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On the question of Pacifica and racism

September 26, 2008

Coalition for a democratic Pacifica (CdP) statement on recent events at KPFA concerning Nadra Foster

Anger today at management recalls the anger in 1999 that exploded in months of marches and melees in the streets outside KPFA. Here, listeners confront management-supporting police on July 15, 1999, two days after police dragged Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein out of the station and management shut down all programming. CdP was a major force in taking back the station and the Pacifica network. – Photo: Susan Druding

A proposed new policy has been announced concerning KPFA’s attitude toward its membership, its listeners and its staff. The policy doesn’t concern itself with declining listenership, declining membership or lack of outreach to the Northern California community. Rather it addresses what it defines as “workplace safety.”

What is disturbing to many of us is that the policy essentially bans all listeners except those that management deems “authorized.” What is peculiar about this policy is that we are not aware of any incidents that have occurred at KPFA that involve listeners violently attacking KPFA staff. We feel that without such incidents there is no justification for such a policy.

This frankly appears to be a siege mentality of management vs. listeners. What is even more disturbing about the new policy is the section calling for remedies against those listeners who violate the new policy by being in the station without being “authorized” (the policy doesn’t define the process of “authorization”).

Their remedy is:

“3. If no manager is on duty and you do not feel comfortable asking someone who is not authorized to be on the premises to leave, please contact Sasha Lilley, Program Director. All emergency contact information is posted in on-air studio. If you are unable to reach a manager, then you should call Berkeley Police.”

KPFA recently called the police on an unpaid staff person, Nadra Foster, and this action is being understandably considered a racist overreaction. This has more to do with not having an understanding of racist institutions in our society than with people’s prejudices against people of color. This is even more true today, with hysteria being fomented over the claim that “the terrorists are people of color.”

The calling of police by any progressive organization or institution is a racist act by definition. Just recently the Berkeley Police raided, quite proudly, LongHaul, an anarchist organization. They hauled away their computers, as a matter of fact.

In the case of Nadra Foster, they beat her and hauled her away for, among other charges, “resisting arrest.” Does no one in KPFA’s management not understand the irony that the response to this ill-advised action in calling the police is to recommend that police be called more often?

It should be noted that in 1999 when Pacifica fired Nicole Sawaya, the then general manager of KPFA, it was the support of listeners that saved the station and strengthened the democratic control of Pacifica. Even with the then Pacifica National Board controlling the licenses and finances of Pacifica, and calling the police to arrest those opposed to the policies of the PNB, listeners by the tens of thousands protected the network – not by calling police but actually having to oppose them.

We feel that NO progressive institution should be calling the police to settle internal disputes. It’s the community, not the police, and communication, not violence, that should be the means by which we settle our disputes.

On the question of ‘banning’

Banning is an administrative action against a KPFA staff person who supposedly did something wrong and is not allowed on the KPFA premises. The original justification for management’s calling the police was that Nadra Foster was banned from KPFA. That implies that she had indeed been banned and also had not entered the studio since her banning.

In fact, she had entered in the past, more than once being let in by someone in management and, at other times, if no one noticed her, management wasn’t adhering to its own ban. If she HAD been noticed in the past, by not calling the police at those times and even letting her in at times, management forfeited its stance that this time they called the police because she was banned.

In fact, if anyone should be banned from the station it should be the present management, which needs to be replaced immediately.

Les Radke, the National Election Supervisor for Pacifica during the 2006 Pacifica elections, had to deal with the “banning” question. A person at the Houston station assaulted the local election supervisor at the station, and Radke attempted to ban the person from KPFT. Radke was told by both Dan Siegel, legal counsel for Pacifica at the time and currently, and Greg Guma, executive director of Pacifica at that time, that he could not ban him – that the term itself was too vague and had no legal force.

At KPFA, there was a similar situation, where a person running for the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) was “banned” from the studio. Again, Dan Siegel stated that for purposes of the election, “banning” could not be enforced. It is doubtful that “banning” would withstand any legal ruling as a management tool without any policies or procedures that the Pacifica National Board (PNB) has agreed on even in a society in which the legal system is slanted toward management.

The PNB should clarify this. If they don’t, we are back to the situation where KPFA management can “ban” folks for political reasons, even ban folks whose politics expressly promote Pacifica’s mission of supporting movements for peace and social justice.

As the CdP, we are aware that the Pacifica Network is more important than ever in supporting progressive movements and exposing the machinations of the imperium. We are asking those concerned with keeping progressive media alive to continue to support, financially and politically, this very important network.

What we want is for the network to be consistent internally with the face it generally shows externally, to remain democratic internally as it calls for democracy in other institutions and in our government and to serve as a model to the world how collective leadership is superior to autocratic attempts to better the world.

Support Pacifica; support those who are attempting to better Pacifica!

Coalition for a democratic Pacific Coordinating Committee

Chandra Hauptman
Janet Kobren
Joe Wanzala
Les Radke
Mary Berg
Max Blanchet
Nicole Milner
Sally Sommer
Virginia Browning

To learn more and get involved, contact Les Radke, Coalition for a democratic Pacifica, (510) 798-8622 or les@ix.netcom.com.

One thought on “On the question of Pacifica and racism

  1. Pingback: Staff, listeners struggle for justice inside KPFA | San Francisco Bay View

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