Support the Listeners Strike
The following is an excerpt from a draft I've been circulating privately for comment since 1/26/01. The theme of this section is the need for a listener strike. I offer it now in support of the public position of the Pacifica Campaign (www.pacificacampaign.org).
In the abscence of an effective, high level of unity-in-resistance between the staffs and listeners, that listeners have 3 kinds of power at their disposal ( See my article Toward a People's Pacifica.)
1. Legal power- best exemplified by the Listeners Lawsuit.
2. Political power- the power of building public opinion thru marches, letters, press work, civil disobedience and so on- the height of listener power in the movement to free Pacifica was reached in Berkeley in July 99, at the mass rally of 12- 15 thousand, and a similar potential was shown by the large listener meetings in NYC.
3. Economic power. The bottom line is this. Pacifica, despite Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other outside funding sources, is still fundamentally dependent on listener sponsorship for 80% of its budget. A listener strike has always been the most potent weaopn in the listener arsenal- one that to date has been used cautiously, at best. There are good reasons to have used it cautiously, but now, at this juncture we feel its imperative to explore the possibilities concretely in a WBAI context.
Of course, this brings us face to face with the upcoming WBAI fund drive.
During the KPFA takeover, there was also a fund drive, but the situation was markedly different. A rebellious staff and management had control of the station, unlike the WBAI situation, where management is fully under PNB control.
KPFA had a record fund drive under the conditions that prevailed there because listeners were able to support the fund drive as a statement of support for the rebels. A very large percentage of the pledges made during that drive were made "under protest", in support of a rebellious staff.
Listeners at WBAI don't have that same option - contributing to the fund drive won't signal resistance - rather, it will signal acceptance of and support for the Leid/ PNB takeover - and Leid will claim just that if the fund drive succeeds. If the fund drive fails, then she will blame the staff.
Unless listeners have carried out a plan to disrupt the fund drive in protest of the PNB's efforts to take down WBAI and Amy Goodman. ( Supporting Goodman as a key demand is especially important in rallying the support of listeners and staffs of the affiliate and other Pacifica stations.)
A listener boycott under these circumstances is almost a no-lose situation. If it has impact, then it will be seen as a key victory. If its impact is small, well, that's the fault of the gag rule and the disassociation of Pacifica from its listener base - the point of departure from which the entire crisis has arisen.
We say "almost" because there is this- the impending by-laws revision by the Pacifica National Board that will make the sale of WBAI or KPFA more likely.
We do not concur, however, with those who view this as an effective block on the kind of dramatic action embodied in a listener strike.
The Pacifica National Board has long been maneuvering to get itself into position to sell WBAI or KPFA. It has generated all the pretext it needs by claiming long ago that the staffs at WBAI and KPFA are "dysfunctional" and by suggesting that one of the stations should be sold ( both are in the miffle of the FM band- prime commercial spots- unlike the other Pacifica stations which are in the educational bandwidth normally reserved for community and college radio.
Indeed in 1999, the PNB precipitated the conflict that "led" to the armed lock-out at KPFA by leaking a memo from one of its members calling for the sale of WBAI or KPFA.
The sale of one of the stations is their plan, and the notion that we could "cause" them to carry out what they already plan to do is questionable- highly questionable.
Its my thinking that the opposite is more likely to be a sound strategic perspective: that a listener strike or boycott could apply so much pressure, create so much publicity and turn so much critical attention on the PNB, that the likliehood of a sale would be greatly reduced.
It was precisley the dramatic elements of the KPFA story that caused it to become and international story- the armed takeover of the stations seemed something more likely in an overtly facsistic country than in the U.S.
In the abscence of an on air rebellion, a listener strike is the only avenue I can see for taking the struggle to the same level that caused the PNB to back down in their takeover attempt at KPFA.
One thing is clear , that the kind of struggle we're engaged in always progresses in a tit for tat way - through a series of escalations and counter-escalations. Its brinksmanship in word, and the first one to blink, the first one who fails to meet and up the ante, loses.
We don't want to lose WBAI or the Pacifica network. We want to win.