Public Comment

New Media, Berkeley and the Wisconsin Recall

By Marc Sapir MD, MPH
Friday July 06, 2012 - 01:53:00 PM

I arrived home from the North Coast July 5 a year older than when I left last week to find in the accumulated mail the pro and con bills on the KPFA recall and the ballots for myself and my wife. My name is there as one of many against the recall. But what I find interesting in the often self-justifying drag downs at KPFA is how little in depth discussion there is about "why" this endless battle occurs. "Why" involves a deeper look at our ourselves, our nation and culture in crisis and without it we just bury ourselves in the personal idiocyncracies. Who believes the local fight is just about Pacifica or KPFA or local personalities? Not me. And certainly not those in the majority (6 of the past the past 7 years on the station board) if one pays attention to how they view politics today. They stake out a claim to a distinct politics--sometimes best represented by the Wellstone Democratic Renewal club's approach. But the fact that KPFA is based here, and that Berkeley has a particular history of political strangeness doesn't help get to clarity either.  

While I was away at the Kate Wolf Music Festival in Laytonville I read a short piece (What Labor and the Left can Learn from Wisconsin) in the July/August issue of Z magazine. It's by Arun Gupta and Steve Horn and you can probably find it on line. What they posit is that the Wisconsin state of affairs which the Republican's mined in the Walker recall isn't just about propaganda and "framing" as Lakoff claims. They say that in Wisconsin it's more centrally about a Rich-Poor Alliance that has a material basis in the inability today of capitalist "democratic" (and Democrat) electoral politics to maintain the form of social democratic governance that addresses the needs of the populace (in Wisconsin it's the rural poor) who backed Walker. Nationally, the public sector workers are the best organized and best off of the working class over these past 3 decades yet the government they work for (under both Parties) wantonly attacks the poor. In other words: "why should some elites (even if they are working class) do well on tax money if I'm getting forever screwed by government?" The Right makes it ideological but ideology isn't at the root of that contradiction. The unevenness in working class rights and the growing gulf between economic strata and "racial" disparities here is what is killing us.  

Extending that analysis I'd point out that major sectors of (us) the North American mostly white upper middle class which includes some people on the KPFA Station Board who probably have a million or three in the bank--continue to be relatively secure even within the US and world capitalist economic and political crisis. These upper strata--reaching from the 1% down to the top 10% of society include many of the well educated, professionals, electronics and defense people, health care people, news managers and anchor people and so on in the millions. These strata, often liberal, operate in the electoral arena with significant local clout (eg. that's how we get Mayors like Tom Bates and Jean Quan who can protect that strata but, having no solutions to Capital's crisis, merely try to co-opt the lower strata). With the level of protection this upper strata still has, why should we expect them to desert the idea of Left-Center coalitions within the Democratic Party, or of a mythical series of potential "progressive" changes through reform of a moribund 2-Party imbroglio bound to Wall Street, or to be too upset with a Democratic Party which, in Convention, promised employees' "right to unionize" by card checkoff legislation and never even brought forth a bill to debate, let alone to a vote in the Democrat majority House of Representatives in 2009 or 2010. No one should be surprised that such an indifferent outlook might favor professionalism at KPFA and a dedication to radio models that are principally didactic more than agitational, more academic than emanating from within communities in struggle for survival. Why should anyone expect our still secure strata of Americans to believe that those who are getting sicker and poorer, thrown out of work and homes, less enfranchised and more tired and beaten up and imprisoned and shot at and deported might best represent themselves rather than be lead by professional activists or professional journalists. (Which is not to say that there is no role for professionals and technical skills. I am a trained professional, after all.).  

The fight over Pacifica and KPFA is not mainly about individual personalities or who is more dishonest or manipulative. That's just too simplistic. It's about class and political direction and what type of new and existing culture our popular media should encourage and enrich. There is a certain irony that some younger members of the paid staff at KPFA are trending toward adherence to an anarchist, anti-Statist brand of socialism while the older paid staff and the Left majority on the Station Board that supports the paid staff are often doing mock battle with organized manifestations of anarchism. Yet the lessons of the Arab spring and the advent of the Occupy phenomena are there to discuss and learn from. So too are the failures of the Wisconsin recall and the failure of the California's Democrat state legislature to pass single payer legislation this year (which they passed twice before) now that there is a Democrat governor whose feet would be put to the fire to sign it. These are the types of issues that underlie infighting at KPFA. Until people come right on out and debate their own vision of what a populist radio station can do culturally and how it can do it while also expanding its financial base in the here and now, the new popular movements in resistance to Capital will lack the full-throated voice in this wilderness that they well deserve and which KPFA was first envisioned to assure. Surely Richard Wolf et al make important contributions to our understanding of this difficult environment, but the voices and the new culture of the people must be heard.