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Race and National Origin at Pacifica Why You Should Care
by Tom Gomez
25 Jun 2005
Turn on your radio. Spin the dial. Companies like clear channel and Cox own well in excess of 3000 broadcast outlets. That's how most of us get our information. Pacifica exists to counter that. It has only 5 stations, but in major cities, With $400,000,000 in assests and 16 million in yearly budget the foundation is the single most valuable asset of the left. Under one vision it would move to the right, under another it would recruit activists to actually create media.
How many times have you protested in front of the Post for exmple. Does the managing editor ever invite you to write the war coverage if you don't like theirs? No. Because they are privately owned and accountable to their advertisers, not you. Pacifica is different, you, the activist community, own it and have a right to use it to build a movement. But only if you assert that right. If you do so, WPFW alone currently is estimated to reach 190,000 people everyday in the tri-state region. That's a lot of people. They include some of the most powerful people on the planet and WPFW is one of the SMALLEST of the 5 stations.....Think. We on the left controll no unions, we have no papers with mass appeal, their is no Progresssive Broadcasting Network. How are we supposed to win a struggle for social change without the ability to reach a mass audience consistently? Will Bush fall to the power of our chants and pupets alone? Activists must gain some ground in the struggle for a voice within controling the means of mass communication. In the 60's and 70's control of organizations like Pacifica helped to facilitate an alternative climate for media. We were the only media initially allowed into Attica, or to cover the use of helicopters to use poison gas against students by the guard at Berkley.
But today we have a new left that largely rejects the "big dog" syndrome of the 60's pushing on these left institutions to demand that their be standards of conduct in place. Hell that's enshrined now in law itself. Here in this community many progressive Arabs and Latinos at WPFW find their voices and prespectives locked out by African-Americans entrenched in positions of power. The best way for me to explain the relevancy of this is that it is the difference between a Post reporter qouting Marwan Barghouti (were he not in an Isreali Prison) in an artical on Palestine, and having Mr. Barghouti be editor for all mid-east news, and get to pick a team to write the stuff he doesn't. That's huge. Because we are a community institution though no one tendency can ever have total power, it must be shared between those committed to differing visons of how peace and justice is to be won. And listeners have a right to hear these differing visions openly debated, by activists, not pundits.
As a male who enjoies male priveledge in a society that is male dominated I have been justly challenged, sometimes loudly, on my own entrenched sexism. It was difficult for me to accept that I participate in patriarchy, but I do. I have been forced to address some of the more odious manifestations of that, and admit that it is at least possible that most of the young women I meet on left do not want my body, I suspect that I still have a long way to go. Sure I saw Thelma & Louise, and I've even read a few books by people like bell hooks and Angela Davis. Anyone who thinks that reading a couple of books, and watching a film or two can counteract 40 years of lived experience as a hetro male raised in a patriarchal society is a fool.
The most real thing about my entrenched sexism is that I don't want to admit it is there. I'm ashamed of it. Because I'm ashamed of it I want to deny it is there. As a result I doubt that there has been as much personal growth as there could be. I suspect there has been more denial of my internalized misoginy than growth and change. My tendency is to find those women in the room who support my remaining utterly unchanged, and then to declare the achievement of an effortless victory over my internalized sexism. Even I suspect though that I'm lying to myself. The reality is that to really make progress in undoing 40 years of endlessly reinforced cultural conditioning requires constant effort, and consistent reflection upon my behavior. The most difficult thing for me to accept though is that I won't ever be able to declare victory.The day may not come when I look at someone I find to be attractive and do not objectify them. But I can, and do, make a concious effort not to leer at or harrass them.
My sexism (and my closely related homophobia) is deeply internalized. I suspect that racism is similar. It's probablly not the case that reading a book by Cornell West and listening to a speach by Micheal Dyson, while good, will in and of themselves rid anyone of a lifetime of cultural conditioning. Spending a few weeks abroad helping to harvest coffee in Nicaragua, or even defying the IDF in occupied Palestine for a month probablly won't do the trick (and may make some people ridiculously self-righteous about their own "commitment"). We can rid ourselves of the most odious manifestations of our conditioning by changing our behaviors and making concious efforts to include people with other racial, cultural (as well as gender, sexuality, educational, and class) backgrounds in creating inclusive radio programming though.
The DC Radio Co-op is, or was, depending on who you speak with these
days, a trainning project at Pacifica's Community Radio Station WPFW
(89.3 FM) in Washington, DC. Since its inception in late 2002, in the
wake of the strike that nearly bankrupted the small progressive Pacifica
network, the DC Co-op aired the work of over 120 community members
on the airwaves of WPFW. Today WPFW has disbanded it though.
It has suspended taining classes and is refusing to do new intakes.
For those of you unfamilar with the coop's history at WPFW I will take a
moment to digress before going on.
The DC radio coop was created at the end of 2002 when then interm
General Manager Tony Regusters hired senior producer Ryme Kakthouda
(a Syrian national) under a contract specifing, among other responsibilities, that she would
provide instruction in news production at WPFW. Prior to that Ryme's
salary had been split between the local station and the now defunct
national program Peacewatch. After her departure from the Peacewatch
cast Mr. Regusters assumed full responsibility for Ryme's retention on
the WPFW staff. At that time during the run up to the current war in
Iraq there was a compelling need for more stringers to be trainned both
to report for the national news programs Peacewatch and for Free Speach Radio News.
At the same time the station also was interested in airing more coverage of the
local DC community. During that time the interm Pacifica National Board
was still sitting, and it was my impression from various conversations
with listener activists involved with the old Listener Advisory Board
(the local version of the national board) that part of Ryme's mission
was to bring WPFW more closely into line with the reconceptualization of
the mission that followed the dissolution of the pre-2001 national board
after the success of the strike, without causing major disruptions in
the programming schedule that would likely result in a backlash from the
staff and active listenership of WPFW. In simple terms, to include the
far left prespective of the protestor so the interm Pacifica National
Board and the Listener Advisory Board would be happy, without cancelling
anything so that the staff and listeners wouldn't revolt.
To accomplish those goals Ryme, together with Eddie Becker from the
Independent Media Center, and Free Speach Radio News capitol hill
correspondent Josh Chaffin created a trainning program to provide
instruction to community members interested in radio production. The
project was created at WPFW to serve the specific content needs of
Pacifica and WPFW. It is important that I make clear, because there
seems to be some confusion about it, that the DC coop is, and has always
been, a project of WPFW. While individual producers have from time to
time produced content that has aired elsewhere (notablly NPR's national
radio project), nearly all the content it has produced has either been
for WPFW or Pacifica and its sole salaried staff member (Ryme) was paid
It also came to serve another purpose of greater importance
though. WPFW is, and has been for over a quarter century a historically
Black station. By actually hiring a staff person not of African descent
WPFW broke with a quarter century of tradition, and by initiating a
multi-cultural trainning iniative WPFW signaled its willingness to open
its doors to other communities of color, youth, GLBT, and white
progressives .Over the past two years the DC Radio Co-op has become the
sole vehicle at WPFW through which people from a variety of racial and
ethnic backgrounds have been able participate in WPFW in significant
numbers, other than by answering phones during pledge drives or
Initially management, which had made the project possible in the first
place by hiring staffing for it, providing production facillities to
enable the creation of its work, and airing the content it produced were
warmly supportive of it. iGM Tony Regusters provided it with four sets
of equipment for training, Nationally syndicated programs including
Peacewatch and Free Speach Radio News frequently paid producers it
trainned as stringers and aired their work nationally. In addition the
DC Co-op's numerous producers took up relatively little local air time
for its then 2 half-hour local shows (which were periodical rebroadcast
as far away as Washington state and Latin America). After the then iGM
Tony Regusters was replaced with the current incumbent iGM Ron Pinchback
the co-op iniatly enjoied even greater success. For the first time the
station management decided to pay stringers for the production of local
content (one of the most progressive decisions in a network where most
stringers are paid for only national content). The coop also was chosen
to produce both pre-produced features and live interview segments for
Metrowatch, the newly created local news show. Today the same interm
General Manager claims the DC Co-op is "an outside entity". Only a year
ago in Berkley he specificly singled out our project for praise as an
innovative and successful initiative undertaken here at WPFW with his
full support. Today I am banned from its airwaves.
The reasons for the changing attitudes toward the DC Co-op relate
closely to one of the most hotly debated issues in the foundation, race,
and wider politics of identity. At one time in 2002 the Pacifica
foundation surveyed its member stations about diversity of paid staff.
WPFW, which at the time had a staff that was 100% African-American,
reported that it had achieved 100% diversity. Obviously other racial and
ethnic minorities such as Latinos disagree, and that's without touching
the fact that race and ethnicity are not the only forms of diversity.
While the DC Co-op was never created to change the fact that WPFW is a
historically Black station, and most of our members (more than half of
whom are African-American) would oppose doing so. But what does it mean
to 'serve the needs of the majority population of the District of
Columbia' as its put in the WPFW mission? For newly appointed news
director Askia Muhammed, who has openly and publicly likened the
incredibly diverse ( and sometimes fratricidal) DC Co-op to the borg
on Star Trek it is clear. For him and others the only concrete thing the
Co-op is, diverse, is something to be fought in order to preserve the
good ole' boy network that allows him to be appointed to his post as
"interm" news director based solely on personal contacts. In 26 years
WPFW has not a news director. Now the urgency to fill the position was so
great that applications could not even be taken...Obviously Latinos and
others excluded from similar employment, and often from air time, feel
like targets of discrimination based on national origin.
Certainly a different standard of conduct applies to producers like
Delores Bernal, who was banned from the premisses of WPFW after
a heated online exchange with local board member Luzzette King, than to
paid staff...Askia can stand in the middle of the station bellowing that
Co-op members are a bunch of aliens trying to take over WPFW. Similarly
when it became known that local board member Rabia Rayford opposed the
hiring of Tony Regusters as permanent GM for the station she was
attacked as angry because he wouldn't sleep with her (she's married with
two kids). No action was taken against those saying that. Listener
Service Board member Billy Ray once threatened to knife someone at a
meeting of the old LAB! Doug Calvin of the Youth Leadership Support
Network here reported that when some youth working with him tried to
become involved in the show Y2K they were told they were not welcome
because the project was Black only, and Latinos, South Asians, and Arabs
were all white people. When Calvin (who is white) met with the station management he
was told that something would be done. To date nothing has. This kind of
disparate treatment of volunteers and unpaid staff violates not only the
mission of the foundation and its race and nationality policy, it
violates US law in some cases. For the most part those involved have
sought to keep their grievances 'in the family' (like incest), and certainly not wanted to raise
the issue when it involved race specific complaints.
Increasingly people both within and outside the DC Co-op though are
asking questions about how resources are allocated, and how WPFW seeks
to fufil the PACIFICA mission. WPFW board member Norberto Martinez has
been increasingly vocal in challenging the independent WPFW mission,
which he feels is often used to justify discrimination against other
minority or oppressed groups. Certainly the recent tension with the DC
Co-op, which has only 13 of its members qualified to vote as staff in
the coming election (out of 106) and only one hour and nine minutes of
air time (out of a a 168 hour week) has only served to heighten these
tensions. Staff and the remaining members of the board (notably Luzzette
King who spoke with me about it during the fund drive and Billy Ray who
has posted it far and wide) are increasingly open about their desire to
exploit tensions between NY and Berkley to destroy the Pacifica
Foundation and dissolve it.
To their credit members of the NY JUC (the national conference of Progressive People of Color at Pacifica) have reached out to try to diffuse the situation behind the scenes both during and since
the Pacifica National Board meeting a role they have played for two
years now. But the issues here are wider than the Co-op.
They in fact go to the heart of the question of if it is possible to
create multi-cultural harmony in place of a simmering race war within
the Pacifica foundation. Its a question that has yet to be definatively
This work is in the public domain
Re: WPFW Troubles... at Pacifica Why You Should Care
by The Funkinest Journalist
(No verified email address)
26 Jun 2005
WPFW Troubles... Current rating: 0
by The Funkinest Journalist
Email: freemixradio (at) voxunion.com (verified)
Phone: 202.997.0267 26 Jun 2005
An Interview with concerned WPFW current and former members.
This is an interview conducted with Tom Gomez and others concerned with recent happenings at WPFW and Pacifica Radio.