An Open Letter to the KPFA Community:
From Robbie Osman

These are hard times. We are weary of the fight that has taxed all of our resources for over a year and we ache for the time we can begin to heal our wounds. But we must still make crucial decisions carefully and together and we need to hold our discussions honestly and fairly. I am troubled by the possibility that Jim Bennett will accept the job of general manager in defiance of the often repeated and widely supported demand that Pacifica offer the job to Nicole Sawaya.

In this letter are some of the reasons the KPFA community should refuse to accept any manager until Nicole has been offered the opportunity to return. And why Jim should refuse to apply for the job until Nicole has turned it down and an appropriate hiring process has occurred. I ask you all to evaluate the points and questions raised here critically but fairly. And I ask everyone to consider what sort of new KPFA we want to come out of all of this work and pain.

I think we need to keep two ideas separate in our minds as we discuss this. One is the attempt to achieve the return of Nicole. Another is the need to hold to the demand that Nicole be offered the job before it is offered to anyone else whether or not she actually returns.

Some say that the demand that Pacifica offer the opportunity to return to Nicole has become irrelevant because Nicole is unlikely to return even if she were offered the job. It is true that Nicole is not likely to come back. But we have to wonder why Pacifica is so unwilling to make the gesture. Despite considerable pressure to do so and little practical reason not to Pacifica's leadership has refused to concede this demand. They know, and we should too, that if they set such a precedent, if they let it be known that their unreasonable decisions can be reversed, the nature of all relationships within Pacifica will be opened to the possibility of change. Nicole was fired because she spoke up for KPFA and because she pushed for a more appropriate division of decision-making within Pacifica. She was fired because Pacifica doesn't want people like Nicole (or Larry Bensky, or Dan Coughlin, or Amy Goodman, or Laura Flanders, or Verna Avery Brown) in the organization at all. If we drop or sidestep our demand that Nicole be offered the job back we may still give lip service to the idea that removing people like Nicole cannot be tolerated but we will have shown to our friends and to the Pacifica Board that we will tolerate it in actual fact. And that can mean disaster.

Once we accept this misuse of power where will we be able to draw the line again? When they mess with our budget? When they tell Jim he has to rein in Dennis Bernstein, or Larry Bensky, or me, or you? When they cut staff? Accept corporate funding? Demand that Jim put person x in as program director? Will we be able to gather our supporters together if they fire Jim for standing up for something important? What do we do if they do one of these things? Say no? This shall not pass? Ask the community to come to our support? We said no to the firing of Nicole. Thousands of us said no to the firing of Nicole and Larry. We have demanded that she be offered the GM job again. When we finally drew that line and called upon the community to rally around us, we had already waited much too long. But at last we had drawn a line. If we abandon that line, and betray the people who fought for the return of Nicole and Larry in the process, we will not be able to hold any line and we will never be able to regain the trust and support of those who have demanded their return and were sold out.

We must know that there will be hundreds of activists who will feel sold out if Jim accepts this job. The demand for the return of Nicole has appeared in all versions of all the demands of all the groups in the struggle. A set of demands is a contract, an agreement made by groups and individuals with other groups and individuals. And it is a contract the station entered into with its contributors and stakeholders and which was repeated and sworn-by time and again in on-air appeals for money. It can be changed or dropped in a process that is as comprehensive and inclusive and unanimous as the process that established it but if one segment of our common struggle abandons it alone it will be a devastating blow to our unity. It will demoralize the resistance to Pacifica's continuing aggression against KPFA and against the progressive vision we all want it to stand for. Pacifica knows how demoralizing this could be. That is why they have pressed the issue and refused to let Jim's interim status continue.

Some of the people who are intent on accepting Pacifica's ultimatum on ending Jim's interim manager status and on allowing Bessie Wash to unilaterally hire Jim as manager of KPFA have accompanied their campaign with an effort to discredit the steering committee which they accuse of having failed to consult with and involved its constituencies. Discrediting the steering committee became necessary because as the one body that represents all of the KPFA stakeholders it passed a strong resolution saying that no manager would be considered acceptable unless it is Nicole or, if Nicole declines, unless there is an appropriate hiring process. Let's look at the charges against the steering committee and then let's take a look at their context and meaning.

The steering committee has worked hundreds of difficult, often tedious, hours. But as far as policy goes it has only done four things. First, it decided, amidst extensive station-wide and community-wide participation and debate and with the approval of the great majority of KPFA stakeholders to enter into mediation with Pacifica. Second, it conducted that mediation and after some fruitless months left it. There has been no holding back information about what happened in the mediation process. Pacifica's complete refusal to come into meaningful discussion is one of the most reported facts of the struggle. Third the steering committee formulated twelve demands. It is an injustice and flat-out wrong to accuse the committee of failing to involve all of the constituencies in formulating the demands. We solicited and read and discussed almost a hundred written proposals. We brought a draft set of demands to each of the constituencies, held meetings at the station, in the North Bay, on the Peninsula, and in the East Bay. We discussed them extensively on the air and took call-ins. And we adjusted the final version to accommodate the input. The fourth thing the steering committee has done is to recognize that our mandate and membership need to be reexamined and renewed if we are to continue and we have been discussing ways and means to do that. That process is just starting.

But the talk aimed at discrediting and discounting the steering committee is not, at its core, a push to renew its mandate and reconfigure its membership. Think about what has been said in the halls and at the recent staff meeting. "The steering committee has outlived its usefulness." "It has exceeded its mandate". Has it? And has a replacement been proposed? The push for abandoning the central symbolic demand of the struggle (the return of Nicole) coming together with the effort to discredit the steering committee, which is, after all, the only inclusive voice the struggle at KPFA has, is, we need to be frank here, motivated by weariness and a will to stop fighting. Although those who have been pushing this policy may not want to admit it publicly or even to themselves it is motivated by a willingness to surrender.

This is not the time to surrender. For one thing Pacifica will eat us alive in no time. The implicit theory of those who want KPFA to accept Jim as manager and abandon our first demand is this: the Pacifica board and KPFA (along with the national coalition of progressives that has joined our cause) have each shown the capacity to hurt the other. If we back off a bit maybe they will back off too, begin to treat us better, and abandon whatever designs they once had on KPFA and the Pacifica network. This hope, mostly unsaid, embodies the hope that if we stop pushing for what is right, they will stop pushing for what is wrong and a period of truce followed by a period of healing can begin. This wishful thinking can't be supported by the evidence.

The board majority continues to reject moves toward peace and continues to attack KPFA and Pacifica as we have known it. They have brought a heavy-hitting, union-busting lawyer and a media broker onto the National Board. They removed the most progressive staff from PNN.. They harass and marginalize Amy Goodman. They attack Tomas Moran and keep him from playing any role in finding a workable compromise solution to the conflict. They have announced that the bill for the IPSA guards and their occupation of our station will be paid out of KPFA's budget. They maintain their absolute control of our money. The Pacifica board's governance committee is discussing ways to remove dissident LAB members. They are discussing ways to dissolve the LABs. They are discussing ways to remove dissident board members. If they were interested in an undeclared truce they would choose unambiguously progressive people for new slots on the board. If they really wanted an undeclared truce they wouldn't be pushing for a change in Jim's status as interim manager. Caving in to them on Nicole and Larry will not cause their attacks to stop. It will do the opposite; it will show them we can be bullied.

This is not the time to surrender because we can win if we don't . We have found resources and strength that they and even we did not suspect. The current majority on the Pacifica Board is losing its hold. To surrender now would be to give them a victory that they cannot otherwise achieve.

Consider this:
Massive community support has compelled Pacifica to return KPFA to the community that gave it birth and has supported its growth for the past fifty years.

By drawing public attention to their actions we have forced the resignations of board chair Mary Francis Berry and Executive Director Lynn Chadwick.

KPFA activists have established effective ties with the staff at WBAI and with the LABs in New York and LA. And are working on our ties with the LABs in DC and Houston.

In New York our allies, outraged at the board's proposals for new members fought for and obtained the placement of two progressive board members. If we can keep up the pressure their voices may bring some perspective to a board lost for the last several years in its own mythology.

The KPFK LAB has voted to remove Mary Francis Berry ally Robert Farrell from the board.

The WBAI LAB voted to remove Mary Francis Berry allies Frank Millspaugh and Andrea Cisco from the board.

KPFA activists have identified and established working relationships with opinion leaders in the progressive movement who are determined to fight off the current board's misguided leadership. These contacts are deepening and expanding.

Members of the Local Advisory Boards just won the crucial first round in a suit that maintains that they have been illegally denied their rights within Pacifica by the National Board. This means that it is likely that this suit will return some power to the local Pacifica stations. It also will permit a process of legal discovery which will pierce the veil of secrecy that Pacifica has drawn around its finances and its actions. And that may well bring us new avenues to pursue. Just this week the LAB plaintiffs filed papers asking the judge to enjoin the Pacifica Board from ignoring its own by-laws and other illegal practices.

Another suit is being readied that argues that the board has usurped power within the network by a variety of illegal actions and asks the court to remove the current executive committee. The presence of this suit can alter the playing field. Each new illegal action by the board strengthens this suit and therefore much of the outrageous behavior the board has been free to engage in until now will have to be measured and even curtailed (or it will cost them in court) .

There are several other suits pending against Pacifica.

There are effective and active KPFA support groups all over Northern California. And effective and active groups working in the signal areas of all five Pacifica stations.

Another victory has been the success of the stringer strike . Reports from the NFCB conference indicate that the stations which had been receiving Pacifica National News feeds are encouraging the stringer strikers to continue to produce their alternative to PNN in which they have lost faith and patience. Thirty-two stations now carry Free Speech Radio News.

This is not the time to signal a retreat to everyone who has done such powerful work.

I know there is tremendous reluctance among the staff to take a stand that seems to reject Jim. Honoring a commitment we made to each other and to all of the listeners, telling Jim that we expect him to honor that commitment, is not rejecting Jim. Jim has actively sought to make this a referendum on his 'nice-guyness'. It is not. Jim may be a nice guy; Robbie may be an asshole. It's not what this is about.

We are contending against determined, well connected, well financed, aggressive, people who hold a majority on the Pacifica board and who disdain what Pacifica has stood for and been for fifty years. And we can beat them. At stake is the future of the most important media outlet held by the progressive movement in the United States. If we surrender we will see the 'voice of the voiceless' delivered into the hands of union-busting lawyers and wheelers and dealers in radio stations and sports franchises. That is not hyperbole it is the simple truth. We are tired but we have a responsibility to keep our eyes on the prize.

A word about the process of this discussion. My position on this question and the fact that I have been bringing it up at meetings and discussions has precipitated an avalanche of accusations against me and against Friends of Free Speech Radio. As someone said to me today, there is a firing squad gathering. The accusations are false, more importantly they are not relevant to the issue. Their purpose is to retaliate for my criticizing Jim's unwillingness to take himself out of the running for the GM job. One of the responsibilities of leadership in a democratic institution, or even a vaguely accountable one, is accepting scrutiny and criticism. If Jim proposes to lead well he has to create an atmosphere in which it is possible to criticize or even oppose his leadership. In the bad old days at KPFA criticism was often met with reprisals and accusations. I wish we could say that we worked our way out of that on our own. In fact we were just lucky; Pacifica mistakenly hired a manager, Nicole Sawaya, who would not tolerate that abuse of process and who saw it for the violation of our principles that it was and is. Nicole gave us all a taste of living and working a new way. It saddens me to see how quickly and easily we are slipping back.

As it happens, it looks like a manager will be hired without an appropriate hiring process. There is no reason to be optimistic about Pacifica ever recognizing our right to be part of hiring KPFA's managers or our right to keep the managers who do the job as it should be done if at this moment, having come so far, we abandon our insistence that that they respect that right now. If we abandon our insistence that Nicole be offered the job back, her job back, the job that she lost defending us, then we may never get to pick our own managers again. And we will have squandered an opportunity bought for us by the work and energy of thousands. That would be a crying shame.

It is my hope that there will be widespread discussion of this issue. I hope, too, that KPFA stakeholders will email and call Jim about this. He is about to make a decision that will affect us all for years to come.

And I welcome your thoughts.

Best wishes to all,

Robbie Osman

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