December 21, 2009

Battle to control WBAI puts NJ's People's Organization for Progress under attack…

The People's Organization for Progress has long appreciated the support of our local metro NJ-NYC area Pacifica radio station WBAI. Thanks to friends at the radio station, Public Service Announcements on WBAI have often been very helpful in building POP's campaigns and street actions. Recently POP's leadership has come under sharp attack from a faction of the Listener Advisory Board and their associates.
I write to deal with this because there are many folks outside of POP's base areas in New Jersey who have been given a bum steer about the group. I recently wrote two articles (see The Community Fights "Hollywood" Booker Over Water-Rights, and Hollywood Mayor Looks to Move Up) about a "budget balancing" bid by Newark's ambitious and mediagenic mayor, Corey Booker, which resulted in the cutting off of water to many tenants in city apartments. POP played a key role in defeating this scheme, at least for the time being.
When these articles were reposted at the left liberal Daily Kos website and similar venues, well-meaning Booker fans, who only knew our mayor and Newark from what they'd heard on Oprah or Conan O'Brien, were quick to to defend the Mayor and challenge our descriptions of Newark politics.
These new attacks by folks deeply involved in WBAI internal politics are a more conscious effort to undercut and isolate an organization that has been fighting for the people of New Jersey for 25 years.
It's no secret that there are sharp divisions about WBAI's role and future. Still, when a longtime POP friend began using the organization's internet message board as a campaign vehicle and folks at BAI with opposing views monopolized the LISTSERV with diatribes, the People's Organization for Progress membership voted to shut down the list and open a new moderated message board.
Although the POP membership voted to endorse the Justice & Unity slate, and POP chairman Lawrence Hamm separately sent in his personal endorsement, both Justice & Unity supporters and POP members supporting other candidates or slates remain active in the political life of the organization and its individual chapters in New Jersey and NYC. This is the nature of a democratically-run organization, and so POP members were shocked to see us characterized as a cult by individuals opposed to Justice & Unity.
One particularly rabid comment suggested that POP's leadership was similar to Jim Jones of People's Temple cyanide-laced Kool-Aid notoriety. POP is unquestionably one of the most democratically-run progressive organization in the country today, tied to no political organization, party, or religious institution (often to the chagrin of the "church-ladies" that make up the bulk of POP's membership, as well as Muslim members, and members affiliated with various non-religious organizations).
As a rule, Fire on the Mountain avoids publishing polemics. Regular readers will have noted that all essays I've written are about POP and other campaigns against injustice rather than articles of the who-shot-John type. We'll strive to keep things that way, but we also will not be silent when someone with an ax to grind takes aim at our organization, for whatever reason, and seeks to spread slanders and undermine our work.


Bartleby said...

I am an NJ resident and I've been encountering members of POP in my neighborhood and at political events for years now. I can't think of one negative thing to say about them.
They're good folks doing important political work that unfortunately can get obscured by the glare of the lights of NYC.

peacsign said...

I am a one time resident of Newark who now lives in Saint Louis. As Executive Director of Veterans For Peace I work with organizations across the country. I am saddened that forces on the left who disagree cannot find ways to struggle with each other without trying to deal death blows. POP is a vibrant and needed organization. There are few groups who are consistently on the frontlines like POP. Conflict is inevitable, but misrepresentations and half truths are choices. Let’s have a debate based on facts and positions not name calling and falsehoods.

Deborah Jacobs said...

POP is a great organization that does meaningful work that no one else does -- like supporting families who have lost loved ones to police brutality.

Larry Hamm is a dedicated leader who could have easily taken a very different path in life -- succeeding and gaining power within the political establishment -- but instead he has stayed true to the roots of a peoples' movement and the streets of the city.

The ACLU-NJ is proud to represent POP in free speech matters; POP has kept protest alive in Newark.

Deborah Jacobs

Lisa V. Davis said...

I am currently a board member on WBAI (99.5 fm) with the Justice and Unity slate and I am the one who alerted members of P.O.P. to the nasty and unprovoked attack launched on the organization by R. Paul Martin, whose term recently ended (he had been serving on the Board for 6 years), and who has a show (one which could correctly be described as a useless waste of air space). And until 12/23 he was the treasurer of the WBAI Local Station Board.

In spite of these attacks, his friends on the board want him to remain treasurer. So a battle will be heating up about that.

The attacks on Larry Hamm, P.O.P, and the organizations that support Justice and Unity are not personal.

They are because of our political views and what we struggle for. P.O.P is known for standing up on the front lines to end police brutality, racism and other "isms" in this society. It fights against injustices committed against all people. And WBAI, under the vision of Bernard White and people who share his politics, has been a vital tool in helping P.O.P and organizations like this one, to organize the community against such injustices.

And that is the reason for R. Paul Martin's smear campaign against P.O.P, Bernard White and the supporters of Justice and Unity. The truth is that the likes of people such as R. Paul thrive off the oppression of other people.

Although these particular attacks are from one person, they are not isolated incidences and are indicative of the political mindset of the people behind the coup of WBAI and the Pacifica Foundation. I urge everyone to view "Documented Cases of Racism at WBAI" at:

And any one in a battle, which involves people like Michael Tarif Warren, Sara Flounders, Bettye Dobson, and Lynne Stewart, who finds themselves on the side of people like R. Paul Martin and his ACE allies mentioned in this document needs to be judged accordingly.

This is about the battle for progressive media. WBAI and the Pacifica Foundation is one of the last radio networks, if not the only media network, that is dedicated to being a progressive vehicle for under represented communities and truly progressive issues.

And now people can more clearly understand that is currently being threatened. R. Paul and the ones who share his mindset have control over the network. If he and his supporters have their way, organizations like P.O.P will no longer have access to the WBAI and Pacifica airwaves.

In any war, one of the first things the powers at hand does is takes over the airwaves to control the minds of he people.

WBAI is an invaluable media institution. And we can not afford to loose it. I urge people to visit to find out more information about this and to also visit

Lisa V. Davis