in the Room:" It's Sexism
In August, the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) met just days after
the press had reported the board's vote to keep Roy Campanella
on as general manager. The vote came in the wake of the firing
of two women programmers for daring to report sex discrimination
by Flashpoints producer Dennis Bernstein, and the news that eight
new complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination, this time
against Campanella himself, were being filed with the Department
of Fair Employment and Housing and the National Labor Relations
Board. Stunningly, it also came despite the recommendation of
the board's own investigator that Campanella should be fired.
At the previous
LSB meeting in July, the room was filled with women, detailing
their experiences with Campanella both before and after lodging
formal complaints against him. Those complaints include Campanella's
repeatedly asking the women for dates and, when they refused,
publicly denigrating and retaliating against them, slandering
them, and threats of termination and funding cuts. They also outlined
eight months of attempts to get their grievances addressed by
station management, the LSB and the Pacifica National Board, all
to no avail.
It was a powerful
show of strength, bolstered by firsthand accounts of incidents
of male violence at the station (none of which resulted in disciplinary
action), and a statement of "no confidence" in Campanella,
signed by more than 70 paid and unpaid staff. In an unrivaled
act of courage, Maya Orozco, administrative assistant to Campanella,
publicly described her working environment as a "toxic cesspool."
in July, it was hard to believe the LSB would be able to weasel
out of their responsibility to ensure a safe and equitable work
environment for women at KPFA. But weasel they did.
It's Against the Law
be clear . . . what all these women have complained of is illegal
behavior. Every act of retaliation is another illegal act, exposing
KPFA to another completely avoidable lawsuit.
A number of
people we've spoken with have said, "It's not gender discrimination;
Roy asked guys out too! Bernstein is abusive to everybody, not
just women." This is an oft-used defense to claims of sexual
harassment and gender discrimination. But it just doesn't fly.
week in a similar case, the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals
ruled that sexual harassment doesn't have to be motivated by sex
or sexism to be illegal, as long as the harasser abuses one gender
more than the other. Under this ruling, even if KPFA uses this
"defense" to the claim of illegal conduct by Campanella
and Bernstein, it doesn't get them off the hook. KPFA still has
a huge liability because, not only were women most-often targeted,
only they were disciplined and fired. And they were fired, not
for illegal or unprofessional behavior, but for reporting illegal
and unprofessional behavior. That's against the law.
that's been created here gives every one of these women grounds
for a lawsuit against the station. In fact, under another recent
court ruling, even women not targeted directly have a right to
sue on the basis of the hostile working environment created by
the abuse of their coworkers.
So the LSB
is violating the law in order to cover up for their cronies, who
just happen to be serial perpetrators. In the process, they're
exposing the station to an ever-increasing number of legal actions,
all of which could have been averted had the complaints been properly
handled. What kind of petty power struggle is worth that?
in an LSB meeting is like watching 20 unsupervised kindergartners,
dressed as adults and high on sugar, fighting over toys. The hostility
is palpable; the manipulation of the process transparent. Their
inability to run a meeting would be comical if it weren't so Machiavellian
and time-consuming. So when Purple Berets put out a call for people
to attend the August board meeting in support of the targeted
women, we knew it was a lot to ask. But we had no idea just how
ugly it would get.
the prior meeting, for the most part the female staff members
who'd been victimized were absent. Meanwhile, the "other
side" had organized and strategized exactly how to confront
this first-ever concerted effort to confront head-on the long-running
sex discrimination at the station. And with the women absent,
the men had a field day.
The first prong of the attack took me back to the Clarence Thomas
Supreme Court confirmation hearings. When you're caught red-handed
being a sexist pig, make it a discussion about race. Though it
worked long enough to put Thomas on the Supreme Court (with dire
consequences for African-Americans), it also catapulted sexual
harassment onto the front page and into the courts.
Here the tactic was encapsulated in one speaker's vitriolic rant
that the charges against Campanella were brought by "a very
few white women" who can't stand to see a good African-American
man in a position of authority.
take a good look at this. First of all, I'm not sure if I'd call
10 women's complaints "a few." More importantly, the
vast majority of the women targeted are not white women. Solange
Echeverría, Ranjita Geesler, Lemlem Rijio, Maya Orozco,
Amelia Gonzalez - these aren't white women attacking Campanella
because of his color. These are women of color refusing to be
victimized by a man, whatever his color.
I'd venture to say the color of his skin may be one of the two
things keeping Roy in the general manager's chair. I can promise
you, if a female manager, whatever her color, had 10 complaints
of discrimination and retaliation against her and a vote of no-confidence
by [now] 92 staff members, she'd be outta there!)
undoubtedly the most loved, respected and effective general manager
KPFA's ever had was Nicole Sawaya, a Lebanese-American woman who
ran the station up until the takeover by the right-wing-packed
Pacifica National Board in 1999.
Make no mistake:
this isn't about the color of Roy Campanella's skin - it's about
his illegal and unwelcome sexual misconduct, discrimination and
retaliation. An attempt to reframe the debate into an issue of
race rather than gender is worthy of Carl Rove, but not of progressive
activists trying to solve a problem in one of our own institutions.
It won't fix the problem, and it just won't work.
Less publicly stated, but an insistent background whisper in the
crowd and on the internet is the charge that the complaining women
are "tools of the state," trying to bring down the station
because of its radical politics.
to be transparently orchestrated by Dennis Bernstein, martyr extraordinaire,
who greets each new complaint against him with on-air calls for
his cult following to defend him against a mythical Right-wing
cabal bent on silencing him, the last bastion of "free speech."
Another woman gets fired, another whiney, on-air claim by Bernstein
that he's getting death threats. (To Bernstein, a piece of toast
in his mailbox is a death threat!) It's as predictable as it is
I've no doubt
the Right would love to bring KPFA down. But to call these women
(and by implication, the Purple Berets and other community women
who support them) the right-wing is absurd! At this point the
greatest danger to KPFA comes, not from the Right, but from within
its own "Left." Any institution that tolerates this
level of discrimination - against women, against young people
of color, against workers - should expect to be held accountable
by people of conscience.
the Sexism, Stupid!"
But while calls of racism and attacks from the Right are used
as rallying cries, complaints of gender discrimination by eight
women, retaliation against a number of other women witnesses to
Campanella's behavior, and the firing of two women programmers
for their reports of bias and abuse, are ignored. Even worse,
they ignite, not calls to action, but smear campaigns portraying
the women as racist, right-wing FBI goons!
It's way past
time to tackle sexual harassment and gender discrimination at
KPFA head-on. The LSB members need to take a good look in the
mirror and either resign or do the legal duty their position on
the board imposes. Their tolerance of this kind of rampant discrimination
unnecessarily exposes the station to huge financial consequences.
They need to take care of it! If they don't, they should be voted
for women inside and outside the station to organize, and to refuse
to be silenced by slander, hate-speech and intimidation. This
has gone from a blatant display of sexism and privilege by a few
men at the station to an all-out attack on women by the KPFA community.
The women inside the station are on the move. As outside women
activists, we need to put aside our fear that we'll never get
air-time on KPFA again and support our sisters at the station.
And it's time
for listeners to demand that KPFA's new "democratic process"
doesn't continue to sacrifice the new voices of the female half
of the population in order to keep in power the tired old voices
of male privilege.
For more info
go to: www.kpfaworker.org
Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
can copy and distribute this information at will
if you include credit and don't edit.