Pacifica Foundation founder Lew Hill's son
speaks in D.C.
David L. Moore
University of Montana
Missoula, MT 59812
(short bio appended at end)
Presentation to Pacifica Board Meeting
I'm grateful for this chance to speak to you on crucial issues that have been close to my heart all my life. I don't presume to speak as an echo of Lewis Hill, Eleanor McKinney, or Richard Moore, but merely as a concerned citizen, a radio listener who knows that something is at stake here of immeasurably precious value and power. Neither that value nor that power can be measured in the standard market criteria of most contemporary broadcast media. One of the jewels of the twentieth century, a flash of peace in humanity's bloodiest century, is now struggling to retain its luster and its clarity.
Let me outline my two goals for the short time I have here. I want first to describe briefly how some of the changes and challenges over Pacifica's first fifty years have in fact refined and strengthened its founding principles; and second to suggest how the recurring cycle of challenge and revitalization brings us today to another opportunity laden with risk as in prior crises since 1949 for Pacifica to recharge. All parties in the current crisis might require specific risk-taking steps of revisionary communication and re-organization.
I believe everyone here is familiar with those simple and radical principles, forged in the 1940's and 50's when, amid a world of ultimate warfare and mutually assured destruction, Lew Hill and his companion pacifists conceived of a new broadcast medium: "to explore the causes of strife between individuals and nations which plague mankind with war" (Eleanor McKinney, "About Pacifica Radio" Broadcast, 1962. Eleanor McKinney, ed. The Exacting Ear: The Story of Listener-Sponsored Radio, and an Anthology of Programs from KPFA, KPFK, and WBAI. New York: Pantheon, 1966, 9-17: 9) I suggest also that in the very name of this organization lies the dynamic that both envisions and embodies the ultimate goal of peace as its own method.
I also believe that today, in the midst of the embattled terror that now ushers in the 21st century, everyone here is willing to consider something as radical as that pacifist thinking of fifty years ago.
Just how to explore those causes of strife on the air became early on a debate inside Pacifica which continues today. Matthew Lasar, in his book, Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network (Updated Edition. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2000), maps that debate as one between dissent, on the one hand, and dialogue, on the other, as the operative modes. In the early 50s, the Lewis Hill group identified respectful dialogue as the goal, while Wallace Hamilton's and various other groups at KPFA focused on righteous dissent as the goal of Pacifica broadcasts. Lasar describes it thus:
. . . Wallace Hamilton and so many others, instinctively experienced KPFA as a refuge from America, far less as a transformative force. The Hamilton group represented those who thought that the station's primary mission lay in the promotion of individual rights, in particular the right to dissent from American culture. For the Hill group, freedom and individual rights represented the foundation's secondary mission, the necessary precondition for the first: peaceable communication among human beings. (158)
Largely because of imbalanced polarizations in American culture, the dissent group prevailed. The Cold War, with its repressive House Committee on Un-American Activities, made the need for an alternative public perspective paramount. Patently, dialogue was more than difficult with the HUAC and later with the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. (And dialogue has been difficult recently between Pacifica communities and a Pacifica leadership which chooses armed security rather than open communication to protect its decisions.) Further, the continuing corporate domination of American media required complementary political views of dissent on the air. Across the decades, the gradual rise of the voices of people of color began to fill this forum with formerly silenced expression in music, literature, and public affairs.
Pacifica's achievements in its first half-century have been staggering, but what is most compelling about this history with its eloquent expressions of a different America, is that the original and eventual purpose of dialogue still remains. Dissent, once it finds expression, can, perhaps must, lead to dialogue. Indeed, dissent and dialogue are anything but mutually exclusive. In fact, precisely the opposite. They require and contain each other. Pacifica remains a public forum to wage peaceful dialogue instead of waging war.
In 2001, the need to root out aggression from our habits of thought and action has never been clearer. The need to recognize the insane cycles of adversarial reflexes has never more dramatically confronted nations and individuals. The need to find a format for a true but never tried e pluribus unum, for nourishing robust differences as the energy of community, for affirming a unum without denying the pluribus in the Middle East; in Northern Ireland; in the Balkans; in Rwanda; in Indonesia; in Afghanistan; in the WTO; in the USA; in Pacifica itself has never been more urgent.
Certainly some of the genteel civility of Pacifica's founders has been confronted by the articulate needs of diverse voices over the past half century. Those risen voices have taken Pacifica through a succession of new directions. Those multicultural directions in fact reaffirm what continues as the viable legacy of Pacifica's visionary founders. Peace remains both the authentic means and the authentic goal.
As Acoma Pueblo poet, Simon Ortiz, writes, we have to rethink an America "which has heretofore too often feared its deepest and most honest emotions of love and compassion. It is this story," Ortiz writes, "wealthy without an illusion of dominant power and capitalistic abundance, that is the most authentic" (Towards a National Indian Literature: Cultural Authenticity in Nationalism." Melus 8:2. Summer 1981: 7-12: 12). America equals compassion? Here is a Native American critiquing centuries of colonialism, claiming that an authentic America can find its own heartfelt recognition of differences, a recognition that is not only respectful but genuinely loving. This is an example of dissent speaking in dialogue.
Pacifica is in a unique position to write that new story of authentic communication. If the end product is to open up the possibilities for peace, the process requires or is made of peaceful means.
What does that mean? What does that require? For progressive journalists surrounded and overwhelmed by corporate media, peace can mean finding ways to articulate political questions without being partisan. For the board, to foster media free of government or corporate intervention, peace can mean promoting democratic dialogue in the direction, management, and funding of those media.
That was Lew Hill's key theory of listener-sponsored broadcasting, giving the responsibility to the broadcasters and the community. As Lew Hill said in 1951: "The idea of freedom in radio . . . requires that the people who actually do the broadcasting should also be responsible for what and why they broadcast. In short, they must control the policy which determines their actions" ("The Theory of Listener-Sponsored Radio," Exacting Ear 23). By this logic of risk, peace in freedom is assured without hierarchy and with democracy. Those high ideals require raw effort. If there is anything I learned from my parents, it is this, that the rigors of mutual recognition can transform polarized situations for the better, that the discipline of loving communication opens radical possibilities. But what happens if parties refuse or do not know how to communicate? I must leave that question for now, begging you all to summon your willingness to speak together and consider the following practical suggestions.
Specifically, with the recent constrictions placed on alternative radio by the FCC's relaxation of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, and by the 1996 Telecommunications Act's invitation to corporate monopolies, a Pacifica approach means that many voices progressive and conservative, pro and con on each issue can only find dialogue in the clearest articulation of the issues by the principles of non-violent communications.
Demonizing the other only accelerates polarization. Polarization begets polarization. Opposition begets opposition. But this simple logic leads to the clear solution: peace begets peace.
In Pacifica's internal crisis, the ends are again identical to the means. Both sides (an oxymoron in Pacifica) must give up something. The staff and listeners must stop demonizing the board; the board must stop dehumanizing the staff and communities of listeners by denying them power.
If in 1953, Lew Hill reluctantly caved in to a corporate model of management (as the pacifica.org web site quotes his letter of that year), now it seems that his original ideal for Pacifica of democratic management by council is again viable. The most practical daily interactions require the virtues of respect and justice, as we can see in the deliberations here this weekend.
Enlightened despotism does have its proper time and place. But when it overreaches power, then democracy must step in, if not in the messy anarchy of huge committees then perhaps in the technically republican" mode of tiered elections of managing councils and leaders. That is a specific recommendation based on Pacifica's founding principles: to re-institute a process of Local Advisory Board input and membership on the national board.
Everyone has to give up something: the staff has to give up partisanship; the board has to give up power. Both sides have to give up negative tactics which demonize and dehumanize the other.
Every advancement requires a return to or a rediscovery of elementals. Good communication means clear expression and response. Today this means a basic redistribution of authority and a re-attribution of dignity to all parties, as democracy means recognition of inherent dignity of individuals and trust in their equal exercise of authority.
How to do this? How to approach the internal crisis? And how to translate such communication principles to broadcast journalism? Is it possible to express dissent in a mode of dialogue? It certainly takes a new mode of expression and a new mode of listening. There are a number of models of mutually respectful communication. Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers outlined one model in which each party can articulate the merits of the other's position to the other's satisfaction. Another model, Marshall Rosenberg's non-violent communication strategy, has 4 steps based on honest expression and empathic listening: observations, feelings, needs, and requests. Anyone interested can adopt such models, hire skillful mediators, and decide to try a new medium.
I observe a crisis of communication inside Pacifica. I feel afraid for Pacifica and for the world. I need to know that there is hope. I request that you please use mutually engaging and peaceful means to achieve Pacifica's peaceful ends.
Such a direction hearkens back to one of Pacifica's most dynamic internal principles suggested by Lew Hill at the very beginning: "In a crisis grow. That's the only creative possibility take a risk and expand." The phrase was to become the key to many decisions in the history of Pacifica. (Exacting Ear 11). The board is taking a tremendous risk in redistributing power. The staff and community are taking a tremendous risk in reclaiming that power to fulfill Pacifica's purpose in their lives and workplace as well as in broadcasting. The airwaves need a place for artists and thinkers to take outrageous risks, and Pacifica can take risks to re-open that forum.
When KPFA had to close temporarily in 1950 for lack of funds after its first fifteen months, and when the listeners rallied enthusiastically to save the station, Lew Hill and his friends recognized the opportunity, and moved to expand. Nine months later the station recommenced broadcasting more programming via a stronger signal, and has been broadcasting ever since.
This is the kind of opportunity facing Pacifica today: when the resources have been pinched off, it's now time to open the doors and rather than constrict power, to grow further to a more democratic pool of minds, hearts, and hands and voices to keep Pacifica alive.
top of page | home