Public Comment

KPFA: Heading Towards Dysfunction of WBAI

By Warren Mar
Thursday January 28, 2010 - 08:40:00 AM

The New York Times (Jan. 16, 2010) ran an article about the dysfunction at one of KPFA’s sister stations, the New York Pacifica affiliate: WBAI. It mentioned the ultra-left sectarianism of various board members and the personal attacks on the chair disguised behind politically correct line variations. 

  I am just finishing my second year on the Berkeley affiliated KPFA board as a Listener representative. I can say that KPFA is now headed in the same direction, perhaps due to some of the same players. One of the items the Times failed to mention is that the way the Pacifica Foundation is set up lends itself to some systemic problems of governance. 

  One of these problems is that no affiliate is truly independent from the mother ship of Pacifica. WBAI has consistently lost audience share in one of the biggest media markets in the country due to bad journalism hidden behind left politics, and mismanaged financial practices. 

  KPFA is the most solvent station in the Pacifica network, but unfortunately it is compelled to bail out its insolvent sister stations. When some of the ultra-left sectarians could not maintain control of the KPFA station board, they did the next best thing, they took over the Pacifica National Board, which allowed them defacto control of local finances, to appoint their political allies to national paid positions, including that of Pacifica’s executive director, and to hire the election supervisor to supervise the recent elections in the fall of 2009. 

  What has been the result? The election supervisor allowed listeners that did not pay the paltry $25 per year membership to run for office, swelled the rolls of the so-called “unpaid staff” by recognizing collectives so they could out-vote individual volunteer and paid staff that contribute many hours to KPFA and rightfully should be represented as staff boardmembers, so the ultra leftists now have a slim local majority on the KPFA board. 

  But part of the systemic anarchy in the Pacifica by-laws and how they have been played upon by small groups of ultra leftists has been due to the fault of other progressives in the local listening area who have just waived their hands in the air and left the 5 hour meetings to those who have nothing better to do than attend. 

  For the record, some of the same characters who now control the KPFA and Pacifica national boards have also wreaked havoc on other local movements. They have subverted local anti-war coalitions until other activists just got tired of going to the meetings; so that as U.S. involvement in the Middle East has escalated, anti-war efforts in the Bay Area have shrunk. The same is happening in the broad student movement that is growing around some of the attacks on higher education. Because students have a very democratic (maybe ultra-democratic and naïve) view that all those in the meetings can make the decisions, some of these sectarians have recently packed the meetings at UC Berkeley to the extent that other students and UC workers will no longer attend. 

  These are the tactics I’ve seen played out at KPFA meetings over the year. It is the same 10 to 50 people who come as the “community” with the same demographics described in the NY Times article: mostly old white folks who are self-proclaimed revolutionaries. The only movement that has not put up with these shenanigans is the labor movement. It is one of the few places that in order to represent workers there is still a criterion that one should at least work. Therefore, no union or local labor council in the Bay Area has looked favorably upon the KPFA unpaid staff organization because there was always a sneaking suspicion (well founded) that it was a move to wrest workers representation in the station by professional meeting goers. One of the self-appointed leaders of the KPFA “labor collective” is not in a union and or even working. 

  I raise this example because there has to be some standard by which people who speak for left and progressive politics must show their work in practice beyond their ability to be a marathoner in meetings. This is how we let movements and organizations get subverted. This is what happened at WBAI, the Pacifica National Board and KPFA is following in their footsteps. 


Warren Mar is a Concerned Listeners, Listener Representative to the KPFA LSB.