Public Comment

Commentary: The Winter Soldier Investigation and our National Movement for Liberation and Popular Democracy

By Marc Sapir
Tuesday April 01, 2008

The town hall forum on the future of Media and the Pacifica Network, beautifully moderated by JR of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee (POCC) Block Report and held at Eastside Cultural Center in East Oakland on Friday (March 21) might be a watershed—or it might not.  

Powerless communities—of color and poverty, from East Bay to San Francisco were well represented and the program was educational on a number of different levels—about new media technology and its potential and about the tactics being used to continue the freeze out from Corporate Media of the working class, the voices of the poor and powerless. The panelists were not a group of outsiders to KPFA/Pacifica—unlike members of the Wellstone Democratic club who joined KPFA recently at the encouragement of their Club’s leadership only to back the elitist “interim” leadership and “professional” programmers at the station. This panel included Bay View Newspaper publisher Willie Ratcliff, a former member of the KPFA Station Board, Rainjita Yang-Geesler, staff coordinator of the KPFA’s First Voice Apprenticeship Program, Tiny of Poor News, also a producer and programmer at KPFA, Eloise Rose Lee of Media Alliance an organization long allied with the station, Renita Pitts of TEMPO, and Shahram Aghamir, representing KPFA’s unpaid staff organization (UPSO). (For readers who have not kept up with the KPFA story, the station’s interim management—now in power two years--recently and arbitrarily squashed the rights of the Unpaid Staff, the volunteers who weekly give so much time and energy to keep KPFA going, by decertifying their long existent Un-Paid Staff Organization as their legitimate representative).  

Tiny told the crowd how Poor News has been the only game in the country producing quality programming from the poor themselves, and particularly from the undocumented and most powerless people through Poor’s acclaimed educational institute. Under the guidance of Poor their students have learned writing and radio production and perfected a high level of skill in presenting their stories from the “I” perspective, yet KPFA managers attacked them for “using too much Spanish” and removed some of their vital programming time just when important programs about the real conditions of the undocumented were about to be aired. Rainjita Geesler and JR reflected a similar story about how this Forum was to have been broadcast on KPFA’s First Voice program live until, two days before the event, the interim program manager, Sasha Lilley stepped in and decided that, like a censor, she would have to review and edit the program tape before it could air, even though the moderator is a regular programmer who knows all the FCC rules.  

It was a revelation to this writer—as a KPFA listener member and contributor—to learn from Shahram Aghamir of the UPSO that as many as 75 percent of the programs on the airwaves at 94.1 FM are produced by volunteers (approximately 180 in all). Hearing this startling 75 percent statistic about a radio station that takes in several million dollars a year, I have an obvious question. How can an essentially self appointed group of paid staff back an “interim” leadership/management who would take away all rights to representation in station management decisions from most of the people who make it possible for KPFA to be on the air? If more than half of the staff there are volunteers and they are said to have no rights to elected representation as a group whatsoever, doesn’t this sound like a throwback to the feudal relations of the dark ages—of lords and vassals? 

But let me go on to my main point—how communities of color and those living oppressed in poverty, exploited by the likes of Lennar Corporation, Blackwater, KBJ, ICE, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco political power structure, and Capitalism in general, can get their voices heard by the public at large, and in particular through KPFA.  

KPFA recently broadcast the Winter Soldier Investigations organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War that ran three days in a Washington DC suburb. Over 200 vets and some active duty soldiers who oppose the war showed real heart. Fifty speakers took the risk of confessing their participation in war crimes and crimes against the people of Iraq, showing how brutality and oppression are a systematic part of the entire operation. As we well know, when the torture crimes at Abu Ghraib were exposed no ranking officers were charged only a handful of low ranking GIs—the bad apple story. The Iraq Vets Against the War are real heroes to take the risk of being attacked themselves in order to help build a GI movement against US aggression and occupation of others’ lands. KPFA did the right thing to help promote their cause and the struggle against this war. But that movement today has no permanent place at KPFA. And likewise two other nationwide movements of exceptional importance to forming a national movement that can effectively resist Capitalism’s predations—and its monopoly on power, organization, Media, and communication in general--have no regular radio shows. Those other two movements are the Prison Rights Movement and the Immigrants Rights Movement. Due to space considerations I can’t detail why I believe these three movements are of such particular importance for all of us, but there are lots of reasons every reader can think of. Who is being singled out for oppression by the police, courts, Media, fascist laws and why? Each of these three movements is based in the oppression of the most powerless people, people who are being scapegoated and used to divide our nation into feuding gangs. And each of these movements is forming to try and end the divisions between nationalities and ethnicities to try to unite us in defense of the rights of the most victimized among us.  

I have no doubt that in the long run KPFA can not work for or represent the local communities around the Bay Area unless we assure that it promotes the voices of the voiceless communities themselves. But the way to make that possible on the local level, I think, is not to begin with a defense of the rights of local communities. Instead we ought to unite everyone behind the critically necessary national movements by forcing KPFA to give each of them programs in Prime Time: a program for each of the GI resistance Movement, for the Prison Rights Movement and for the Immigrants Rights Movements. Those radio programs need to be organized from within those movements, not as reports “about” them by outsider journalists. Without doubt, groups like the First Voice Apprentices, La Onda Bajita, the Immigrants Rights Network, Critical Resistance, TEMPO and Poor News Network (to list some of the most obvious resources available) are in a good position to train the technical expertise within those movements to help them produce such shows. I say that the time has arrived for such a simple unifying program demand as these three programs to unite our disparate communities so that paid staff-appointed managers and their upper middle class supporters can not divide and conquer, as they have so far done successfully. Faced with many communities united they will have to concede the correctness of these programmatic demands. If we can see these changes come to fruition, a unified movement will be in position to advance local programming concerns for specific oppressed communities and groups. A firm foundation will help us enlist those communities in the fight to make KPFA a more representative beacon for change because such new programs as these three will attract many thousands of new listeners.  


Marc Sapir is a Berkeley resident.