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Protesters rally for radio host

By Daniela Mohor
Wednesday August 29, 2001

Nearly 200 people gathered outside KPFA Tuesday morning to show support for “Democracy Now!,” the popular news magazine that recently reheated the crisis within the Pacifica group of listener-sponsored radio stations. 

Listeners from Marin, Oakland, and San Francisco joined Berkeley residents in front of the station at 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. Way to protest the Pacifica Foundation’s recent decision to stop airing the show. 

“We’re pissed, no shit. We want Democracy now back,” the crowd shouted repeatedly, while cars passed the station honking in support. 

“Democracy Now!” is one of the most popular shows aired by Pacifica, the organization that holds the license to five community radio stations across the country, including KPFA. But in recent weeks, tensions have escalated between the show’s host Amy Goodman and Utrice Leid, the interim station manager at the New York Pacifica station WBAI.  

This has resulted in WBAI’s refusal to air Goodman’s new shows, which are produced outside the New York Pacifica  

station. These shows are broadcast only on KPFA, while reruns are played on the other Pacifica stations. Leid and others have allegedly harassed Goodman and her staff to the point that they decided to produce the show from the alternative studio.  

Pacifica has reportedly suspended the “Democracy Now!” team without pay. Goodman’s union, which first told her to go back to producing the show at the station, now supports her decision to work away from WBAI. 

To the people gathered outside KPFA, the refusal to air new “Democracy Now!” programs is just the latest expression of Pacifica’s ongoing efforts to move community radio towards mainstream programming. 

Tuesday speakers invited the public to fight to protect the network and to participate in a phone bank. By the end of the morning 55 people had used to station’s phones to call Pacifica Board members, to complain about the way Goodman is being treated, and eventually to ask them to resign. 

“We have to do this together,” KPFA reporter Dennis Bernstein told the protesters. “We’re fighting back and we’re going to expand the support for Amy.” 

Bernstein and many others strongly criticized WBAI management for verbally attacking the “Democracy Now!” team. One person, Bernstein contended, threatened physical harm to one of the show’s producers. 

Neither Pacifica executive director Bessie Wash, nor board members were available for comment Tuesday afternoon. However, Deborah Hayes, a spokesperson for Pacifica, said that the Foundation was currently investigating the allegations. “Once the investigation is completed, we will take the appropriate action,” she said. “We look forward to the return of Amy Goodman and her staff.” 

During the demonstration, numerous local activists and community leaders praised Goodman for her work, her ability to ask challenging questions and go deeply into controversial issues. 

“We all look at Amy as a model,” said Linda Rudman, Women’s Desk Director at the National Radio Project, a nonprofit organization that produces public affairs programming. “There are a lot of activist journalists but there aren’t enough of us who are willing to force ourselves to be sharper about our analysis.” 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington praised “Democracy Now!” for being an alternative to mainstream news shows. He also complimented the community for standing against Pacifica. If a similar situation took place in a corporate network, he said, the owners of the station would fire the person who had taken the most popular show off the air. Listeners, he said, are therefore right to ask Pacifica’s board members to resign. 

“I am delighted that you, who are the owner of this corporation, are doing what any responsible corporate agent would do,” he said. 

Similar demonstrations were held Tuesday in different parts of the nation Tuesday, including Houston, New York, and Washington, D.C.