A Message from the Outgoing Chair of WBAI's Local Board
- 01/29/2013

Eight years ago I proposed to a former Program Director at WBAI, that we invite Alexander Cockburn -- probably the greatest and most fascinating left columnist of our time -- to broadcast a regular column on WBAI.

The Program Director responded "interesting idea" ... but did nothing about it.

I nevertheless followed up by contacting Alex, whom I knew from many adventures and considered a friend. (He considered me, as he wrote in a column a decade ago, one of his "favorite anarchists" -- a mis-label, true, but one I nevertheless refused to wash off.)

Alex said he'd be delighted to broadcast on WBAI, and asked that I let him know definitively, as he was about to make commitments on other projects. I reported this to the PD, but .... nothing.

I left out the story of how, in the the late 1980s, I had invited Alex Cockburn and Utrice Leid -- at that time an editor of the Brooklyn-based "City Sun" -- to speak at Stony Brook University on Long Island, as part of the Red Balloon Collective's "Revolution in the Revolution" speakers' series. No one in the Collective had a car, so I was to meet our illustrious speakers at the railroad station, which at that time resembled the Bolivian train station in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." I expected to proceed on foot across the remains of a once-upon-a-time glorious forest (a decade earlier many students "expanded their consciousness" there. We sadly wallowed in the irony when the university bulldozed the forest to construct the headquarters of the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation on that site), the 2/3rds of a mile across the athletic fields, and finally through the maze of buildings to the lecture hall where they'd be speaking.

Of course, nothing ever goes according to plan, let alone one so fraught with potential glitches. Our Collective tried to build into everything we did a sort of "planning for chaos", a practice which served me well 2 decades later as I chaired meetings of the WBAI Local Board. In this instance, both Alex and Utrice arrived on the same train, thankfully, but they didn't know each other and they disembarked at opposite ends.

And, did I mention that it was a blizzard?!

The fields were a gooey mess, and the university had recently built fences near the path. We decided to climb over the fences to avoid a longer (but saner) route. Thigh-deep in snow, Alex and I managed to hop right over, but Utrice got sort of stuck. We helped her over, at last.

Utrice braved it in fine spirit, and the three of us fell into an interesting discussion for the next 30 minutes on "identity politics" vs. "class politics" in the midst of all the mud and blizzard, the wet winds blasting in our face. We finally arrived an hour later than planned, exhausted and soaked, to a packed auditorium and very appreciative audience.

Several years ago I again broached the subject of airing commentaries following the evening news, and gave the Program Director a list of 5 or 6 people who would make outstanding columnists for WBAI. Alexander Cockburn was at the top of the list.

Fifteen years earlier, Laura Flanders had occasionally interviewed her uncle (yes, Alex Cockburn was Laura's proud uncle!) on her show. But WBAI -- out of sheer stupidity -- would never feature Alexander Cockburn or provide regular access for this most stunningly wide-ranging and incisive radical voice. Cockburn would regularly eviscerate Empire in his weekly "Beat the Devil" column in the Nation and delighted in slicing up the "sacred cows" on the Left as well, and his writings had influenced two generations of activists -- but management could not make room for his rapier wit and scathing commentary on WBAI's reknowned and finely-tuned humor-filled schedule.

Now Alex is gone. He died six months ago, though the fruits of his life's work continue in the pages of CounterPunch.org, in a new book about to go to press, and with the young brood of radical journalists he nurtured.

Gone, too, is the opportunity for him to make "improvements" to his asinine denunciations of so-called "conspiracy theorists" (like me) regarding global climate change, the Kennedy Assassination, and 9/11 Truth. Nevertheless, unlike most editorialists, he welcomed comment and debate. I'd been debating him for years on those issues ever since I, as a typesetter at the Nation, would hand-write comments in the margins of his columns; I felt I was making headway.

This past Fall, I attended a memorial service for Alexander Cockburn in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Many Left luminaries spoke and shared stories and pictures of Alex, including Tariq Ali, Najla Said (daughter of Edward Said), Laura Flanders, JoAnn Wypijewski, Alex's famous brothers (Andrew and Patrick) and daughter Daisy, and Noam Chomsky. Ralph Nader appeared via video. Among the crowd, I recognized four people from the Brooklyn Greens, even more from the Action Greens listserve I moderate, where we occasionally post and discuss Alex Cockburn's essays, and many from the Nation ,  but no one from WBAI's staff, local board or management. Such is the pity! I hope that in the future, WBAI returns to its tradition of broadcasting as regular columnists, today‚Äôs sharpest radical critics, artists, and ecologists.

Alex Cockburn may no longer physically inhabit this mortal coil, but his writings live on. Even those columns of thirty years ago -- with proper artistic enunciation (and denunciation), as evidenced at his Memorial by the enjoyable and witty recitations of his finest essays -- would still, today, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and provide the kind of panache, political scorecard and literary sweep so needed in our media, including, especially, WBAI.

I'm hoping that the newly elected WBAI Local Station Board -- 7 independents and 5 Justice & Unity Campaign reps were elected last month, to add to the 12 others carrying over until new elections later this year -- will put aside their differences and focus on improving programing at the station.

The following individuals won seats on the Board:

For the Justice & Unity Campaign: Luis Barrios, William Heerwagen, John Riley, Cerene Roberts and Sharonne Salaam; Russell Dale also replaced Suanne Adely, who resigned.

For the Independents: Janet Coleman, Reggie Johnson, Ken Laufer, Frank LeFever, Patricia Logan, Manijeh Saba and Jeremy Taylor; Bob Young replaced Teresa Palmer, who resigned.

Bob Young was elected Chair of the LSB, Patricia Logan as Vice Chair, R. Paul Martin as Treasurer, and I was elected Secretary of the Local Board.

Elected to the Pacifica National Board from WBAI: Manijeh Saba, Janet Coleman, Carolyn Birden and Cerene Roberts.

WBAI is facing some very serious issues this coming year. The station is in the midst of moving to temporary studios at City College and out of 120 Wall Street, and is also looking for a more permanent home. Management will be considering how to improve programming, expand listenership, and right itself financially.

All of those key points are inter-related, and the Board needs your assistance here! We cannot right any one of them by itself; they are mutually dependent, and plans for moving WBAI forward in a principled manner must take into consideration each of the others.

That framework guides all of us in the WBAI family. We really are all in this together and need each other's honest proposals, creativity and constructive energy for improving and advancing the station and the entire network.

Thank you for allowing me to serve you, the listeners and staff of WBAI, these last six years, and especially your suggestions, complaints, and most important, your participation.

Mitchel Cohen

Outgoing Chair, WBAI Local Station Board