Monday, July 17, 2017

KPFT's turmoil is a microcosm of the left's dysfunction in Texas

Texas Democrats can't find anybody willing to be slaughtered by Greg Abbott in 2018 (and that person will surely be slaughtered).  Texas Greens can't decide whether to even try to collect signatures for ballot access despite the handful of vacancies the Democrats will leave open for them to reach 5% (and access for 2020; Gadfly has already warned them this would demonstrate unacceptable weakness).

Update: Chris Hooks, though, is pumped -- pumped! -- about the Blues' 2018 prospects.  He's the same Jackass he's been since last year.  He has me muted on Twitter (told me so!) and probably doesn't read this blog, so I doubt whether he's capable of figuring it out.  All that matters that he gets paid to churn out the same drivel every two years, changing the names to protect the guilty.

And the smartest decision I have made in the past decade-plus of progressive activism was to avoid entreaties to engage in the local Pacifica radio station's politics like it was the bubonic plague.  Which it has been for its entire existence.  Alyson Ward at the Chronic (sorry to have to link to it; getting off the dope is going to have to be gradual):

Since its founding in 1970, the left-leaning Houston radio station has been bombed by the Ku Klux Klan, shot at, and has struggled to raise operating funds from its listeners. On Friday, the station boiled over yet again.

After less than three months on the job, Obidike Kamau, the station's interim general manager, was fired Friday morning by the acting head of Pacifica, the national foundation that owns KPFT, sparking a protest march by Houston staffers, board members and volunteers.

About 35 protesters gathered outside the station's Montrose headquarters Friday evening to support Kamau and demand his reinstatement.

Many of those mentioned in this article are friends of mine.  Some are Democrats, like Geoff Berg; some are nominally so (voting and participating in Donkey politics as a defensive measure, as Chris Ladd describes in his thoughtful piece here),  several are active to some degree with the Harris County Green Party, and another bloc of Democratic Socialists, Socialists, Communists, and unaffiliated independent progressives likely comprise most of the remainder of KPFT's supporters.

Kamau's dismissal came from Bill Crosier, the interim executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, which owns KPFT and four other noncommercial stations.

The California-based foundation is in serious debt — to the tune of $7 million — and has been sued by creditors across the country. On top of the money woes, Pacifica has been plagued by infighting and politics, inspiring media blogger Ken Mills to call it "public media's most embarrassing, dysfunctional and disappointing organization."

Crosier, who lives in Houston, was brought on early this year to help get all of Pacifica back on track. He said he didn't expect Kamau to turn KPFT around in 90 days, "but we at least need to get a plan for turning it around. ... We essentially don't have a plan yet."

All day at the station, Kamau's colleagues and supporters gathered to show solidarity — and to comb over KPFT's bylaws, looking for a way to nullify the firing.  By Friday evening, protesters were armed with signs and speeches that suggested race played a role in the firing of Kamau, who is African-American.

Crosier "calls himself a progressive, but he acts like Donald Trump," said DeWayne Lark, past president of the local station board.

Kamau's vocal supporters include Audel, the station's interim development director. (Yes, he's interim, too. The station is "so disorganized, half the major positions seem to be interim," he said).

"At a minimum, (Crosier) was extremely sneaky in how he handled it," Audel said. The board of directors was "completely blindsided."

Crosier acknowledged the dissent on the staff and admitted that the station's no stranger to controversy. "It's been like that at KPFT ever since I've been involved," he said. "I like to say KPFT attracts frustrated people."

More evidence of turmoil: At a meeting Wednesday night, the KPFT board heard and approved a motion to investigate Crosier. The motion listed several accusations that boil down to divisive management and mishandling of station funds. Friday's protesters called Kamau's firing "a retaliation" for that motion.

That's only the beginning of the station's problems, Audel said. "Let's be honest: KPFT, in a lot of ways, has been a laughingstock for a long time."

The station's programming has been solid, Audel said, but "businesswise, it's the Keystone Cops."

Crosier has appointed Larry Winters, a longtime KPFT deejay, to replace Kamau as interim general manager. But he said he's "open to negotiations" with Kamau's supporters. That might mean reinstating Kamau, he said, or arranging for Kamau and Winters to share the role.

"If they can come up with a plan, I'll be happy to reconsider."

Apparently not, as the spouse of one of the radio station's program hosts relates on Facebook.  Most of the dirty laundry aired there.  Benjamin Craft-Rendon:

The firing of Dr. Obidike Kamau from 90.1 FM KPFT Houston when he's spent his 3 months on the job trying to lower costs while maintaining morale among programmers seems like an infuriatingly bad call.

Three people tagged Crosier's personal page with their thoughts on his move: Rachel Clark ...

"(A) plan within (a 90-day) time frame would not have buy-in or be rooted in collegiality and in the spirit of collaboration. At best, creating such a plan would result in compliance, lack of energy, and programmers, staff, and volunteers, 'going through the motions'. Obidike understands this and had dedicated the last three months to changing the culture at KPFT. He set about having backyard parties on a regular basis once again to build community and raise funds. He also hosted the first two programmer meetings in years, and there was an energy and passion among programmers as well as a new transparency from staff and leadership that I don't think I have ever witnessed in my 17 years of being connected to the station.
Not only did Bill Crosier fail to take any of this into consideration in his seemingly unilateral decision, he also completely failed to acknowledge that Obidike was the first person of color appointed as station manager in KPFT's 40-plus year history. These blind spots are coupled with his ignorance of organizational leadership research that cites, under ideal circumstances, it takes three to five years to turn an organization around, with staff and community buy-in and a cohesive culture being key influential factors. I am not speaking as a representative for Houston IndyMedia, but rather as a volunteer who has been connected to this station since moving to Houston in 2000."

Ted Weisgal (founder of Houston's now-former Leisure Learning Unlimited):

"I had hoped wisdom prevailed but overnight (July 15-16) the interim executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, parent of KPFT, withdrew his offer to leave in place Dr. Obidike Kamau as general manager of KPFT. Many people including myself maintain that Mr. Crosier never had the right to remove Dr. Kamau in the first place because Crosier failed to follow protocols/the bylaws. Crosier, the INTERIM ED, says the bylaws don't apply here because Dr. Kamau was INTERIM. What rules do apply?
Crosier placed himself firmly behind the microphone during almost every early morning minute of the recent failed pledge drive and droned on and on while few people gave. I asked to be given an opportunity to pitch and only one morning was I granted, though briefly, that opportunity. I wanted to tell people the truth, that the drive was doing poorly. I was told not to. That was a bad strategy, they said. And now it's being used as grounds to fire Dr. Kamau. 

This is hypocrisy. When black people are denied the right to vote, it's called racist. When they aren't given a fair chance to do a job... there's no way around it: that act by Bill Crosier is racist too. This is about the survival and strengthening of KPFT as a progressive voice for the Texas Gulf Coast.

And Remington Alessi, more vehement about the racial aspect. 

The firing of Obidike Kamau from KPFT is the epitome of what people complain about when talking about white liberal racism. Hordes of safety pin- and rainbow-decorated white people are coming out to defend their friend, Bill Crosier, even if it means ignoring, gaslighting, and trolling the black folks who are explaining what a basic form of racism this whole fiasco is.

Crosier is my friend, but I'll be damned if I'll make excuses for this racist garbage. And shame on any of you white folks who do make excuses for it. I have a long memory, and so do plenty of other folks, so don't think we'll forget where you stand.

Crosier is also my friend of long standing, but he completely screwed the pooch here.  Tone deaf to both his white privilege and the demonstration of it to the listener community, unresponsive and then saying one thing and doing another after the move before retreating back into his bunker, Crosier created a Category 5 shitstorm that he should not be allowed to weather as an authority with Pacifica.  What he did wasn't just racist and incompetent but ridiculously stupid.

The larger point to be made is that in my relatively long activist experience, what all degrees of "The Left" seem to do best is fight almost constantly with each other -- and not just Hillary/Bernie-type shit, either -- which leaves no energy to accomplish anything of substance against the real political opposition.  The Democrats do it, the Greens do it, and the mishmash of progressives at KPFT have done it for decades as well.  There's an example in the field to be learned from -- an ecumenical movement toward a single goal, as it were -- but Houston's progressives are still busy tearing everything down to the slab.

It's the sort of backbiting and infighting that makes people new to the organizations (young people, non- or infrequent voters and activists in the case of political parties, volunteers and financial supporters in the case of KPFT) run screaming in the opposite direction.  Even those who've been active for a long period get burned out and withdraw, as David Collins has recently attested.

There's got to be a better way, people.

Update: Collins expands on my take with his own, as someone more involved than I with both the Green Party and KPFT in recent years.

Update II: If you'd like to learn more from the source about the Richmond Progressive Alliance (referenced and linked above), Steve Early is appearing in Austin later this month as part of a Rag Blog event, also hosted by Austin's DSA chapter and others, and will join the Local Progress conference there that weekend.


Gadfly said...

Having seen the history of Pacifica problems for years and years, I was glad, when living in Dallas, that KNON was an affiliate and not an owned station. Oh, it has its own problems at times, but nothing like this.

Harry Hamid said...

That's a shame about Kamau. I'm not exactly an active activist, but he had been to a couple different meetings I'd attended to reach out to the acivist community udring his brief tenure. I had big hopes for him.

The irony is that I've been around for long enough to remember back in 200 or 2001 when Duane Bradley became general manager in just such an uprising. At that time, everyone was revved up about how KPFT seemed to be focusing on music too much and leaving the politics and community behind.

With the Greens... Well, the Democrats have been throwing around the line that people need to ignore the Greens because the Democrats are back in Texas for a couple decades now, during which time they have won precisely zero races for statewide office. Texas needs a second party.