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Vote NO in the Pacifica Bylaws Election
by Dr. James McFadden, KPFA LSB
Sunday Mar 15th, 2020 6:46 PM
LSBs are the community representatives – they give the community a voice. Instead, the General Managers will answer only to the Executive Director creating a truly top-down organization – a far cry from the grass-roots community station envisioned by Pacifica’s founders and enshrined in the current bylaws.
Vote NO in the Pacifica Bylaws Election

Dr. James McFadden, KPFA LSB
Sunday March 15, 2020 - 02:33:00 PM

Let me begin by saying that I am new to the Pacifica Radio Network struggles. I decided to get involved because I could see NPR (National Propaganda Radio) shifting to the Right with its corporate sponsors and I did not want Pacifica or KPFA to follow suit. I was elected to the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) in early 2019. Since then I have witness up-close the disasters that the advocates for these bylaws have inflicted on Pacifica using Shock Doctrine tactics. These advocates seem to have been struggling for control of the Pacifica Network for decades and their actions over the last year appear to be a last ditch attempt to either wrench control of Pacifica for themselves, or take Pacifica down. Don’t let the advocates of bylaw-change use fear to sway you. They use narratives to pit one station against another – or to pit management and privileged staff members against other staff. These are divide and conquer tactics that elites have always used to control us. Please remember that Pacifica has always been different – and experiment in community radio and democracy.

The central problem of the proposed bylaws is their anti-democratic nature.

“The fundamental principle of democracy is that those who are affected by a policy must be the ones who articulate the issues of that policy.” (ProDemocracy Project) In this case, those affected are station staff and listener-members.

Instilling democratic oversight of Pacifica was fundamental in drafting the current bylaws which took years to work out. The proposed bylaws, drafted in secret by a minority faction last spring, are specifically designed to give majority rule on the Pacifica National Board (PNB) to directors hand-picked by the faction that caused havoc over the last year. Under the proposed bylaws there will be no representation on the national board by staff, and Local Station Boards will be dissolved. The supporters claim there is a need for a professional class to make decisions that affect you – that your input is not needed.

The six appointed “at large” directors would constitute a self-selecting majority who will perpetuate elitist top-down control of Pacifica. The five elected station directors would always be a minority, unable to defend station’s rights or staff’s rights. Elected members would also be excluded from key PNB offices. In other words, the elected members would be a façade of democracy – a window dressing for a permanently self-selecting PNB majority.

Consider the following points.

The unelected board majority will evolve over time as some directors leave and as the remaining directors appoint like-minded replacements. Did you catch that – the way the substitute bylaws are written, when an at-large director resigns, the others get to choose a replacement with no election!! This will result in monolithic thinking and decision making that does not reflect problems at the station level, or the values of the listener members. The new board will be self-isolating – the at-large directors don’t even have to live in a city that has a Pacifica radio station!

There was no vision statement from the proposed at-large directors on how they will direct changes in Pacifica or solve its problems. These individuals have no record of operating within the Pacifica Network. We must assume their establishment credentials naturally make them suitable for running a radio network – that they are professional decision makers. There is an assumption that the new directors have no need for connection or experience in radio because they deal with budgets -- and that professional management will make all the technical and content related decisions. This is a recipe for a board out of touch with daily activities at stations and in the communities.

These hand-picked directors were selected by a particular Pacifica faction that has been battling within Pacifica for control for decades. Therefore, the only way to predict how these hand-picked directors will run Pacifica is by examining the record of that faction. I will limit that description to my experience over the last year. Members of that faction gained control of the National Board (PNB) personnel subcommittee and exited the Pacifica Executive Director (the CEO of Pacifica) then recommended the hiring of a new Executive Director who within weeks shut down the New York station WBAI during its fund drive without authorization of the National Board, laying off the union staff. Subsequent to that station takeover, members of this faction shut off microphones during a PNB meeting in order to silence their opponents and rig a vote to support the shutdown (a vote which was subsequently overturned by the full PNB). They followed these actions with a lawsuit that cost Pacifica resources and attempted to stalemate the PNB. The nature of these “win at all costs tactics”, was revealed in a fund raising letter from that group that stated: “Without legal action from us, if we lose NY lawsuit and fail to bring the national board to a standstill, everything will likely come crashing down fast ... Either we will win the bout and rapidly grow and step up or a Pacifica will undergo a rather quick demise. No more endless status quo.”

Lastly, this group proposed these bylaws that do away with Local Station Boards (LSBs) in the middle of a LSB delegate election, disrupting the election process. In addition, members of this faction attempted the removal of KPFA PNB director Tom Voorhees, who was not part of their faction, while Tom was running for the KPFA LSB. They attempted this action without stating reasons for his removal.

But let’s go back to problems with these proposed substitute bylaws …

There will be no LSBs tasked to watch over station management and to ensure that the stations serve the local community, and protect staff and programming content. LSBs are the community representatives – they give the community a voice. Instead, the General Managers will answer only to the Executive Director creating a truly top-down organization – a far cry from the grass-roots community station envisioned by Pacifica’s founders and enshrined in the current bylaws.

The threshold for changing bylaws will also be lowered. Only a 5% member vote would be needed for quorum to change the bylaws or sell off assets including stations! That is frightening.

The proposed bylaws doubled the cost of becoming a listener member or require 5 times the hours of volunteer work. In times where more and more people are marginalized by society, where oppression is growing, where voter disenfranchisement is rampant, why should Pacifica marginalize its listeners.

As indicative of a corporate thinking, the proposed bylaws removed the vision statements for Pacifica. They left out the “Identity and Purpose” in Pacifica’s bylaws because lawyers told them they were not needed. They left out our commitment to peace and social justice, our commitment to diversity and inclusion. That is very telling.

The bylaw advocates argue that the PNB is dysfunctional and I would agree – and those advocates are part of that dysfunction. I almost think some of the bylaw supporters have been in a battle over control of Pacifica for so long that at this point they only care about winning -- they are incapable of compromise and working together. Changing the bylaws, changing that structure, will install these dysfunctional people’s hand-picked directors which will give them control of Pacifica What they need to do is let go and make way for a new group of directors who are not stuck in past conflicts.

Both sides of this issue claim they want to save Pacifica using different methods. The difference lies in the vision of what Pacifica is. Is Pacifica merely another radio corporation, not so different from NPR? The advocates claim they don’t want corporate funding, but when push comes to shove how will these new unelected directors respond? Is the primary concern here a managed budget that allows select shows, or select stations, to continue under new corporate management? Or is Pacifica something different? Is Pacifica going to remain community radio and corporate free – a coalition between Pacifica staff who perform the essential work and listener members who fund that work? Will Pacifica management retain its intimate ties to the community and to staff? Or will Pacifica adopt the top-down corporate-management model where staff will lose their voice in how the station operates? If you are against the anti-democratic top-down management structure, then VOTE NO on the bylaws.


Dr. James McFadden is a research physicist at UC Berkeley and was elected to the KPFA LSB in early 2019. He ran for the LSB out of concern that Pacifica would go corporate like NPR. He is a member of the Alameda Green Party County Council and belongs to half a dozen local political groups.
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