Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Labor’s Long March Continues

Albert Parsons, one of four Chicago organizers hung in November 1887 for the Haymarket bombing, knew that winning the eight-hour workday was only a stopgap measure. In fact, he predicted how business would respond: "Employers will put labor-saving machinery to work instead of the higher-priced laborers. The laborers will then for the same reason that they reduced the hours to eight, have to reduce them to six hours per day." He also linked the domestic struggle to emerging global trends. The elite view was that employment could only be expanded through finding new foreign markets; that meant keeping wages low to compete internationally. But Parsons and others argued that this would only depress purchasing power, ultimately destroying jobs both at home and overseas.

More than a century later, his analysis is still on target. Under the impacts of globalized "free trade" and increased automation, millions of jobs are at risk. In the US, the impact is felt in major corporate layoffs, hiring freezes, and plant relocations. Meanwhile, despite technological advances, the average number of hours most people work has increased. If the current trend continues, US employees will soon be spending as much time at their jobs as they did back in the 1920s.

Reading the business pages of most local newspapers, you could be left with the impression that, despite a “recession” now and then, things have rarely been better. But it all depends on whose facts and statistics you prefer. Under-employment is a serious problem, for example, and almost 20 percent of all US workers earn less than a livable wage. The income gap between men and women has been rising again, just as the number of female-headed households increases. These factors, plus the absence of employee benefits for about half of all part-timers, deepen the feminization of poverty.

Computers and other "labor-saving" machines allow companies to eliminate whole job categories, while employing a smaller work force for longer hours. Even paying time and a half overtime, they come out ahead. In US factories, the hours of work have increased as the number of employees has steadily declined. In Europe, where unemployment is higher, this trend has led to the rallying cry: Work Less, and Everyone Works. In Japan, the government has made shorter hours a national goal, realizing not only that it deals with technological displacement but also that more leisure time stimulates the service economy. Yet, US business leaders remain adamantly opposed, arguing that staying "competitive" could require even longer hours.

Echoing the eight-hour day campaign, a movement to reduce the workweek may well be labor's key to recapturing public confidence. Why? Largely because the lack of free time has become a serious issue for parents and communities. Some studies say that a third of the country's youngsters are caring for themselves. Along with a decline in the amount of time parents spend with their kids has come an "abandonment" syndrome, manifesting itself in increasing childhood depression, delinquency, violence, drug abuse, and even suicide.

Women in the US work an average of around 80 hours a week, on the job and in the home. Not surprisingly, they are especially receptive to the prospect of less work and more free time. Although equal pay is their short-term concern, a resurgence of the US labor movement may ultimately hinge on organizing with women around a shorter workweek. Such a campaign would clearly demonstrate that unions are concerned with more than their own members. It could also unite them with parenting, social justice, neighborhood, and women's groups. One small step in this direction is legislation that would discourage the use of overtime as a way to avoid providing benefits for additional employees. The longer-term solution is a 30-hour week, and linking a higher minimum wage to the consumer price index.

Putting millions to work, a shorter week would result in dramatic savings in unemployment compensation and welfare payments. The impact on culture, commerce, and family life would be even more profound. Actually, the choice is fairly clear: As machines continue to replace human beings in most industries, it is either longer hours for the remaining "lucky" employees, with many left jobless or underemployed, or giving more people the chance both to share the available work and reconnect with their families. If organized labor can improve its image and resist drives to muzzle it, we still have a chance to change course before too much more damage is done.

Henry Demarest Lloyd, an early critic of monopolies and loyal friend of labor, summed it up in 1893. Defending the right to organize and an eight-hour day, he remarked that uniting with others in common cause is the law of life. "Individuality becomes possible only by association," he explained. "Man isolated, would be man the brute ... But every new tie gives a new individuality. And every attempt on the part of those who are the buyers of labor to prevent the sellers from uniting to promote and protect their interests, is an attempt to de-humanize the worker and decivilize the world."

Fortunately, the dehumanization isn't complete. And despite the setbacks, the long struggle to civilize the world of work can still be won.

Part six of “May Day, Labor, and the First Red Scare”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Haymarket: The Legacy of Injustice

The trial of the Haymarket martyrs was one of the most shameful events in US legal history. From the beginning – selection of jury members who openly admitted their prejudice – there was little doubt that the defendants would be convicted. Throughout the proceedings Judge Joseph Gary was consistently hostile to the accused. In his instructions to the jury he sealed their fate by saying that, if the defendants had ever suggested violence, they were guilty of murder – even if the perpetrator couldn’t be found.

After the verdict – death by hanging for all but one of the eight – the defendants spoke to the court. Most of them noted that the state was betraying the ideals on which the US was based. August Spies said that they were condemned “because they had not lost their faith in the ultimate victory of liberty and justice.” Albert Parsons pointed to the use of violence, including dynamite, recommended by newspapers as a solution to labor troubles. And Louis Lingg, ever defiant, told the court, “I despise your order; your laws, your force-propped authority. Hang me for it!”

Despite their defiance, a strong campaign for clemency was launched. Many people who didn’t share the ideology of the anarchists nevertheless knew that the verdict and death sentences were unjust. Although an appeal to the US Supreme Court failed, public opinion began to shift. Labor groups, at first hesitant to support the men, joined the petitioners asking Governor Oglesby to intervene. People like author William Dean Howells and journalist Henry Demarest Lloyd joined with Europeans in pleas for mercy and justice. The Governor considered clemency, but powerful businessmen pressured against it.

Meanwhile, the martyrs reconciled themselves to their fate. Parsons, who had surrendered himself for trial after evading capture for six weeks, continued to write from his prison cell. He rejected the chance to obtain clemency by sending a letter of repentance to the governor. Like most of the others he defended his innocence and refused to beg.

Spies was married while imprisoned to a young woman who had fallen in love with him during the trial. Oscar Neebe’s wife died, even though he was to be spared. Eventually, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Spies agreed to sign a letter asking for mercy. But Spies later reversed himself again, instead urging the governor to hang him and spare the rest.

On November 10, 1887, just one day before the scheduled executions, the governor was finally persuaded to act. He commuted the sentences of Fielden and Schwab to life imprisonment. The others would be hung the next day.

All but Louis Lingg. On that same day, he committed suicide in his cell, using dynamite smuggled in by a friend.


Click to hear a scene from Inquisitions (and Other-Un-American Activities), my play on Haymarket, civil liberties, and the life of Lucy Parsons. To stage a community production or see the script, e-mail For radio broadcast, contact Squeaky Wheel Productions via the "Inquisitions" link on this site.


On November 11, Parsons, Spies, George Engel and Adolph Fischer faced the gallows. With nooses around their necks they spoke to the world. “Hurray for Anarchy!” said Fischer. “This is the happiest moment of my life.” From inside his hood, Spies added, “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”

And finally Parsons. “Will I be allowed to speak, O men of America? Let me speak, Sheriff Matson! Let the voice of the people be heard! O – “ He never completed the sentence.

It wasn’t until six years later than the truth began to emerge. Another governor, John Peter Altgeld, reviewed the evidence and trial transcripts for months before concluding that a tragic injustice had been committed. In an angry report, he condemned the authorities and vindicated the martyrs. The surviving three were freed. That act all but ended Altgeld’s brilliant political career.

The impact of the Haymarket tragedy was broad and profound. For decades afterward, the Chicago martyrs were a symbol for workers and radicals around the world. Their heroism and dignity inspired countless others to stand firm for their ideals. The trial and the hangings also made clear the fragility of US democracy. In 1886, government and corporate interests had joined forces to crush ideas they considered threatening. The bomb merely provided the excuse, and the story remains relevant to this day.

Haymarket was a crucial moment not only in labor history, but in the story of humanity’s hopes and errors. The martyrs may have erred in their bold talk of arms and dynamite. But society betrayed itself by condemning, out of fear, people who represented the frustrated aspirations of the poor for justice.

Fortunately, this sad attempt to smother dissent didn’t succeed. In the end, August Spies was right when he said at the trial, “Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand.”

Part five of “May Day, Labor, and the First Red Scare”

Next: Labor’s Long March Continues

Monday, April 28, 2008

Practical Idealism & Pacifica Realities

Meetings of Pacifica Radio’s National Board rarely provide sufficient time for sustained reflection. With 22 members from across the country vying to be heard, plus the restrictions imposed by Roberts Rules of Order, unrealistic time limits and an irresistible tendency to delve into operational details, discussions can be bewildering and inconclusive.

Nevertheless, during the January 2006 meeting in Washington DC I tried to describe what I was seeing and hoped to do about it as the new executive director. “Shortly after accepting this job,” I noted, “I talked with a dedicated Pacifica supporter who at one time also considered going after this position. From what I knew, this person seemed well suited for the work. So, why didn't you apply? I asked. The reply was revealing: ‘Well, I wanted to work again.’”

It was supposed to be an amusing ice-breaker for my first ED report, but there was a serious point, the difficulty of working in such a highly charged environment.

Getting down to specifics, I ran through the issues that had emerged during my first days on the job – the Board’s decision to launch a national Spanish language show, the future of national programming, the need to reach an agreement with FSRN, as well as CPB standards, direct mail plans, and diversifying revenue by taking advantage of the potential for new satellite and Internet channels. After talking with the HR Director, Yolanda Thomas, I’d negotiated a minor office reorganization that gave her a private room for confidential discussions. We’d also worked out a new hiring process and agreed that the long-overdue adoption of a “code of conduct” would be necessary to address many of the problems that led to conflict and litigation.

Moving on to diversity, a central value within the community, I noted that it wasn’t just needed to secure public funding. It influenced Pacifica’s election process, staffing decisions, and programming to reach underserved communities. And that led back to the mission. Everyone talked about it, of course, but after 57 years and dramatic changes in media, not everyone saw it the same way. My recommendation was to “revisit” the idealistic statements Lew Hill had penned back in the 1940s, find out where people agreed and differed, and hopefully reach consensus on why Pacifica was a vital part of the 21st century media landscape.

That didn’t end up happening. But in the moment, while sketching out hopes and visions in those optimistic opening days, I suspended my skepticism and convinced myself that it might be possible to prevent the exploitation of what looked like a bold experiment in media democracy, to stop it from becoming “an excuse for demagoguery, or a war of attrition in which the loudest voices and those with the most time can simply wear the organization down.” Mission-driven programming, fair employment practices, a culture of cooperation, financial transparency and effective management that treated people with respect – maybe Pacifica could still get there.

Was I being naïve? Probably. As I tried to explain, in the months ahead “the public may read or hear some strange things about what is happening at Pacifica – reports that sound disturbing, even dangerous.” That looked unavoidable. Nevertheless, I asked people to think about it this way: “Those who issue harsh, even cruel judgments will really be telling you more about themselves than the foundation and its work. They will be appealing to people's fears, assumptions, and projections about what THEY might do if they were in our shoes. The truth is: they're captives in a nightmare.”

The idea was to acknowledge the fears, but then say, “Wake up. Most of it just isn't happening.” How to prove it – that was the real question.

On Sunday morning, during an executive session, I had an early opportunity. Discussing the specifics of what transpired during closed door meetings would violate my pledge upon taking the job. However, many of the issues debated there do eventually find their way onto blogs and into the public domain. So, let me put it this way: Board members wanted to know about a recent financial settlement, one that some of those involved preferred not to discuss. Since I knew the details, sharing them with the group felt like the thing to do.

The impact of the revelation was immediate, effectively telegraphing that things might change after all, that management and the board didn’t have to be at odds and real “transparency” was actually possible. It also made me some enemies. By challenging the notion that it was all right to keep board members in the dark, I was suggesting that the organization’s covert power structure might be exposed. And, in refusing to be cowed by those who defined every issue on the basis of race, I was saying that the days when guilt trips and demonization effectively ended a discussion could be coming to an end.

Pacifica’s “bold experiment” in democracy had some obvious flaws. But maybe the soft despotism of self-interest – that degrader of democracy, imagination and free thought Alexis de Tocqueville identified almost two centuries ago – might not be inevitable. Then again, it was difficult to overlook what I’d learned only hours before during a trip to the DC Radio Coop.

That outing had been arranged by Sam Husseini, an intense media watchdog who made contact at the start of the weekend. Sam worked with the Institute for Public Accuracy as communications director and had chaired WPFW’s Local Advisory Board during Pacifica’s hijack days. He was a tough critic of both national management and the DC station’s shortage of public affairs programs. The way he saw it, the network was missing golden opportunities to ask tough questions in the nation’s capital. He was especially upset that the one person with a show who challenged the “Washington Consensus” at White House briefings, Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter newsletter, had been repeatedly preempted on WPFW and ultimately cancelled.

Located at the Al-Fishawy Café in northwest DC, the Radio Coop has since become a fully-functioning community center. A collective that produces alternative content, it also works with groups like FSRN, the Capitol District’s Independent media center and local radio stations, and provides training and production facilities for local media activists. In late January 2006, however, its home base was still under construction in a cavernous basement below the cafe.

Sam introduced one of the founders, Ryme Katkhouda, a feisty organizer of Syrian descent who had begun producing and training at WPFW in 2003. Though she still produced a show, her relationship with the station had turned sour during a turf battle between volunteers, contract workers, and unionized staff. Some said the real issue was her Arab nationality, and one Black local board member, attorney Thomas Ruffin, charged that it was part of a pattern of discrimination. The station’s Black manager Ron Pinchback, with the acquiescence of the local station board, was driving away talent and perhaps even breaking the law, he claimed.

By the time we arrived, a heated discussion was underway. Three members of the national board, WBAI delegates who were members the Black-led Justice and Unity Coalition, had stopped by on a fact-finding mission. For the next hour Ruffin, Katkhouda and Thomas Gomez, another disaffected local producer, detailed their case. Passed over for promotions and jobs, Katkhouda and Gomez said they had become targets of workplace harassment aimed mainly at non-Black immigrants. The underlying charge was racism – specifically, lack of inclusion -- at the predominantly Black-managed and focused station. Two weeks later, Katkhouda filed a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights charging that WPFW had subjected her to discrimination “based on her ethnicity, national original, race, and gender.”

This wasn’t the only legal fight on the horizon. A female prison guard in Houston was talking to her lawyer about an on-air remark made during a KPFT show, New York radio journalist Robert Knight was threatening legal action after being dismissed, KPFA program coordinator Vini Beacham had approached the Department of Fair Housing and Employment about comments by local board members he considered slanderous, and a lawsuit had been filed by former KPFA producer Noelle Hanrahan, claiming gender discrimination by Flashpoints host Dennis Bernstein and unlawful termination by the station. Added to all that, the struggle inside WPFW made the obstacles impossible to ignore.

It would take more than altruistic sentiments and a commitment to transparency to bring peace to this place.

Part six of “Managing Pacifica: In the Bubble.”

Next: Strategy and Struggles

Saturday, April 26, 2008

May Day Focus: Immigrants & War

Labor, youth, peace and advocacy groups will hold May Day events around the world next Thursday. In the US, rallies and protests on May 1, in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, the Twin Cities, Tucson, Amherst, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C., will focus largely on immigrant rights and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It remains to be seen whether major US media will take notice.

Dockworkers on the West Coast plan to shut down ports from San Diego to Seattle to protest the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) say that they will lay down their tools and walk off the job "to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of troops from the Middle East."

Many marches, teach-ins, and vigils will celebrate the contributions of immigrant communities and advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. The link between immigrant rights and May Day emerged strongly in 2006, when the US Congress was considering a bill that would criminalize undocumented immigrants who live and work in the US and those who aid them.

In Los Angeles, May Day activities will start at 2 p.m., with rallies at MacArthur Park and at Olympic and Broadway, followed by a march to City Hall. In Boston, a rally will be held at the Boston Common Bandstand, starting at 4 pm, followed by a march to Copley Square. Activists in Boston are calling an end to raids and deportations, legalization for all migrant workers, no militarization or walls along the US borders, and an end to war – on immigrants and abroad.

In Istanbul, labor organizations have vowed to hold a massive May Day rally even though permission has been refused by authorities for workers to gather in Taksim Square. In Cuba, unionists, parliamentarians, politicians, and members of social and progressive movements from around the world will celebrate the workers’ holiday.

In Moscow, however, the mayor's office says it won’t allow gay pride marches – previously broken up by ultra-nationalists – to take place on this year's May Day holiday. The announcement came as a gay rights leader said he was planning events throughout the month to highlight the repression of sexual minorities in Russia.

Since the late 19th Century, May 1 has been celebrated as International Workers’ Day, commemorating the execution of the men arrested after the 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago. In 1958, concerned about Communist influence, the US Congress designated it as Loyalty Day.

Friday, April 25, 2008

May Day’s Forgotten Martyrs

A reign of terror followed the Haymarket bombing in early May, 1886. Offices, meeting halls and private homes were invaded. The Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm were shut down, while the business community’s newspapers screamed in headlines about “Bloody Brutes,” “Red Ruffians,” and “Dynamarchists.” Like the months after 9/11, the mood of panic ran deep.

Over the next weeks dozens of people were arrested, interrogated, and sometimes tortured while in custody. The press and the legal system agreed, as one judge put it, that “anarchism should be suppressed.” Among those arrested were August Spies and Samuel Fielden, who had spoken at Haymarket that night; George Engel and Adolph Fischer, two organizers of the event; Michael Schwab, Spies’ co-editor at the newspaper; Oscar Neebe, an outstanding organizer and leader of the International Working People’s Association (IWPA); and Louis Lingg, a young anarchist who had arrived in the US only ten months before. Albert Parsons initially went into hiding but returned to stand trial. These eight had been selected to satisfy the public’s thirst for revenge.

Of the eight Haymarket defendants, six were German. The oldest, Engel, was 50. Born in Cassel, he’d become a socialist after settling in Chicago in 1874 with his wife and daughter. Unsatisfied with the “moderate” views of Spies and Parsons, he joined the “autonomist” faction of the city’s radical community, and, with Fischer, founded a German magazine, Der Anarchist. He hadn’t even attended the Haymarket meeting.

His political comrade, Fischer, was 27, also married, with three children. Growing up in Bremen, he had emigrated in 1873 and reached Chicago nine years later. A nervous, individualistic type, he worked in the Arbeiter-Zeitung officer as a typesetter.

Thirty-two-year-old Michael Schwab was a Bavarian who had come to Chicago in 1879. Married with two children, he was a mild, intellectual man who had turned to socialism after witnessing the excesses of capitalism in Europe. At the time of the bombing he was speaking at another demonstration across town.

Oscar Neebe was actually born in New York, but his German parents had returned to Hesse-Cassel when he was quite young. He came back to the US as a teenager, eventually marrying and settling in Chicago in 1877. With his brothers he ran a small yeast company, working for the labor movement in his spare time. Along with Spies and Parsons he was an IWPA leader. He knew nothing about the bombing until the morning of his arrest.

Louis Lingg, born near Manheim, had become an anarchist after meeting August Reinsdorf, who was beheaded in 1885 for plotting against the Kaiser. An outspoken believer in “rude force to combat the ruder force of the police,” Lingg quickly moved into the armed section of his Chicago union after reaching the city in 1885 at the age of 21. Though he spoke little English his good looks and strong views made him a popular figure. Of all those ultimately charged with responsibility for the Haymarket tragedy Lingg was the only one who had actually manufactured bombs. But the Haymarket bomb wasn’t one of his products.

With little more in common than their radical views, these eight became the convenient targets of official revenge. Although only a few were present at the event and none could be directly linked to the bombing, they were all charged with murder. Clearly, however, it was their views, not their actions, that faced judgment. The prosecutor, Julius Grinnell, made this obvious when he said at their trial, “Law is on trial…Anarchy is on trial.”

The defendants understood the dynamic and had little faith that justice would prevail. Most didn’t suspect, however, that all but one of them would be sentenced to death. Even these radicals had underestimated the paranoia and vindictiveness of a fearful public.

Part four of “May Day, Labor, and the First Red Scare”

Next: Haymarket – The Legacy of Injustice

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sanders Talks Socialism with Colbert

Bernie Sanders, the only socialist in the US Senate, crossed swords with Comedy Central’s answer to right-wing talking heads on the April 21 edition of The Colbert Report. Among other things, Colbert was worried that Sanders' call for a redistribution of wealth will overcrowd his yacht club. Take a look at one of the only discussions of class you’ll find on TV.

The Haymarket Bombing

On the afternoon of May 3, 1886, August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, went to Chicago’s South Side. He’d been invited there to address striking workers of the Lumber Shovers’ Union. It was Monday but the empty streets and silent factories made it look like a Sunday.

Nearby, other strikers were standing angrily in front of the plant gates at the McCormick Reaper Works. They had been out of work for three months. Confrontations with police and McCormick’s hired guards were growing more violent each day.

Like Albert Parsons, Spies was an effective speaker for radical action. Born in Landeck, Germany, he had emigrated to the US in 1872, eventually starting a small furniture company with relatives. His main occupations, however, were editing the newspaper and organizing the working class. Fluent in both English and German, the 31-year-old combined insightful criticism with biting sarcasm. Along with Parsons, he was also a leader of the International Working People’s Association (IWPA), a growing, largely German, federation of labor groups.

That day he spoke about the eight-hour movement. But before finishing he was interrupted by renewed violence at the McCormick plant. Picketers had begun to heckle strikebreakers. Police wagons rolled in, and officers entered the fray swinging their clubs. Showered with stones, they drew their revolvers and began to fire. Two workers were killed and many more were injured.

Spies rushed back to his office and composed a fiery leaflet in German and English. “If you are men,” he wrote, “you will rise in your might, Hercules, and destroy the hideous monster that seeks to destroy you. To arms, we call you, to arms!”

An overzealous typesetter, upon reading the text, added an even more incendiary headline. “REVENGE,” it screamed. Over 2,000 copies of what became known as the “Revenge Circular” were distributed throughout the city that night. By the next morning a mass meeting had been planned to protest the murders. The organizers, among them Adolph Fischer and George Engel, two German members of the ultra-radical “autonomist” faction, expected to draw 20,000 people that night to Haymarket Square.

By 8 p.m. on May 4, however, only 3,000 people had shown up. August Spies was the only speaker in sight. Reluctantly, he addressed the crowd and urged restraint. Meanwhile, he sent a friend to find Parsons at a meeting nearby. Chicago’s Mayor Harrison, who was in the audience, considered the proceedings calm and orderly.


Listen to a scene from Inquisitions (and Other-Un-American Activities), my play on Haymarket and civil liberties.


Parsons eventually arrived and spoke for an hour, repeating Spies’ words of caution. “This is not a conflict between individuals,” he noted, “but for a change of system, and socialism is designed to remove the causes which produce the pauper and the millionaire, but does not aim at the life of the individual.”

Next to mount the speaker’s wagon was Samuel Fielden, an English-born stone hauler well-known for his passionate yet earthy style. As Fielden spoke, the night turned windy and a dark raincloud rolled in. The audience dwindled to about 300 men, women and children. A few minutes more and it would have been over.

But Police Inspector John Bonfield, waiting with almost 200 officers at a police station a block away, had a different plan. He was always eager for an excuse to break up a demonstration. Informed that Fielden was making angry remarks, he saw his opportunity and ordered his men to march into the crowd. Confronted with armed force, the protesters were ordered to “immediately and peaceably disperse.”

“We are peaceable,” Fielden protested. Still, he agreed to end the gathering. But as he stepped down from the wagon a bomb was tossed into the midst of the police. Its explosion shook the street. Police fired wildly as the crowd scattered. Before the shooting stopped, dozens were injured or dead, among them eight policemen who died of bomb or gunshot wounds. Most of the officers had been killed by their own comrades.

The identity of the bomb thrower was never confirmed, but the establishment and an hysterical press clamored for retribution. Life in Chicago, as well as the nation’s labor movement and the image of anarchists, were all about to undergo a dramatic and long-lasting change. The stereotype of the anarchist as a wild-eyed, foreign-born, bomb-throwing maniac remains embedded in popular consciousness to this day.

NEXT: May Day’s Forgotten Martyrs

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why Pacifica Radio Fights

The news from the outside world wasn’t promising in late January, 2006. Hamas had just won the Palestinian elections but the US, Israel, and several European countries weren’t willing to deal with the new regime unless its leaders renounced armed struggle and calls for Israel’s destruction. In other words, another stalemate. In Iraq, the US army commander admitted that the military was overextended in its “war on terror.” That sounded suspiciously like a setback. And in Washington, DC, a de-classified Pentagon document revealed that disinformation intended for foreign audiences was making its way back onto the computers and TV screens of the folks back home. That’s known as blowback.

On Planet Pacifica, nonetheless, such unsettling developments took a back seat to the normal array of internal tussles as members of the National Board convened in the nation’s capital for three days of parliamentary politics. Among other matters, a dispute was brewing over WPFW’s delegate election, board members from WBAI were at odds over what some considered a “racially insensitive” remark, Houston activists wanted KPFT’s general manager fired, and inquiring minds wanted to know whether the new Executive Director was a breath of fresh air or an incompetent conspiracy nut.

During a marathon staff meeting the day before the Board’s first public session, I’d finally talked with most of the national staff and station managers. To my surprise, this was the only time key network personnel actually got together to exchange ideas. The group was then known as the Administrative Council, and its interaction consisted mainly of previewing what each person planned to tell the Board. Some of them considered the entire exercise little more than a “dog and pony” show. For a while I sat back and listened.

Hours passed and the discussion meandered from on-air pitching – everyone agreed that station fund drives were taking too many days – to attracting younger listeners, changing the program mix, getting more grants, and launching a Spanish language newscast. At one point, KPFT Manager Duane Bradley brought up underwriting, a potential revenue stream for stations finding it harder to keep up with expenses. It was time, he said, to “adapt to reality.” But Pacifica had long avoided underwriting, on the assumption that it could lead to program sponsorship by questionable corporate sources. Duane acknowledged that the U-word, as he called it, was one of several that normally couldn’t be uttered. As I learned, other controversial words included “market,” “quotas,” “identity politics,” and “business” – as in “Pacifica should operate like a business.”

Eventually, I couldn’t resist posing a question. Since the network’s most popular show was Democracy Now!, which brought in more than $2 million in donations but was actually an independent production, I asked whether there was interest in launching a new national program that Pacifica would own and control. Congressional elections were coming in the fall, an ideal moment to try something new. Everyone said they agreed, yet beneath the surface I sensed considerable reluctance.

How could I frame such diverse issues? According to the agenda, I was expected not only to provide a general report but also moderate a discussion about the role of governance and management. Concerning the latter, the distinction wasn’t all that clear, and disputes over the exercise of power – in other words, the dynamics of democracy vs. efficiency, participation vs. production – were frequent and highly contentious.

The next day I provided a preliminary analysis. “According to the dictionary,” I began, “to govern is make policy, to regulate, to restrain, to exercise a determining influence on something. It’s basically about control. To manage, on the other hand, is to direct, to handle, to discipline or persuade, to succeed in accomplishing or achieving something. In other words, execution.”

How did that play out at Pacifica? According to the new bylaws, the National Board of Directors was supposed to “ensure” – a word repeated several times – that the Foundation’s purposes were fulfilled within the law, monitoring its finances and station activities, supervising its top managers, and delegating powers and duties consistence with the law. The operative words were “monitor” and “supervise,” I explained.

Fair enough. But what about the executive director and chief financial officer? Well, the bylaws said that I was “responsible for general supervision of the foundation” – I couldn’t help pointing out that Article 9, Section 7 actually called it a business – which meant implementing Board decisions in five areas: administration, personnel, programming, finances, and public relations. Beyond that, I was expected to promote the mission, based on whatever powers the board opted to delegate. Despite his expansive self-definition, Lonnie Hick’s authority as CFO was much narrower. He was basically supposed to maintain the books and financial records, deposit and disburse funds – as directed – and provide me and the Board with an account of all transactions and the financial condition of the organization whenever asked.

It sounded clear but there was obviously confusion, especially when it came to supervision. For the Board it was supposed to be about understanding what went on – overseeing the general direction of the network, delegating effectively, and ultimately being in charge. For managers, on the other hand, it wasn’t just a matter of seeing what was happening but actually making things happen. However, Pacifica’s emphasis on broad participation made defining the boundaries an enormous challenge.

The goal was to get things done efficiently and on schedule, yet the bylaws mandated processes that placed serious limits on managers. As a result, disputes frequently arose about how various people interpreted what was set down on paper. Words on a page were usually less important than the organization’s culture and values. In the end, ideology and perceptions tended to trump precedent or legal authority.

Put simply, the relationship between governance and management was difficult and strained. I also suggested one of the reasons – a constant struggle between pulls toward centralization and decentralization of power, with many sub-systems and constituencies vying to influence not only how the organization ran from day to day but where it was going. It didn’t help that many people had very different ideas about its mission.

In 1985, the Board had hired a consultant, Florence Green, to conduct a management audit of the network. The result was a revealing list. Let’s call it Pacifica’s Top Ten Troubles. Here they are:

1. No workable system for training, managing or evaluating volunteers

2. Decisions are inconsistent, ignored or just not implemented

3. Unclear roles for various boards, plus conflicts between boards and staff

4. Poorly-defined relationships that frequently aren’t followed

5. Weak training, unclear rules, and a preference for political correctness over skills

6. A tendency to view Pacifica as a refuge or therapeutic community, which makes problem-solving exhausting

7. Missionary zeal (this one was actually considered both a weakness and a strength)

8. Two dysfunctional forms of communication -- The Benevolent Dictator and Passive approaches. (In the former, directives are issued without regard to appropriateness or skill, and, as result, are often ignored. In the latter, the communication is too unclear to be useful or so indirect that concerns are more often shared informally or behind people’s backs.)

9. Some people have nowhere else to go -- and resist change

10. It’s no longer the only game in town

Not every item was related to management or governance. But 20 years on, as I read them to the board, the list hadn’t much changed.

I finished with a series of questions. For instance, how did they see the line between the responsibilities of those who govern and manage? Were they micro-managing, and if so, what would it take to change that? In a recent anti-war film, Why We Fight, when director Eugene Jarecki had posed the film’s title as a question, the first answer was almost always “freedom.” But when he probed deeper, the consensus fell apart. How about Pacifica? Why did it fight? Free Speech, democracy, diversity, or something else?

In Uneasy Listening, Matthew Lasar’s second book about the network, he had used a provocative term – anarcho-feudalism – to describe how Pacifica operated. Another word I’d heard was balkanization, referring to the organization’s tendency to divide into territories. So, how did they feel about that diagnosis?

I also asked whether they thought the bylaws were part of the problem and whether trust was a factor. In a poll of hands, most people answered yes to both. Finally, after noting that Pacifica’s managers were frequently, even routinely, under fire, I posed two crucial final questions: How did this community really feel about leadership? And, more to the point, was the nature of executive authority in some ways fundamentally at odds with how Pacifica saw itself?

Next: Practical Idealism and Pacifica Realities

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Net Neutrality Back in Play

Democratic politicians argued for a law designed to stop broadband operators from creating a “fast lane” for certain Internet content and applications at an April 22 US Commerce Committee hearing on the future of the Internet. The move drew the predictable opposition from the cable industry, Republicans, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Discussion during the hearing centered on whether the FCC already has sufficient authority to take action against network operators who interfere with their customers' Internet use. Comcast says no. Democrats like Sen. John Kerry, a backer of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, argue that legislation is needed to clarify the FCC's enforcement role.

Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig urged the passage of legislation that is as “minimal and (as) clear as possible." Without such measures, he said, investors will be discouraged from devising applications because they won't know what the network will look like in five years.

1886 – Labor Showdown in Chicago

Today, Chicago is one of the most watched cities in the world, its streets, trains and buses under constant surveillance by thousands of cameras as part of the “war on terror.” Things have certainly changed since 1886, when it was the most radical city in the United States. In that era rapid industrialization, combined with mass immigration, created a tense environment in which the demands of business owners and the needs of workers were bound to clash.

The working class in this emerging commercial and industrial center was diverse and, in many ways, divided. Skill, occupation, language and cultural differences created considerable barriers to unity, despite the inadequate working and living conditions most workers shared. The labor movement was nevertheless expanding its influence in campaigns to reduce work hours, the formation of workers’ parties, and the growth of trade unions.

Much of the city’s economic development was based on incredible population growth. Irish, Scandinavian, Czech, English and German immigrants dominated the blue-collar work force. In particular, first and second generation Germans comprised 33 percent of the city total population. They had their own newspapers, including the Arbeiter-Zeitung, Chicago’s largest radical daily paper, and their leaders were among the most articulate spokespersons for change.

The bourgeois press called these discontented men and women “communists” and “socialists,” largely ignorant of what the words actually meant. By the 1880s, the term “anarchist” had been added, an attempt to brand labor activists as enemies of all law. But many workers accepted the labor, even embracing it as a badge of honor. For them, anarchism meant liberty, equality and fraternity. They envisioned a free society based on the cooperative organization of production and had come to the realization that peaceful change faced violent resistance.

There was vivid evidence to support this view. Strikes and peaceful demonstrations were routinely disrupted by heavily-armed policy, who beat and sometimes killed unarmed people. Newspapers called for brutal repression. Businessmen created and used private armies to break up labor actions.

Confronted with force, some leaders advised workers to arm themselves, and even to consider dynamite as a means of self-defense. “One man armed with a dynamite bomb is equal to one regiment of militia, when it is used at the right time and place,” trumpeted The Alarm, a radical newspaper edited by Albert Parsons.

Parsons was one of the few native-born Americans who led Chicago’s workers. A charismatic and effective speaker, he talked often of a coming social revolution and the need to be prepared for it. Though skeptical about the prospects for peaceful reform, he also helped to lead the campaign for an eight-hour workday, labor’s central demand at the time.

One May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers laid down their tools across North America, united in their eight-hour call. In Chicago, 40,000 went out of strike. Parsons and his wife Lucy led 80,000 workers up Michigan Avenue, while on rooftops police and civilians crouched behind rifles, ready to fire on command.

Violence was averted on this, the first May Day. But the Haymarket tragedy was only a few days away.

NEXT: The Haymarket Bombing

Monday, April 21, 2008

KPFA: How Campanella Struck Out

Son of the legendary Hall of Fame baseball player with the same name, Roy Campanella II attended Harvard and Columbia and worked as a filmmaker, producer and editor, notably as a programming executive with CBS Entertainment in Los Angeles, before joining KPFA as General Manager in the fall of 2004. Depending on the source of the story, he was either a victim of station politics who attempted to make some modest changes, or an incompetent who hit on female staff members. Either way, the job had been a political football for more than five years by the time he got it.

In 1999, the national board had removed popular station manager Nicole Sawaya, one of the events that catalyzed the resistance. During the “hijack” period, a key opposition demand was her restatement. But when the smoke cleared, the job went to a White “interim” manager, Jim Bennett, who brought back some stability and improved on-air fundraising. After several years, it was passed to former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport. A veteran Black organizer with 30 years experience and demonstrated leadership chops, he quickly found the situation intolerable and was gone in nine months. “He knew nothing about radio,” his critics complained. Anyway, Bennett returned and held the job for another year until Roy was hired. Some people still wanted Sawaya back – and clearly weren’t impressed with Roy.

Within his first few months on the job, several women charged that he was “unfit,” guilty of “hostility and gender-based treatment,” and should be fired. A letter of no confidence was soon signed by 70 of the station’s estimated 300 paid staff and volunteers, and, at a July local board meeting, he was accused of creating a hostile work environment. “People shouldn’t have to work in an environment of fear,” complained subscriptions editor Gary Niederhoff. But Peter Franck, chair of Media Action Marin, asked the board to work with Campanella, warning that “you should not wait for a Messiah to rescue you.” To which 17-year staffer Jan Etre responded, “There was a Messiah; her name was Nicole Sawaya.”

Roy conceded that he’d asked several subordinates, both men and women, out to movies (he told me that he was merely trying to be generous with comp tickets he received), but denied that he was trolling for dates. Hired to conduct an investigation, Oakland attorney Dan Siegel concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to sustain the charges, yet suggested that the board might want to let Roy go anyway. Predictably, some people said that Siegel, a respected litigator who had helped lead the legal challenge against the Foundation several years before – and a potential candidate for Oakland Mayor at the time – wasn’t sufficiently neutral to be acting as counsel.

After the harassment charges, Roy offered to enter mediation with the staff. But the union had little interest. In an e-mail, shop steward Lisa Ballard noted that within hours of distributing a Zero Tolerance for Violence policy to the staff, he had “instigated a fight in our workplace kitchen.” Basically, it was an argument between Campanella and Hard Knock Radio producer Weylan Southon that spiraled out of control. As tempers flared and chairs were tossed, Campanella called Southon outside to fight. In his defense, Roy later claimed that it wasn’t a serious proposition and no blows were exchanged. But Southon didn’t come back to work for a week, claiming he feared for his safety. Things were moving from bad to worse.

The reason for Roy’s “Zero Tolerance” e-mail was an incident in which a station engineer hurled metal chairs during a meeting of the KPFA Program Council. Former host Bill Mandel was about to get a new show and some staff, for whom Mandel represented the predominantly white old guard, were a bit upset. In a battle for air time, a war had broken out between “listener activists” who wanted to drop programming they saw as moderate and stale, and staff members who felt besieged in a “culture of complaints.”

Some of the staff “are very suspicious of democracy,” charged Stan Woods, a member of People’s Radio, a Pacifica faction representing “listener activists” on KPFA’s Local Station Board. Their opponents had also formed a group, KPFA Forward, which included staff members and their supporters. A large bone of contention was an attempt to change the air time of Democracy Now. Despite backing from the Program Council and Gus Newport, staff resistance had kept the show from moving. “There hadn’t been managerial oversight for quite some time, so the staff could do what they wanted,” said board member and listener activist Chandra Hauptman. “Now that a manager is trying to set up a structure and protocol, the staff is resisting.”

At first, the local board rejected Siegel’s suggestion to remove Campanella. But six month later, when he couldn’t deliver on a new set of performance goals, there was a vote of no confidence by the local LSB and a request to national management to dismiss their GM. According to the new bylaws, both the local board and the ED had to agree to such a decision, or else the PNB would have to decide. As luck would have it, the issue came to a head just as I was hired.

Roy had hired a lawyer and was threatening to sue unless given the opportunity to defend himself or provided with an acceptable settlement deal. Not comfortable with the negotiations, he began calling me in Vermont as soon as he heard I was coming on board. Though he’d probably accept a settlement, his preference, he claimed, was to present his case – even if I decided later to remove him – rather than simply walk away. But Ambrose Lane, who was Interim ED until I was hired, didn’t want to wait, and when I asked him to put the negotiations on hold until I arrived, he declined, instead placing a tight deadline on Roy’s acceptance of the deal.

Upset, I contacted the board. My concerns were that “this will set a precedent, that the process used by the LSB was incomplete, and that the amount involved was substantial and thus might fall within a PNB motion concerning contract negotiation limits.” That Sunday I flew to Berkeley. The next day, my first in the office, the Berkeley Daily Planet reported: “KPFA Chief Steps Down After Troubled Reign.”

This was not the kind of peaceable, cooperative “transition” relationship I’d anticipated. Imposing a deadline that came three days before my official start had forced the issue. Worse, the terms of Roy’s deal hadn’t been seen by anyone except its negotiators, he hadn’t been formally evaluated or allowed to respond, and the station was left without either a general manager or a program director. But as Ambrose saw it, neither the public nor the national board had a right to know the details. He had made an executive decision – the type of last minute action that boards tend to dislike – and left me to find a replacement. Various interested parties quickly lined up for appointments, each offering suggestions and opinions about how urgent it was to fill the post as quickly as possible.

The main proposal on the table was that GM responsibilities could be “rotated” between three middle managers. This sounded unwieldy and impractical, and played directly into criticisms that the staff preferred not to have a real manager at all. As I explained to the board, “If the KPFA community wishes to alter its fundamental structure, that should be worked out over time and not attempted on an ad hoc basis.”

On top of that, there was the issue of how to proceed with Ambrose. When the board offered me the job, they also gave him two addition months to help me get acquainted. So far, I’d received little concrete information, a major headache, and some broad, subjective impressions.

After he refused to delay or discuss the Campanella deal, I asked the board to release Ambrose from his consulting role and use any remaining funds for transition help with technical and programming issues. My plan was to accelerate work on national Spanish language and Hurricane Katrina aftermath initiatives. But when the board met on the phone, Ambrose framed the question as an attack on his “integrity” and warned me sternly never to do it again. His fellow directors, several at the end of their terms and less than eager for yet another parliamentary fight, cut his time but ignored my proposals and, without knowing what it contained, let Campanella’s settlement slide.

Part Four of “Managing Pacifica: In the Bubble.”

Next: Why Pacifica Radio Fights

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pacifica’s DC Station Adds More Jazz

“Jazz is our mission," says Bobby Hill, program director of WPFW, Pacifica Radio’s station in Washington, DC. In an April 20 Washington Post interview, Hill announced changes to the station’s program schedule that will add two more hours of jazz, boosting the total to 15 hours each weekday.

The article notes that station staff “are at odds over whether to play more music or focus on news and public affairs." There has also been an ongoing dispute within WPFW’s Local Station Board and Pacifica’s National Board over the limited coverage of politics and news emanating from its station in the nation’s capital. On the other hand, Hill argues that the local jazz scene will wither without a consistent source of music on the radio. The area’s only full-time jazz outlet, WDCU, was sold off to C-SPAN in 1997, and WJZW switched to an oldies format in February, leaving WPFW as the only on-air source of jazz in the Washington area.

Hill has added seven programs and 15 new hosts while eliminating reggae and world music shows. WPFW's audience has slipped from 240,000 listeners in 2000 to 186,000 this year. The station missed its $500,000 goal for listener donations by about $50,000 in the most recent fund drive. But Hill believes the programming changes will help to capture a new generation of young listeners who are forsaking traditional radio for the Internet. At the same time, he is pushing the station’s public affairs shows toward a more local emphasis, both in the voices heard and the issues given airtime.

Hill’s decision to increase the emphasis on jazz runs counter to conventional industry wisdom. According to the Radio Research consortium, news and information has fueled public radio’s growth over the last decade. Listeners tend to value it most highly and support it more generously. The listener base for jazz has remained the same during this period.

Still, WPFW’s situation is unique. The station’s original mission promised that “jazz, a major American art form which grows from the African American experience, will be the major music programming,” and said that “WPFW will act as archivist, educator, and entertainer on behalf of this under served national culture resource.”

Friday, April 18, 2008

May Day, Labor, & the First Red Scare

Introduction: Crisis and Collective Amnesia

At the opening of the 20th century, muckraking writer Upton Sinclair weighed in on the millennial debate of his day with a play that predicted worldwide devastation. The premise was that a radioactive element caused a deadly explosion on New Year's Eve 2000, killing everyone who wasn’t in an airplane.

Called The Millennium, Sinclair’s futuristic political fantasy followed the attempts of a handful of survivors to create a new society. Oddly enough, the long-lost script, written in 1908 (though never performed publicly) and later turned into a novel, was essentially a light-hearted comedy, one in which utopia prevails and most of the characters live happily ever after.

Looking at the actual state of the world a century later, it’s hard to be as upbeat as Sinclair: A disastrous “war on terror,” ecological meltdown, genocide, not to mention rampant human rights abuses, climate change, drought, desertification, and overpopulation. As ethnic and religious upheavals shake the world, the planet itself shudders under the threat of an environmental Armageddon.

Despite the self-congratulatory rhetoric of most political leaders, the US leads the industrialized world in the gap between the rich and poor, and gulf is growing. In fact, income is more unevenly distributed than at any time since the start of World War II. According to the IRS, the top 1 percent currently receive significantly more income than the bottom 50 percent. Globally, the World Institute for Development Economics Research reports that the richest 1 percent own 40 percent of the world’s total assets; the richest 10 percent account for 85 percent. The bottom half own only one percent of global wealth.

Meanwhile, automation and corporate globalization threaten massive displacement while major corporations develop new schemes to restrict the rights of workers. In the 1950s, unions won almost three-quarters of all representation drives. By 2000, they were winning less than half. In 1978, over 25 percent of all employees were in unions. Two decades later, the figure was 15 percent, and lower in many states. Suburban growth and "deindustrialization" have eroded the movement's traditional base. Along with the expansion of non-union industries, intensified international competition, and increased capital mobility, such changes seriously undermine the traditional image of organized labor as the central vehicle to press for improved living standards, increase leisure time, and counter exploitation.

In reality, labor’s fall from grace is a case of collective amnesia, brought on by the cultural emphasis of consumerism and individual achievement over participation and cooperation. Unions are widely portrayed today as just another special interest group, one routinely defamed in popular media as corrupt, selfish, or both. TV shows like The Sopranos reflect the general view: Perhaps a noble experiment once upon a time, organized labor has become a captive of "the mob" and is often betrayed by its own leaders. Yet the true, largely ignored history of the labor movement tells a very different story: a long and dedicated effort, despite often ruthless opposition, to shorten working hours, obtain a living wage, abolish child labor, eliminate unemployment, and win reforms like Social Security, equal rights, and medical care for all.

The first labor societies in the US, which were persecuted as illegal conspiracies, fought for minimum daily wages and a ten-hour day. How dare they, screeched the powers-that-were. Still, labor's early proposals, things like free public schools and elimination of imprisonment for debt, became law before the Civil War. As the industrial revolution took hold, however, management fought back. Spies and provocateurs were hired, detective agencies were used to break up strikes, workers were forced to sign oaths swearing they wouldn't join a union, and blacklists were created to keep potential organizers out of workplaces. In 1848, when Irish immigrant workers in Vermont went on strike for two months' back pay, the militia was called out to help management crush the protest. Railroad magnate Jay Gould expressed the cynicism of that time: "I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half."

Toward the end of the 19th century, the conflict between business and labor came to a head over the campaign for an eight-hour day. As one of the movement's martyrs, Albert Parsons, told a congressional committee investigating the "labor question" in 1879, "We want to reduce the worst disability of poverty by reducing the hours of labor; by the distributing of work that is to be done more equally among the workingmen, and consequently reducing competition for the opportunity to work."

NEXT: 1886 -- Labor Showdown in Chicago

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Considering Rumors & Pacifica’s CFO

It often seems like everyone has some untreated bruise or unmet expectation, a string of complaints that stretches from the East Coast to California. One of the words I kept hearing during my first days as Pacifica Radio’s Executive Director was disrespect, usually accompanied by a complex, bitter story that could date back years. In whispered tones, on the sidewalk or behind my closed office door, various versions of grudges and feuds leaked out.

Free Speech Radio News, a collective that had launched daily newscasts in 1999 as part of the affiliates boycott of Pacifica, felt exploited, wanted a contract, and was asking for almost twice as much money, employee benefits and editorial independence. FSRN critics said its core group and 200 correspondents produced an uneven show, ignored important domestic stories in favor of obscure overseas coverage, and wouldn’t engage in editorial give-and-take with local station news staff.

The only Internet specialist on the national staff, who managed national websites and internal communications, claimed he was being denied the most basic budget and accused managers of treating him like a child. Some managers and board members charged him with being a disorganized, defensive loner who rarely delivered on time.

The union stewards for KPFA staff said that young programmers, mostly black, published misogynist screeds, intimidated women, and held late-night parties in a basement studio. Programmers said some of the staff were lazy careerists who didn’t care about the listeners and suppressed truly radical views.

The new HR director, hired a few months before me, was overwhelmed, depressed, and didn’t even have a private office.

One way or another, many of the issues tracked back to Lonnie Hicks, who over the previous four years had expanded the scope of his post as Chief Financial Officer to the point where people quietly called him the Deputy ED. He rejected the description, yet proudly asserted that he was responsible “for every contract,” as well as development and fundraising plans, aspects of personnel, supervising both local and national business staff, and setting up systems “to handle most of what we need to get done.” He reported directly to the Board, he stressed, and suggested seductively that, due to the obvious division of power between the ED and CFO, “you and I are natural supporters of one another. We should vow from the start to do just that.”

This was precisely the sort of arrangement that worried many Pacificans, a united national management front that could, in a worst case scenario, potentially withhold crucial information and impose its will on the organization. “Lonnie is very much accustomed to running and being in control of most of what goes on,” one Board member wrote privately. “It may take some diplomacy and a little time for you to deal with him on that, but the bottom line is you are the ED. You are responsible for basically everything, he’s not.” Yet, whatever it looked like on paper, Lonnie knew more about the organization’s financial condition than anyone else, and his proposal suggested a form of power sharing as the practical alternative to a power struggle I might not be able to win.

Lonnie’s overall view was that three competing visions contended within the organization. When I asked what they were, he listed four: the clearinghouse, grassroots, national impact, and feeding models. The clearinghouse referred to those who didn’t want “a strong national Pacifica, just a resource provided for people doing productions. This is the most dominant,” he said. “It says Pacifica should just provide money for independent producers.” The grassroots approach was similar, but relied mostly on a volunteer-based model of community radio. National impact meant, to Lonnie, using resources to “raise local voices to the global level” and expand the reach of the network.

That left the “feeding” model. “Programmers have a vested interest in going on the air and using their shows to make money,” he said. “It began when people started making money off the revolt. In revolting against the national board, KPFA programmers told listeners not to send money to national. By my estimate, $500,000 in listener funds disappeared in 2001 and 2002. I started an investigation into who diverted that money.” Part of the reason why some people “demonized” him, he added, was that he knew about such financial shenanigans and wouldn’t put up with more “feeding.”

Another view, offered by disaffected staff and frustrated Board members, made Lonnie a master obfuscator who didn’t confer enough with the board, played favorites with the staff, rationalized his own arbitrary judgments and took credit for the ideas and accomplishments of others, all the while using his control over budgets to bestow favors or withhold funds as he pleased.

Which version was true? I didn’t know yet. It would take time and some personal experience to sort it out.

In the meantime, one of the most pressing issues was the need to replace the General Manager at KPFA. Just three days before my arrival, Ambrose Lane, who had been filling in as Interim ED for six months, had cut a deal with Roy Campanella II. After working as GM at the “flagship” station for little more than year, Roy was out, and deciding what to do next was on my desk.

Next: KPFA – How Campanella Struck Out