The East Bay Express June 4, 1999
Paul Rauber Sticks & Stones

What Part of 6,200 Don't You Understand?

Berkeley's embattled radio station, KPFA, has just finished its most successful fundraising drive ever, raising over $600,000, far above its $410,000 goal.The accomplishment is all the more remarkable given the difficult circumstances: general manager Nicole Sawaya and veteran commentator Larry Bensky fired, staff members disciplined for on-air comments about the situation, and a national parent organization, Pacifica, apparently oblivious to the depth of anger created by its actions. For instance, listners who complain via e-mail to Pacifica these days receive a canned response that includes this gem: "Pacifica's decision not to renew Nicole Sawaya's contract did not create the current situation -- the way in which people at KPFA responded to the situation did." The Japanese decision to bomb Pearl Harbor didn't create the World War II situation -- it was the way people responded to it.

In what turned out to be a brilliant strategy, KPFA staff made the pledge drive into a referendum on Pacifica's actions. Listeners were given the choice of making their pledges "under protest," and 6,200 of them did so -- just under 90 percent of all those subscribing.

The listeners have spoken. Now it's Pacifica's turn.

She'll Fit Right In

While the KPFA community holds out hope that Pacifica will agree to enter into mediation, Pacifica is attending to its own finances, hiring as fundraiser one Maria Acosta-Colon, former executive director of the Mexican Museum in San Francisco.

During her six-year tenure there, the museum's finances fell into shambles and so great was the workers' dissatisfaction that they decided to unionize. "The turnover of museum workers was relentless," reported the Chronicle on May 26, 1996, "with almost the entire staff -- at least a dozen people -- resigning in 1995, and some positions turning over more than once." Acosta-Colon's rule finally ended, according to the Chron, when "a last-minute attempt to fire the staff, break the union and temporarily shutter the museum was defeated by a narrow majority of the board of trustees." Acosta-Colon was dismissed, and the museum has spent the ensuing years fighting its way back to financial health.