Serve the Public, Please

Dissenting community members filled the Board of Trustees meeting today.  We came to stand with Tri States Public Radio.img_0627.jpg

I’ve been reading George Orwell’s 1984.  I’ve seen others at Western Illinois University reading it, too.

1984 is a dystopian novel in which the main character fears the “Thought Police.”  Every day, government workers are required to assemble for the “Two minutes hate.”  Dissent is met with “vaporization.”  Propaganda and surveillance control citizens.

The job of 1984‘s protagonist is, quite literally, to re-write history to conform to the narrative of those in  power and destroy any evidence of previous written history.  Those who publicly speak with historical accuracy are vaporized.  1984 is both a warning against and a commentary on fascism.

A historian spoke at today’s meeting.  He’s lived in Macomb for a half a century.  He said that the way the BoT and administration go about things is too secretive and too deaf to those of us who want the administration to talk about alternatives to wiping out local investigative journalism and original programming.  Why not cut back on athletics and upper administration? After all, a golf course or football field is not necessary for education and democracy.  Why not at least talk about it?  The BoT and Thomas administration did not acknowledge this question.

If the Thomas administration fires our local investigative journalists, they can turn the radio station into a marketing (propaganda?) machine that asks no hard questions and vacuums out dissent from the air.  They can play upbeat infomercial music and broadcast cheery voices that are always congratulatory.

Some community members reminded the administration that WIU is a public institution and TSPR is public radio.  WE are the public. These institutions are ours.  The job of WIU is to serve the public, and we were letting them know that they were not serving us.

President Thomas’s response was to tell a story about a baseball fan who heckled an umpire.  I wasn’t sure what he was trying to say, but it seemed to be that when the public dissents, we are bad baseball fans, and he is the umpire, and it’s not his job to listen to us.

Over and over, I heard administrators claim that they are such good listeners and that they’ve held so many, many, forums and roundtables where they listen oh so carefully.  I sat on one of those round tables and the atmosphere was very tense and I was afraid to raise hard questions. Why did most of the people in the Grand Ballroom today feel they were not heard?  Have not been heard?

And why isn’t the administration attempting to bridge that gap between their claim that they listen to us on one side, and, on the other side, our insistence that we don’t feel listened to?

At least we were still allowed a little dissent, but before we were done speaking, the BoT chair said that it was against the “rules” to allow further pubic comment.  Time was up.

IMG_0640Two armed officers patrolled the hallway outside the Grand Ballroom. One, left, and the other, in a white shirt reflected in the mirror. Did armed officers surveil public meetings before December, 2015?  Who’s afraid of public radio supporters?  Are these officers serving the public? Or are they intimidating us?  Whom are they protecting?  Whom are they subjecting to surveillance?