The current conflict within the KPFA community is a cauldron of bitter feelings and resentments. There are three slates of candidates currently running for the Local Station Board. I’ll discuss the two slates that are most directly at loggerheads: “Peoples Radio” and “Concerned Listeners.” The former group has severe criticisms of current station management and governance—criticisms that have been voiced quite persuasively here in the pages of the Planet, one of the venues where this debate has taken place.
Concerned Listener candidates, on the other hand, appear to dismiss these criticisms out of hand, treating them as if they are not even worth responding to. For good reason, this infuriates those who are sympathetic to Peoples Radio complaints. A personal friend and veteran activist, Steve Kessler, has persuaded me that some of these complaints have merit. But how convincing is the broader critique made by Peoples Radio? Please consider the following:
1. Peoples Radio makes its case largely on the basis of an e-mail message sent out by staff member Brian Edwards-Tiekert two years ago, in which he speaks of “dismantling” the local station board. However, neither the recipients of this e-mail message two years ago, nor CL candidates today, have ever indicated any agreement with it, and a meeting to dismantle the LSB never took place. The Peoples Radio campaign has made much too much of this single e-mail message.
2. Peoples Radio alleges that KPFA management is suppressing the voices of the unpaid staff—volunteers whose work contributes so much to the station. The question that management currently faces, however, is this: Does the “Unpaid Staff Organization” (UPSO) really represent volunteer opinion? Some of the volunteers too are asking this question, and they tell the following history: a small group of people, dissatisfied with UPSO meetings, made discussion and decision-making all but impossible because they kept yelling and disrupting these meetings. As a result, a large majority of the unpaid staff stopped attending. A new group is now assuming the name of the “Unpaid Staff Organization.” Management says that it is willing to recognize an unpaid staff organization, provided that the organization really represents the unpaid staff, as was formerly the case.
3. Peoples Radio argues that the KPFA Program Council is disregarded by station management. At issue is whether the Council is only an advisory body or has final decision-making power. Management has been trying to broaden participation in the PC, but—as with the UPSO—it has become a terrain of bitter, intractable dispute. Management says that those who were active in the Council last year refused to leave when their terms were up, but instead stayed on and are now insisting on their right to make station policy.
The divide separating Concerned Listeners from Peoples Radio reflects a broader disagreement here in the East Bay that splits the left into two, mutually distrustful and antagonistic camps. Although there is diversity of opinion within each camp, they do represent different approaches. Concerned Listeners is more inclusive—oriented toward building broad alliances and more interested in reaching out to new audiences than in being politically “correct.”
Peoples Radio adherents, on the other hand, tend (with some exceptions) to be more staunchly opposed to the Democratic Party, favoring third party movements instead. Peoples Radio candidate David Heller suspects that a KPFA “weakness” is “Some people who want to keep the debate within the realms of what the Democratic Party wants us to hear and uninformed about other political and social possibilities.” Another critic of KPFA argues that “what is needed most in the US: Teach radical politics, and that means on the electoral level, interview all socialist Peace & Freedom candidates and Green Party candidates.”
It’s true that public discourse in this country is narrowly defined, and radical progressive voices are excluded from mainstream coverage. On the other hand, the left edge of the political spectrum is partly responsible for its own marginalization. Given this marginalization, it’s understandable that Peoples Radio would seek to reshape one of the few public domains accessible to its influence at all: a listener-sponsored radio station like KPFA. But is that project in keeping with the listening perspectives of the station’s wide audience, consisting of hundreds of thousands of listeners distributed throughout Northern California?
Although Peoples Radio individuals claim to speak on behalf of “democracy,” and although there is some truth to their criticisms of station governance, they do not represent, politically or demographically, the listener base. I respect Peoples Radio for the passion that it brings to the project of changing the social world we live in. However, an acute awareness of suffering and evil in the world does not necessarily translate into knowledge about the most effective political path forward. KPFA communicates to a broad, politically diverse audience, and shouldn’t become an instrument of any group’s ideological agenda.
Raymond Barglow is a Berkeley resident.