Pacifica, Pacifica!

Michael Albert

The current crisis at

Pacifica was unleashed with recent firings of prominent and appreciated

employees leading to irate listeners and employees demonstrating their

opposition widely and militantly. Any progressive alternative institution has to

utilize people who have been socialized within existing society, has to navigate

rules imposed by mainstream institutions whose requirements subvert our values,

and has to operate with limited means under harsh pressures. Not surprisingly

problems often arise, ranging from budget deficits and personal disputes, to

shortages of resources, time, or energy, to structural inadequacies in changing

contexts. An alternative progressive institution will not always operate without

friction, and to have impossibly high standards can lead to improper

recrimination and depression. But these facts of life in the complex world that

progressive institutions inhabit do not justify their ignoring progressive

aspirations and aims. Three broad areas of our activities give rise to

opportunities for hypocritical backsliding then rationalized by improper claims

about what "has to be": race, gender, and class.

(1) Our institutions

are not yet racism free, but this doesn’t give a license to whites to

establish and celebrate a racist division of labor or a racist culture in


(2) Our institutions

are not yet sexism free, but this doesn’t give a license to men to establish

and celebrate a sexist division of labor or a sexist culture in them.

(3) Our institutions

are not yet classism free, and this shouldn’t be a license for an elite

possessing capital or managerial prerogatives to establish and celebrate a

classist division of labor or a classist culture in them.

(1) and (2) above are

overwhelmingly established, as well they should be, but (3) is generally deemed

a juvenile or utopian excess. This failing with regard to class is devastating

to the morality and outreach capacities of our work.

In the case of racism

and sexism, due to the good work of anti-sexist and anti-racist activists, there

is very little confusion at least about the principles involved. For someone in

a progressive alternative institution or project to get up and say "we need

to have a racist or a sexist division of labor and a racist or a sexist

environment and culture in our institution" to do good work, would be

greeted with incredulity, derision and rejection.

On the other hand, in an

overwhelming majority of our progressive alternative institutions and projects,

it is the norm for those wielding most decision-making power (and often some

others as well) to openly assert that "we need to maintain a

corporate-style division of labor and environment and culture in our

institution," and their doing so is seen as a sign of maturity and

seriousness, rather than of hypocrisy and/or self serving ambition. This current

"class situation" is a storm waiting to explode, which, when it does,

will hopefully take our class complacency with it.

And now we come to

Pacifica, the single largest U.S. media institution progressives have any

positive relation to, much less any say over. Its future is critical. What is

happening at Pacifica is potentially much bigger than Pacifica itself because

what is happening there could not only positively alter Pacifica, it could also

impact more widely, just as the early efforts of movement women to challenge

movement men and of movement blacks to challenge movement whites spread far more

widely than its initial instances, and succeeded, at least to a considerable

extent, over the past few decades.

The problem at Pacifica

is not primarily that some leaders have become enchanted with their own

authority and oblivious to the stated norms and aspirations guiding the radio

network. It is not that some leaders have used their authority unwisely,

capriciously, and even vengefully. It is that Pacifica’s structure, like that of

most progressive alternative institutions, replicates the class relations of

typical corporate capitalist structures throughout our society, with

fund-raisers sometimes replacing owners, but with managers and other order

givers in their typical autocratic roles. When those taking orders comply such

structures appear stable and efficient, at least in some limited sense. But the

structures are never just and fulfilling for those who are disempowered, nor do

they promote internal and external anti-classist policies.

The crisis at Pacifica

is that the classist foundation of one of our largest institutions has run amuck

and thereby incited its listeners and workers alike into resistance, in turn

provoking repressive reaction, in turn awakening a wide array of aspirations,

not always perfectly expressed or manifested but rising to a pitch finally

polarizing the elites–as always–into the most autocratic and authoritarian

patterns imaginable in this context, likely even against their personal


The solution to all this

is not band-aid correction or a cooling off period or even a redress of

autocratic and wildly unwarranted decisions to fire various people, as positive

as such partial steps could be. The solution is to restructure Pacifica with a

clear understanding that this undertaking isn’t merely to solve a Pacifica

problem per se, but is instead an exemplary act, coerced by those occupying

disenfranchised class positions and aimed to provide a model for the entire

world of progressive and alternative institutions of how to treat class issues

with the same intensity and dignity and attention to progressive values as we

try to do regarding structural matters of race and gender.

This is an opportunity

to go to the heart of the class relations in our institutions and to embark on a

struggle to correct them, just as people have in the past undertaken the still

continuing struggle of going to the heart of the race and gender relations in

our institutions and correcting them.

To be radical is to get

the bottom of things rather than being satisfied for what is at best superficial

and temporary. We hope that in the Pacifica crisis some radical righteousness


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