According to Tahnee Stair of the Workers World Party, Fifteen thousand people marched through the streets of Berkeley, Calif., July 31, 1999 chanting: "Whose station? Our station!" The protesters were demonstrating in support of KPFA community radio and the locked-out workers at the station.
Buses came from many Northern California cities, bringing people to participate in the show of unity. Marchers demanded that the Pacifica Foundation, which owns KPFA, stop the drive to privatize the 50-year-old, listener-sponsored, progressive radio station.
Days before the march, Pacifica management had announced to the media that they would end the three-week worker lockout, lift an ongoing gag rule around the struggle, and turn control of programming over to the Communications Workers union. Despite this announcement, huge crowds came out to support the struggle for "free speech radio."
Although mediation was under way, Pacifica Foundation managers simply made an announcement of their terms to the media--not to the workers or community/ union steering committee. The foundation also gave no assurances about future ownership of the station.
The announcement was clearly aimed at defusing the growing mobilization for the mass march. It failed.
Since April, resistance to Pacific's policy of transforming KPFA into a National-Public-Radio-type mouthpiece for ruling-class interests has sharply increased. Listeners don't want to make the station more acceptable to major corporations--for donations--and to conservative audiences.
Popular KPFA staffers were fired. The Pacifica board insisted no one at its stations--which include WBAI in New York--report on the internal struggle.
When talk-show host Dennis Bernstein refused to accept this gag rule in early July, management hired goons from IPSA Security to drag him from the station.
News that the Pacifica board of directors was discussing selling the station was leaked to the media. A fight-back movement immediately began to grow throughout the Bay Area. It culminated in the mass march.
Rally speakers and performers included: spoken word and rap artist Michael Franti from Spearhead; the All Nations Drum; Barbara Lubin of Friends of Free Speech Radio and the Middle East Children's Alliance; Underground Railroad; Rachel Jackson of STORM (Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement); Andrea Buffa of Media Alliance; KPFA interns Akilah Monifa, Waymon, J. Imani and others; well-known Hip Hop DJ Davey D; San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean; and KPFA programmers Miguel Molina, Chuy Varela, Dennis Bernstein, Larry Bensky and Susan Stone.
Fired station manager Nicole Sawaya was greeted with a standing ovation and thunderous applause when she addressed the crowd.
Labor participation was very strong. Farm Workers Vice President Dolores Huerta and California Federation of Labor President Tom Rankin led the union presence. Leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Service Employees Local 250 hospital workers, California Nurses Association, Communication Workers Local 9415 representing KPFA workers, and both the Alameda and San Francisco Central Labor Councils expressed solidarity with the struggle to save KPFA.
Rosa Peñate and Richard Becker spoke for the International Action Center. Peñate explained that the real aim of the Pacifica board and the forces behind them is "the destruction of progressive media which can mobilize the people for action. We are not fooled and we are not going away. The International Action Center joins with the many other organizations and individuals in the Bay Area and beyond in defending KPFA."
Other speakers and co-chairs included Dorsey Nunn of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Jeff Mackler of Socialist Action, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, CBeyond, a high school students' organization, and Vic Bedoian, executive director of KFCF radio in Fresno.