WBAI Rally

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Jan 6 17:34:38 MST 2001

A rally of about 1000 people was held today in front of the offices of
WBAI, the local affiliate of the Pacifica Radio network.



The themes addressed at the rally included the need to fight for democratic
communications in an age of corporate concentration and the need to defend
a class perspective in the face of demagogic appeals to the "race card".
Before getting into the specifics of the WBAI struggle, let me recapitulate
in broad brush strokes what the fight over Pacifica is about.

Pacifist Lew Hill, who was detained in a work camp for his beliefs during
WWII, formed the network after the war in order to preserve a space for
humane and progressive values in a period of rising international tensions
and reaction in the USA.

Pacifica radio programming is highly eclectic. On the same evening you
might hear a middle-class Jewish intellectual extemporizing about his
failed love life, an interview with a Zapatista, a music show devoted to
exploring the roots of reggae, and a call-in show dealing with housing or
immigration issues.

Pacifica has shined most of all on questions of war and peace. When the
Vietnam war started, a Pacifica reporter named Dale Minor was sent to
Saigon where he exposed the lies of the Pentagon on a daily basis. In the
1980s, the station provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Contra-gate
hearings and NYC reporter Robert Knight won a Polk Award for his exposé of
the invasion of Panama. Maurice Bishop of Grenada was a frequent phone-in
and live interviewee.

The radical analysis of US foreign policy arose the wrath of rightwing
Republicans about 10 years ago who tried to find ways to intimidate or
silence the network. Unfortunately, the real damage has not come from these
quarters but from the Pacifica Board of Directors itself, which embarked on
a campaign about five years ago to remove the radical edge of the 5
Pacifica stations. This campaign was initiated by Mary Frances Berry, a
high-level official in the Clinton administration. Even though she has
resigned in the face of protests, her appointees to the Board have
continued to push her agenda.

Three of network's stations have been transformed into bland,
music-dominated outlets: Washington, Los Angeles and Houston. When an
attempt was made to remove the program manager of the Berkeley station two
years ago, a massive struggle erupted that forced the Board to back down.

About two weeks ago a similar move was made in NYC. Bessie Wash, the
national executive director of Pacifica, who had overseen the taming of the
Washington station, had come up to NYC with an audacious plan to transform
WBAI. The program manager in NYC was an African-American named Valerie Van
Iseler who was unpopular with the producers. Wash proposed to a cabal of
producers that Van Iseler be removed and replaced by Utrice Leid, another
African-American woman who was a talk-show host of a popular afternoon
program. In addition, Bernard White, a morning host and Sharan Harper, his
producer, would also be fired. White and Harper are also African-American.


Despite the fact that all the fired personnel are Black, the justification
for the purge is that the station needs to be more racially "diverse". The
Pacifica board members, who tend to be from the upper strata of the Black
petty-bourgeoisie and well-connected in the Democratic Party, have
demagogically claimed that the station is too white and too old: bedraggled
leftovers of the 1960s so to speak. While there might be an element of
truth to this with respect to the Berkeley station, nothing could be
further from the truth when it comes to the NYC station which is heavily
representative of the city's Black and Latin population.

This did not prevent a cabal from forming that would collaborate with the
Pacifica Board. Although I would not use the term "reactionary black
nationalism" lightly, it has to be said that this is part of the problem.
While four of the producers who have aligned themselves with the national
board are African-American, there is little evidence in their programming
of a class perspective. For example, a frequent guest on Leid's show is one
Alton Maddox, an attorney who created a huge embarrassment for the Black
community by turning the Tawana Brawley case into a media circus (she was a
Black teenager who falsely accused white men of having raped her.) While
Leid and Maddox are capable of fire-breathing rhetoric, there is very
little of substance on her show. Although she has rebuked the Democratic
Party for neglecting the interests of the Black community countless times,
this has not stood in the way of her forming a bloc with the national Board
which is anxious to deliver the Pacifica network into the pocket of the
Democratic Party.

Except for the tiny group surrounding Leid, all of the station's other
Black producers have opposed the firings. Unlike Leid, most of these people
are schooled in principled class politics. For example, Elombe Brath who
spoke at the rally, has been a leader of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition
which played a key role in supporting liberation of the Portuguese colonies
in Africa and ending apartheid. He has been strongly influenced by the
politics of Amilcar Cabral.

Probably the most acute observations on the class-race dialectic at the
rally were made by Juan Gonzalez, who co-hosts the "Democracy Now" show
with Amy Goodman (Goodman has been harassed by the Pacifica board for her
radical politics.) Gonzalez was one of the key leaders of the Columbia
student strike in 1968 and has worked in the mainstream media for over 25

He recounted his experiences in the Daily News strike in 1990 when 2500
workers at the paper were forced to walk out by the Chicago Tribune, the
parent company. The Tribune had planned out its offensive months in
advance. Part of this included meetings with Black churches and civil
rights groups in NYC, where they tried to make the case that the newspaper
unions, especially the drivers, maintained racially exclusive membership
policies. Gonzalez was part of a corporate campaign that successfully
countered the Tribune's maneuvers. He and his co-workers successfully made
the case that, although there were racism in the unions, the company itself
was far more racist. Furthermore, it had collaborated with the union
bureaucracy to maintain these hiring practices. Eventually the strike was
won because the union was able to appeal to the largely Black readership of
the newspaper to not buy scab papers.

The need to preserve class solidarity in the face of such divisive plots
will become more and more necessary as the class struggle deepens in the
United States. To maintain unity against the bosses will require an
understanding of our history, as Juan Gonzalez exemplified. Another useful
source will be Sol Dollinger's "Not Automatic" which chronicles General
Motors attempt to use the same divide and conquer tactics in Flint,
Michigan at the time of the sit-down strikes:

>>The task of directing the union effort in the ethnic and African-
American communities was assigned to the former president of Briggs Local
No. 212, Emil Mazey, whom Widman had appointed as assistant director of the
Ford drive. The union established six offices easily accessible to the
large Polish, Hungarian, and Italian neighborhoods. The special attention
given to the Black ghetto reflected the huge resistance the UAW had to
overcome in a community suspicious of a union that hitherto had made no
special effort on its behalf.

The leaders of the union had adopted a stand against discrimination, and
its policies reflected this. As a consequence, the leaders were in fear of
a backlash from the white southern working class that pre- dominated in the
recent wave of migration to the auto plants. The customs of northern
society were similar to those of the southern communities they had
emigrated from. They came north filled with prejudice and hostility to
Blacks. The corporations, for their part, bolstered southern workers’
prejudices, deliberately pitting African-Americans against whites.

Ford’s reputation in Detroit as an employer of Blacks ensured that in its
fight with the union the corporation received the support of a large
majority of church ministers, the NAACP, and the Urban League. Ford, in
effect, developed a system of patronage with these Black ministers, who
could in turn obtain employment for church members. Ford was the largest
employer of Blacks in Detroit—some fourteen thousand worked at its plants.
Most were employed in the foundry, with its arduous, dirty, and dangerous
jobs. Roy Wilkins and Walter White, the two most important leaders of the
national NAACP, supported the UAW however. Wilkins, writing in the national
NAACP’s publication Crisis, directed his remarks at those church ministers
supporting Ford in Detroit who took exception to the national NAACP support
of the UAW campaign there:

"If the two greatly disturbed divines in Detroit feel called upon to attack
their one great national organization because of their love for Negroes in
Detroit, we invite them to Mr. Ford’s plants in Edgewater, N.J., Chester
Pa., Atlanta, Ga., Kansas City Mo., and St. Paul, Minn. (where blacks are
limited to janitorial work), and ask them if they will find anything in
these places to cause them to don the garments of the Lord and preach a
holy defense of the 800 million-dollar Ford Motor Company. The spectacle of
poor preachers ministering to the needs of poor people whose lot from birth
to death is to labor for a pittance, rising to frenzied, name-calling
defense of a billionaire manufacturer is enough to make the Savior weep."<<

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org/

More information about the Marxism mailing list