Reading this article — “Family Feud; The left eats its own at KPFK” — made me wince many times… out of sympathy… out of recognition… at times kind of like watching a bad sit-com where a poorly cliched “comedy of errors” is about to climax, and it’s all too obvious what the painful outcome will be.
I’ve followed the Pacifica situation for years now, and it’s been clear to me that the old Pacifica national management seriously flubbed any attempt at improving, reforming or changing the network in any positive manner, even if we are to give the benefit of the doubt that their motives were indeed pure. Myopic and ham-fisted are two adjectives that immediately come to mind to describe their tactics. But I know less about the individual stations, although the situations at KPFA in Berkeley and WBAI in NYC both reached crisis points. I know even less about KPFK, Pacifica’s LA station.
I did meet former KPFK station manager Mark Schubb at a CPB conference back in the fall of 1997, and I spoke with him for a bit about the Pacifica situation at that time. He had quite a bit to get off his chest, and seemed sincere, honest, stubborn and exasperated. I listened, not necessarily agreeing, but not arguing because I was interested in hearing his point of view straight from the source (rather than assuming or trusting that others had portrayed it accurately). It was clear that even then things were tense, and maybe even desperate, and I truly got the impression that Schubb was trying to do what he thought was right for the station. Some folks agreed with him. Many, many others didn’t, and now those folks are in charge. I’m in no position to judge — I wasn’t in LA (in fact, never been there) — but I do have respect for many of the folks who’ve vehemently disagreed with him. At this point I only have sincere and positive hopes that the recent changes at Pacifica and KPFK lead to good things for the network and its listeners
I winced in recognition at this article because I’ve experienced first hand how these pitched battles can become ulcer-inducingly painful. I can’t help feel a little empathy for the folks who’ve lost their jobs at Pacifica, even if working with the previous Pacifica management was a bet — a bet that they’ve now lost. I understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of flesh-eating vitriol over efforts that you sincerely believe will reform or improve an organization — like a radio station. The spewing of such verbal acid is the direct result of a loss or lack of trust — a lack of trust that you have similar goals and the ultimate welfare of the organization in mind. Sometimes people can still come to an understanding and make clear and tangible those mutual goals. Too often, they can’t. It takes courage to stand up and pursue a strategy you think is right, but it’s only courageous because you know that you risk failure. That failure might mean that your efforts result in hurting or killing that which you are trying to help, or, in the case of former Pacifica managers, your efforts might just get you kicked out.
I’m not saying that any of the now-ousted Pacifica management were heroes or martyrs. I don’t know them, and I don’t know their true motives and objectives. In the end they are victims of their own decisions and alliances. Yet I have a really hard time believing (or maybe I don’t want to believe) that someone with any personal investment in the network would really want to destroy it or sell it out, even if that’s what was close to really happening. Sometimes it’s just best for you and the organization to jump ship when you realize that your efforts at bailing are not quite working as planned. That can probably be the hardest decision to make — to decide that the organization might be better off without you. Maybe more folks at Pacifica should have made that decision earlier.
Trust has been the biggest casualty in the struggle over Pacifica, and is the thing that will be the hardest and most painful to repair. But if somehow Pacifica cannot rebuild trust between its listeners, members, volunteers, staff, elected representatives and employees (and affilliates), then this cycle is just going to repeat. Trust I think is probably the most neglected yet most valuable commodities in volunteer and non-profit organizations. Trust comes from and results in working together and cooperating. The more investment and agency all participants have in determining outcomes, the more trust there will be. I’ve come to learn that democracy is only real approach. The more direct that democracy, the better your chances, and the less you have to trust someone to represent you, because I think that’s a crucial point where trust breaks down.
The more that Pacifica the organization lets people speak, act and represent for themselves in determining the future of the organization, then the more likely it will repair itself, grow and thrive.