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Fri

06

Aug

2010

Pacifica Cutbacks Raise Questions about Progressivism
Friday, 06 August 2010 04:43
by Kéllia Ramares
 
On the night of July 16, 2010, I delivered the following statement to the regular quarterly meeting of the national board of the Pacifica Radio Foundation. What you read here is a transcript of the statement as I delivered it, so it differs a little bit from a version also on the Internet that is the speech as I had written it.

I’m Kellia Ramares, news tech, journalist and board op at KPFA, one of the reporters arrested in the newsroom on July 13,1999 and co-founder of Guns and Butter.

On June 29th, I was informed that my work hours would be cut from 11 per week to 6. A 45% reduction, mostly in my hours as the weekend news tech. Six hours a week is not enough to live on.

And I will also add, since Anthony Fest brought up Ann Garrison, Ann Garrison gives me credit for putting technically together her stories. And she’s not the only one.

Is KPFA really so broke that it cannot pay me a little more than $1200 over the next three months? Because that’s the difference between 11 hours and 6 for me until the end of the fiscal year. If so, what is the cause?

If KPFA’s budget problem is that the payroll is too top-heavy with full-time, benefited employees, why make such devastating cuts to a quarter-time worker with NO benefits?

During a recent fund-raiser two Saturday news programs were pre-empted in an unprecedented move. Now the weekend news tech hours are almost entirely eliminated. Is this really an economic necessity or is it part of a plan to eventually ditch the weekend news altogether?

Or is it just further exploitation of non-union part-timers?

Or is it a mistake by our beancounting interim GM, whose Linked-in profile shows he’s all HR and no radio? He shows no regard for the consequences to programming on a 24/7/365 operation of slashing someone who works weekends, and holidays, and who fills in when people are sick, on vacation, on special assignment or have a household emergency.

Did Pacifica consider other budget options such as National taking a smaller cut of our fundraising, or renegotiating the contract for DEMOCRACY NOW, which has formed partnerships that give it alternative resources?

Do not hope better times will help the budget. Mark my words, we are experiencing the collapse of industrial civilization.

So NOW is the time for alleged progressives to prove another world really is possible:

Shredding the livelihoods of poor workers to achieve a certain bottom line, is not alternative or progressive. It’s Schwarzenegger cutting IHSS, it is the Congress dragging the feet on extending unemployment benefits. It’s BP.

Pacifica hires an election supervisor while they cannot keep a news tech at quarter-time hours? Is this the business of elections or radio? To those who say that I should not criticize this expenditure, because “we must democratize Pacifica”, I quote Confucius: “You cannot teach philosophy to a hungry man.”

And I will also say to those of you who are talking about news staffs in other places that KPFA is overstaffed. I think you’re understaffed.

And I refuse to be the collateral damage of the mistakes or malfeasances of KPFA management, past or present, and I refuse to be sacrificed on the altar of “democratization”. So I have given notice that July 25 is my last work day.  You can all go exploit someone else!

Good Bye!

I had intended to make two other points that I cut from the last draft of the speech for time. One point was to list the reasons I believed that we are experiencing the collapse of industrial civilization: The structural problems inherent in capitalism combined with the greed of the financial class, the corruption of governments and the energy and environmental crises exacerbated by the disaster in the Gulf. It was originally there so that the statement about the collapse of industrial civilization, which makes “The Great Recession” unlike other economic downturns, would not seem so hyperbolic.

My second point concerned that portion of KPFA’s listenership that claims that things were better at KPFA when no one was paid; they would like to see those days return. To them, I say here that as long as we are stuck in a money economy, community radio workers have the same right to support themselves with their skills as do the community janitors, grocery workers, nurses and teachers who look to KPFA to cover their labor struggles.

I actually submitted my resignation on July 13th, 11 years to the day of my arrest in the newsroom, on charges of trespass (charges later dropped), when the Pacifica Foundation closed down KPFA for three weeks in what many people believe, with some evidence to back that belief, that the National Board (PNB) at the time intended to sell the station. I had been there just a few months, and I had never been arrested; that form of protest is not my cup of tea. My decision to do so was a commitment to the station that changed the trajectory of my life.

Now I leave, thoroughly disappointed that I did not have the career I should have had there, had Pacifica truly been a progressive organization. But although Pacifica falls short of what I see as progressive, i.e. an institution that serves people rather than expecting people to serve the institution, I now question the entire alleged movement that calls itself progressive, and I invite others who use that term or terms such as liberal or leftist, to do the same.

Because of today’s economic and environmental crises, progressives must seriously ask themselves if progressivism is a philosophy that helps its adherents live healthy, secure, decent lives in the material world of today, or is it just pie-in-the-sky propaganda that institutions such as Pacifica use to get well-meaning people to give it money. If it is the latter, is not Pacifica, and by extension any other “progressive” institution that raises funds from the public, doing so fraudulently?

Pacifica has many problems of its own making, not the least of which are cronyism and a payroll that, in recent history, has been padded with consultants. (We were assured at the board meeting that the latter practice has been discontinued). I am sure that readers here who have worked for non-profit as well at for-profit corporations have had similar experiences.  Do those experiences indicate that the corporation is not progressive, or that progressives are not really very different from their more centrist or right-wing counterparts?

Is “progressive corporation” an oxymoron? Is there something inherent in the corporate structure that encourages progressives to engage in these internecine machinations, even as they call for equal justice for all beyond their corporate walls? If the answer is “Yes”, does that mean that true progressives must establish non-corporate institutions, and can they do so within in current legal and political framework in this country and the world at-large?

Is another world truly possible or will we just see corporate capitalism die a slow grisly death, returning humanity to the Dark Ages (if the human race survives the collapse), only to have future generations arise to experience the same triumphs and tragedies that we know as the human story?

Pacifica shares with the rest of the world a problem not of its making: The Great Depression of the 21st Century. Current economic conditions have caused a significant decline in revenues as both corporations and individuals retrench in the face of a destruction of financial wealth the likes of which we have not seen in about 80 years. Pacifica’s response was one it shared with other institutions that do not label themselves progressive: lay-offs and cutbacks.

Does that mean that Pacifica is not progressive or that progressives react no differently to economic problems than other people? In the society and economy we have today, is there no other answer to economic decline but to destroy the livelihoods of workers, even if the quality of the product or service that the corporation is allegedly in business to provide is hurt in the process? Is there no other answer but to destroy the livelihoods of workers even though the society insists that those workers support themselves by having a job? And even though those workers are also the consumers who drive the economy with their paychecks (allegedly). Is the difference merely that the progressive will at least appear to be sorry it had to happen while the non-progressive will actually be glad that the lighter payroll makes the corporation “more competitive”?

Last year, I engineered the broadcast of two candidates’ forums for the local station board elections. Each time, I asked candidates on-air about how they would go about getting more resources for the news department. Over the years, I had heard criticism of the department’s reliance on corporate news wires, but doing independent journalism takes time, money and resources we generally didn’t have. Some candidates passed on the questions. Others admitted that the need was there but they did not have answers for how to make it possible for more people to be paid to do the news. Others suggested that the station form partnerships with groups that could provide stories. (Don’t we criticize so-called mainstream media that gets their stories from interested outside parties?) Another suggested that since there were so many unemployed journalists around, maybe some of them would like to volunteer for the station.

Perhaps I should have walked out then instead of now. I have been critical since day one of the progressive reliance on volunteerism, even as I have prepared programs for the station without pay. Volunteer assistance is valuable, but volunteer-dependence limits the level of work that can be done because most volunteers have limits on their time and commitment. After all, they have to make a living somehow, unless they are pensioners, trust fund babies, supported by a partner, or have nothing better to do. Do you really want a product or service provided by someone because he or she has nothing better to do?

Volunteer-driven media cannot compete with the corporate juggernauts like Fox, CNN or the major wires. That should be of concern to people who oppose the war-driven, government/corporate stenography of much of the so-called mainstream media particularly on the right. Commentators such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly aren’t volunteering their time. They actually get paid quite handsomely to spew their propaganda. Paid reporters for the corporate media can spend full time pursuing stories, rather than having to work in an office or store and doing the journalism in their spare time like a hobby. 

All media, including the corporates are taking a big hit in today’s economy, largely due to technological changes. But citizen journalism, available across the political spectrum, but a special darling of the left because of its free speech nature and alleged purity of purpose, is destroying the ability of journalists to make a living. Paid journalists can’t compete with free. Is it progressive to expect, or even to demand, to receive free work in a society that demands that we pay for our food, clothing, housing and health care? Is it progressive to give donations to an institution for its infrastructure, but not to care about whether the workers in that institution can pay their bills?

The solution ultimately is to abolish money-based economics. Why must we pay to live on the planet we’re born on? But until that day comes, people have to make a living. So while we can be grateful to volunteers who deliver meals to shut-ins, spend time with at- risk youth, teach prisoners how to read etc., for a few hours a month, we should question the progressive “bona fides” of any organization that pays administrators, while it lays off or reduces the hours of rank and file workers, or wants unemployed workers to volunteer for what should be full-time or at least half time jobs. We should ask ourselves whether there really is an alternative to worker exploitation. If there is, we need to see it now.

I have known good journalists who have left the field because they could not make a decent living in “progressive” media. And now that I have left Pacifica, I have vowed to only work on stories I can place with a paying outlet. I may also distribute those stories for free if I am not contractually forbidden to do so. But someone has to “show me the money” before I will begin the work.

I laughed when I left KPFA for the last time last night. The short training session I gave my successor, who showed up unannounced to shadow me during an unusually difficult newscast, will not be enough to avert some disaster or another while she gets up to speed over the next several months. The news may look like Keystone Kops for a while and I guess I was enjoying a moment of schadenfreude. But, at the end of this week, I turn 55 and as I approach that birthday, without retirement savings, health insurance, or any social safety net except my life partner’s job and good will. I have had jobs, but never a career, and I wonder, not only if the last 11 years were a waste, but if progressivism is a waste. That’s no laughing matter.  

Can we do well while we do good, or is progressivism just a fancy name we give our struggle and poverty in order to make our marginalization seem noble?

Kéllia Ramares is a freelance journalist in Oakland, CA. She is also working on a book called The End of Money: a critique of paying, owing and working “for a living.” She can be reached at TheEndofMoney [at] gmail.com

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