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Ralph Poynter


You may know me as the persistent leader of the Free Lynne Stewart campaign. After organizing thousands in Lynne’s support, we won! Now we’re both fighting another important struggle: saving our essential community media outlet, WBAI.

Raised by a union organizer, I first taught elementary school in Harlem, joining the United Federation of Teachers. But when the UFT colluded with management to support the racist Board of Education against Black communities’ demands for Community Control of schools, I founded the Teachers’ Freedom Party and became a leader in that fight.

Much of my 50+ years of political activism has focused on improving our public schools. My leadership facilitated appointments of NYC’s first Black and Puerto Rican principals  Doing this required confronting the NYPD Army of Occupation installed to maintain ideological control of schools. In the course of self- and community-defense, I was convicted and served time on Rikers Island, where I organized fellow prisoners in one of the first successful prison rebellions, winning important concessions.

My primary focus now is freeing U.S. political prisoners serving unconscionable sentences. Their sacrifices made possible the moderate civil-rights advances in the ’60s/ ’70s, but many of them languish, forgotten. I’m also active in the Green Party and in Uhuru, an organization dedicated to freedom for African descendants. With Betty Davis, I co-founded the New Abolitionist Movement, working to eliminate miseducation in NYC.

For over 30 years, Lynne worked as a “People’s Lawyer,” defending social and political activists and causes. After what was deemed a too-zealous representation of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, she was jailed and disbarred, and is on probation. Her health is not the best but she wants to serve as a change agent at WBAI.

We want to use our experience to help save WBAI–so as to help save our communities and transform the system. On the board, changes must be made, such as searching for a Program Director committed to more creative, progressive programming reflecting the struggles of diverse peoples, and helping develop new generations of broadcaster-activists. The board must focus more on evaluating management and the budget and less on playing politics.

We have the strength of will and intellect to help protect this valuable outlet from co-optation. No station sale, no signal swap!

We urge you to support the entire Justice & Unity slate–endorsed by Bernard White, Esperanza Martell, Charles and Inez Barron, the International Action Center, and many others–in the following order:

1-Lynne Stewart – WRITE HER IN AS #1

2-King Downing

3-John Brinkley

4-Ralph Poynter

5-Pauline Park

6-Dacio Quintana

7-Eugene Hamond

For unknown reasons, Lynne’s online membership didn’t register. Please write in her name–rank her #1. Her full statement is at www.justiceunity.org.

She was elected to the Station Board in 2009, but was immediately incarcerated for 4 years. She writes, “I survived my prison ordeal and now want to help restore WBAI to greatness. We are fortunate to have WBAI and must build it up and pass it on.”

1. In what ways is the station moving in a positive direction, that you would want to continue or perhaps improve? In the past year, the most positive change at WBAI has been some of the new programs and hosts, particularly on the morning show and at 5 PM, brought in by Mario Murillo when he was Interim Program Director. These additions have finally begun moving the station back to the broad sweep of local coverage and the activist edge it had before. I want to see continued improvement through outreach to grassroots movements to find more producers. One goal of this effort should be more regular broadcasting of the voices of our political prisoners from behind the walls and voices of the people who suffered the loss of loved ones at the hands of the police or white supremacists. State violence knows no limit except that which the people place on it. We must educate those who may not yet have been personally affected.

2. In what ways is the station moving in a negative direction, that you would want to stop or change? What changes would you work for? The interminable on-air fund drives must be shortened by increasing off-air fundraising efforts. See #4 below. Of necessity, the station needs to reorganize the premiums system for efficiency and speed with the help of volunteers. WBAI must have a more rapid delivery of premiums that satisfies contributors. Also, I am concerned that WBAI has failed to cover important local political and cultural events live–for example, the 40+-year-old International African Arts Festival which began as the African Street Carnival, the Hip Hop Fundraiser for Mumia, the welcome-home celebration for Sekou Odinga, the 30th-anniversary commemoration of the bombing of MOVE in Philadelphia, and others.

3. What key experience, connections, skills or traits would you bring to the Local Station Board to advance the station’s mission? My qualifications include 50+ years in our Movement. I successfully spearheaded the struggle for community control of schools and the formation at Rikers Island of the Inmates Improvement Council, and led the struggle to bring People’s Lawyer Lynne Stewart home. I share 7 children, 12 grandchildren, a passion for justice, and a love for WBAI with Lynne. As a lawyer, Lynne defended social and political activists and causes for more than 30 years. After a “too-zealous” representation of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, she was jailed and disbarred, and is on probation. Her health is not optimal but she wants to serve as a change agent at WBAI. For reasons unknown, her online WBAI membership didn’t register. Please write in her name on your ballot and rank her #1. Her full statement and questionnaire responses are at www.justiceunity.org. We have never sold out and we never will. Retaining WBAI as a commercial-free, community-oriented space will always be our goal.

4. What ideas do you have for helping the station and the Pacifica Foundation meet the financial challenges currently being faced? The financial challenge faced by WBAI can be addressed by more varied means of fundraising utilizing large and small events, creatively realized. Justice & Unity worked with others last year to create a comprehensive plan to do this as well as other off-air fundraising methods and program promotion strategies to generate more listeners (http://wbai.org/dldetail.php?doc=172). I would work to have these ideas implemented. Mandating and monitoring processes around programming, staffing, serious financial planning and responsible spending, including financial transparency, are essential and unused tools. Finding permanent space located where supporters from all over the area can be accommodated will expand the feasibility of returning WBAI to its high-water marks of listener involvement and contributions.


So, what do you think ?