On June 13, 1999, Robbie Osman, a veteran of SNCC at age 19, made the following statement on his folk music program , Across the Great Divide. On June 18, KPFA reported that Robbie had been removed by Pacifica CEO Lynn Chadwick for violating the "gag rule." Robbie has been on the air at KPFA for more than 20 years.
Below is a transcript of Robbie's statement; a transcript of Mary Berg, who hosts the program preceding Robbie's, taking KPFA off the air for 2 hours during the time Robbie's program would have been heard; followed by articles on the storm of protest that followed.
Preceding Robbie's program that day was a speech by educator Jonathan Kozol in which he talked about how he'd been fired from teaching elementary school by deviating from the curriculum by reading a poem from Langston Hughes. Robbie opens his statement by making reference to Kozol's talk.
Robbie Osman: You're listening to Across the Great Divide on KPFA. I'm Robbie Osman. Jonathan Kozol was talking about curriculum deviation. Maybe..This is curriculum deviation time here on Across the Great Divide.
Those who have been following this crisis between Pacifica and just about..Pacifica organization..the leadership of the Pacifica organization..the present leadership of the Pacifica organization.. and just about everybody else connected to KPFA on the other side...all the people that work here and virtually all the listeners, and everybody here in the progressive community that has spoken out so far..Could be you think it's a pretty unbalanced contest..but with all of the..with every form of legitimacy except legal on our side, and the legal legitimacy -- which boils down to nothing more than ultimately the ability to call the cops, who will come with guns and enforce the legal legitimacy. And that's basically what it is. It's everybody against a law and, you know, a legal technicality and the force that that can bring. This gag rule.
But my deal is with you and not with Pacifica ultimately, and my legitimacy, my..any right that I may have -- and right is probably not the word for it -- any claim that I may have to it being proper for me to have these airwaves comes from you. And our deal has always been that...My deal with you has always been that I'll do this only so long as I can speak my heart and mind, and when I feel like I can't do that, then it's just exactly the same as being told I can't do this show. And if I felt that this conflict with Pacifica was small and personal, then I would think that it would have had no bearing on this air time. But it's obviously not.
And obviously that's only something that can be said in the shallowest most cynical way, given the thousands of emails and letters that Pacifica has received from listeners and the incredible response that the community that supports this station gave during the last fund-raising drive -- almost ninety percent of whom are contributors who requested that a box be checked on their contribution protesting the acts of Pacifica. There's clearly a hunger to know what's going on. And the idea stated by the Pacifica folks that we shouldn't bore -- and that's almost literally what they say -- that we shouldn't be boring the listeners with information about what's going on in their radio station -- is shallow and cynical, and if we don't want to live in world full of cretins -- people who yell and scream -- it's sad that we've become accustomed kind of spin nonsense. But you don't have to buy it.
So, I thought I'd steal a couple of minutes and tell you what's going on. There was a meeting this week. Lynn Chadwick, the Executive Director of the Foundation, called a meeting of the staff of the station. It was fairly suddenly called, and -- I wasn't there, but my understanding is that she congratulated them on the restraint that people had been showing vis a vis the gag rule, and..you know, announced that she was coming back into the station as opposed to staying over at Pacifica, and expressed the hope that the station was in the process returning to equilibrium.
This business of returning to equilibrium is important, because it's pretty clear that that's what she is and has been telling the Pacifica National Board and will be telling the Board in its meeting in a couple of weeks. It's not true. She's either lying to them or lying to herself, and any lack of comment that she's heard on the air, any diminution of people speaking on the air has more to do with the nature of people's programs and the nature of doing good radio than returning to equilibrium at this station. This station is moving away from equilibrium, and Pacifica needs to understand that, and Pacifica Board needs to understand that.
The solution of reading a very dull statement over and over again is in process. At this very minute a group of station programmers and staff are collecting recorded announcements from a wide variety of...Let's call them opinion leaders, people in the arts, people in the world of political organizing and political activity, musicians, writers -- just a wide wide variety of people. And we will put these on a recording. Lynn Chadwick knows, no matter what she wants to tell herself or Pacifica, that there are many many many many many people on the left who are prepared to make such statements. We will be put them on CDs. They will be impossible to take off the cart machine here. Programmers will play them and face the consequences -- just like I'm facing the possible consequences of talking to you...the curriculum deviation that you're listening to right now.
And that is gonna happen. If there's silence now, it is only the calm before the storm. We will have an endless supply of stellar people who are willing to speak up for KPFA and the staff here and against the actions of this tiny minority at Pacifica. That's one.
Two. You should know...I'm telling you this only because people..activity that people are not seeing is not the same as the lack of activity happening. And there's a lot going on that just hasn't reached the surface of noticeability and...Listeners out there should know that just because it's not happening on the radio yet it's not happening.
There was a meeting at my house last week. Several lawyers, including a past person involved in Pacifica, a past director of KQED, people very much in the know about entertainment and nonprofit law; a handful of private investigators who want to..who have sought us out to donate their services to the effort to protect KPFA. The convening group, who were Friends of Free Speech radio, who called the meeting and invited everybody..people who have, up until recently worked for and around Pacifica, who know where the bodies are buried. And we had a long and fruitful brainstorming session about what to do in legal approaches, and stuff is in the works also.
Then, part of the staff that's not represented by the Communication Workers of America met this Thursday and elected representatives to..elected their representatives to participate in this process. I will only say that they are people who are determined to see this thing..see it through to the end, determined to see Larry and Nicole back, determined to redefine our relationships with Pacifica and to stop this inappropriate takeover from strangers.
There's a letter from people of color telling Mary Frances Berry that...I'm sorry, a letter from African American staff, telling Mary Frances Berry to count them out, that they are on the side of everyone else in the community and in the station. There's a letter from people of color in process saying much the same and asking more good people of color -- writers, organizers -- to sign the statement supporting the staff here.
There's work within the station to democratize our process.It's hard, and it's long. Democracy is much less a function of the flow chart and much more a function of the culture of the station, or at least equivalent. Our democratic skills have atrophied over the years, and bringing them back is a struggle, but it's progressing, and it's part of the work that we're doing and part of what will not be reversed by Pacifica. And it's something you don't see, but it's something that's happening.
There is a mood of increasing militancy in the listening audience. I get it from everybody that I talk to.
So if Lynn Chadwick goes to the National
Board meeting in two weeks and tells them that the station is returning
to equilibrium, she will be lying to them and lying to herself. We are
moving away from equilibrium. We are strengthened every day in our
determination to struggle to have this station to be what it's been for
the community for all of these years, to be...to assert that it belongs
to the progressive community that built it and supports it, and not to
strangers who have usurped....only legally, who
have it only legally.
Last point. A friend of mine was in front of the station at a demonstration and approached by a reporter who was asking him questions. And the next day he got a call from Lynn Chadwick, and Lynn said, "Well, you know, I saw you out there talking to the reporter. You got my memo, didn't you?"..clearly referring to the reimposition of the gag rule.
We have to distinguish as we go through..you know, as we go through this struggle we have to distinguish what we're guessing and what we know. And this is..And we have to not make guesses, but to know what are guesses and what are real, because planning and doing too much on the basis of just our guesses is dangerous.
But I'll give you my guess anyway, so long as it's labeled a guess. Maybe it'll be less dangerous. I haven't spoken yet to a programmer who has had the notice about the reimposition of the gag rule put in their box. I think that the explanation for that is that this process of...That puts one more step in the process. I mean there's a process laid out of warning warning -- I don't know exactly how it works -- a series of warnings before an actual dismissal. And I think that by not putting this stuff in the box that process is being extended, so that Lynn can call up this person..and we finally intend to announce who he is. He will. We'll leave him the honor of telling the story on his own without my putting his name out -- but he's got no problem with putting his name on it when he feels like it. In any case, it's just extending it more. It's just laying it out more so that it doesn't come to a head before the National Board. That's my theory. So that she calls and says, "Did you see my memo?" and people can plausibly say no, because nobody wants -- that's the last thing I want -- then the next to the last thing that I want is to not be able to have this program, not be able to have this dance with you that we and that I've enjoyed so much over these years, and that I treasure deeply.
And so, there's a big part of me that wants to play the game and say, "Did you see the memo?" "No, it wasn't put in my box." And so then there's one more step before the ax falls. But since I know that principle, that my very sense of why I do this show, my very sense of why I love KPFA, forbids me from respecting this gag rule. And I know where it's going. And I sense that the game is to put that off until after she has to face the Board, so she can tell the Board that this station is returning to equilibrium when it's not, when it's heading..when the train is heading for a washed-out bridge.
I want to say this. Yes, I did get the message. I did read your memo. Don't call me up and ask me if I've read the memo. And much as it grieves me to say this, much as there's a huge part of me that wants to hold on to every program, every last minute of my ability to do this, you have my permission to cut straight past all of the intermediary steps. You can come and get me now. I am conscious...By my sense of conscience, by my sense of morality, I understand the gag rule. I think it's illegitimate. I will not abide by it, and do not play this...Do not play this so that you can lie to the Board about equilibrium at the station. If this ax is gonna fall, I'm telling you right now that we are reporting things..wonderful and respected people..that programmers, many of them, who just aren't..who don't have this program, who haven't had as personal a program as I do, and so who don't feel that they can speak the way I'm speaking on the air -- They will play it. You will have to fire dozens of us. You will have to kick out dozens of us. And if you hide that from the Board, that's...that's...it's deeply irresponsible. So that's done.
OK, enough talk in a music program.
Mary Berg - KPFA - 6/20/99
Mary Berg: Robbie Osman's
program, Across the Great Divide, has been heard over these airwaves for
twenty-two years. His program will not be on the air this morning.
On Friday, June 18th, long time KPFA programmer Robbie Osman was removed
from the air for speaking out against the gag order, which was
reinstated by Pacifica Executive Director Lynn Chadwick on June 8th.
In a radio station known for its free speech values, this is a contradiction. And it undermines KPFA's efforts towards a peaceful strategy for mediation of the current crisis. KPFA and KPFB in Berkeley and KFCF in Fresno will now leave the air. Please rejoin us at 1 p.m., when we will resume broadcasting with Mary Tilson's Back Porch. And if you can, come to the demonstration, which is happening even as we speak in front of our station. That's KPFA, Martin Luther King and University in Berkeley.
[followed by dead air for two hours]
the whirlwind: the community fights back
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT:
June 21, 1999 Coalition for a democratic Pacifica
Andrea Buffa 415-546-6334 x309 or
mobile phone 415-303-3540.
KPFA Air Goes Dead as Programmers, Listeners Protest Pacifica Arrests Nine Peaceful Demonstrators
BERKELEY, CA - On the morning of
June 21 Berkeley Police arrested nine peaceful demonstrators at community
broadcaster KPFA at the request of Pacifica Radio Director Lynne Chadwick.
Over 300 outraged KPFA listeners
and staff gathered on Sunday June 20 to protest the firing of veteran programmer Robbie Osman. They vowed to camp out in front of the station until Pacifica agreed to KPFA staff demands for mediation of the deepening crisis at the station.
Those arrested include Andrea Buffa, executive director of Media Alliance, and Barbara Lubin, a former Berkeley School Board member and director of the Middle East Children's Alliance. KPFA's signal went dead for two hours Sunday as KPFA staff refused to replace fired programmer Osman.
22 year KPFA veteran Osman is the third KPFA staffer to be fired by Chadwick for violating the so-called gag rule, which prohibits station staff from commenting on KPFA matters on the air.
"Lynne doesn't have the situation under
control," Buffa of Media Alliance said. "She's desperately, and aggresively,
trying to make KPFA's loyal staff and supporters go away. But it's not
going to work: we have kept this station alive for 50 years. We won't stand
by and watch it be taken from the diverse community that supports it --
At 5pm on Monday June 21, at KPFA, the Coalition for a democratic Pacifica will continue protesting. At 4:30 pm on Tuesday June 22 a press conference will be held.
Osman's firing is the most recent outrage in the crisis at KPFA, the oldest listener-sponsored radio station in the United States. The crisis began on March 21, when Chadwick dismissed respected station manager Nicole Sawaya. After two months, Chadwick and Pacifica still refuse to explain why they fired Sawaya. Pacifica also fired veteran programmer Larry Bensky and disciplined at least six other staffers for discussing Sawaya's termination on the air.
KPFA supporters and staffers will stay at the station until the Pacifica Radio board of directors aggrees to staff demands to: 1) Rehire Nicole Sawaya; 2) Participate in mediation of the dispute; and 3) Reverse disciplinary or adverse action taken against KPFA or Pacifica staff since Sawaya's termination. The Pacifica Radio board meets June 25-27 in Washington DC.
For more information, see www.savepacifica.cjb.net
SAVE PACIFICA BULLETIN ON ARRESTS 6/21/99
IN BLOCKADE OF PACIFICA OFFICES...AFTER HUNDREDS DEMONSTRATE IN SUPPORT
OF FIRED KPFA PROGRAMMERS...KPFA OFF AIR DURING ROBBIE OSMAN'S PROGRAM
TIME...URGENT NEED TO FAX PACIFICA BOARD MEMBERS IN D.C. THIS WEEK!
Fourteen people were
arrested today outside of Pacifica radio's downtown Berkeley headquarters,
after an all-night
vigil. The demonstrators were demanding the immediate presence of Pacifica radio's board chair, Dr. Mary Frances
Berry, who has refused to come to Berkeley to discuss the foundation's actions in firing Nicole Sawaya, and afterwards firing programmers Larry Bensky and Robbie Osman for discussing the crisis on the air.
Pacifica executive director Lynn Chadwick and members of her staff were seen removing boxes of material from the Pacifica offices after the latest arrests took place. KPFA news reported that Chadwick and her staff may be moving their headquarters elsewhere, to avoid further protests.
KPFA news also reports that Berkeley police had refused to arrest the protestors, but were forced to do so when Chadwick did "citizens arrests" herself.
A DEMONSTRATION IN SUPPORT OF THOSE ARRESTED...AND IN SUPPORT OF THE KPFA STAFF'S DEMANDS...IS SCHEDULED FOR FIVE O'CLOCK TODAY...MONDAY...IN FRONT OF THE PACIFICA/KPFA OFFICES...1929 MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. WAY (NEAR UNIVERSITY) IN BERKELEY.
On Sunday, hundreds of outraged KPFA listeners and supporters picketed the station for four hours beginning at 11 a.m., the time when Robbie Osman's "Across the Great Divide" is usually broadcast. Osman, a volunteer KPFA music programmer for 22 years, was fired by Pacifica's Lynn Chadwick on Friday, ostensibly for breaking the "gag rule" against discussing Pacifica's current crisis on the air. Chadwick was unable to convince/coerce anyone from KPFA's staff or management to go on the air during Osman's time period, so the station's transmitter was turned off for two hours. It's the first time since 1974 - when KPFA was off the air for a month, due to a dispute between station staff and Pacifica - that the station was silent during normal programming hours because Pacifica could not provide engineering or broadcast personnel willing to cross picket lines.
PACIFICA'S NATIONAL BOARD MEETS THIS WEEK IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
The staff of KPFA
urges all concerned to FAX or phone board
members at their Washington headquarters hotel, starting Thursday
6/24. LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE CONCERNED/OUTRAGED at the continuing
firings of key KPFA programmers and the general manager, the
arrests of protestors, and the unwillingness of Dr. Berry to
enter into serious conversations about Pacifica's arbitrary actions. If
you've written/e-mailed, or FAXed before...please send new letters, or
SEND YOUR OLD LETTERS AGAIN BY FAX.
Each board member
should get HUNDREDS of FAXes a day! You may also
want to phone board members to express your opinion.
1250 22nd St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20037
Board members are
Dr. Mary Frances Berry; Loretta Ross (at large);
Andrea Cisco, Frank Millspaugh, June Makela (N.Y.); Ken Ford, Bill
Lucey, Rob Robinson (D.C.); Micheal Palmer, David Acosta (Houston);
Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, Bob Farrell (L.A.), Pete Bramson, Jewelle
More news on the struggle to free Pacifica Radio