debate and discussion that will ensue over the next few months as part of the new process of rebuilding the network. Maybe, the Pacifica Campaign can even join with other reform groups in scheduling a national conference on the future of the network where the various viewpoints can be openly aired.
Juan Gonzalez is a reporter for the New York Daily News and Founder of the Pacifica Campaign
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