Don’t say ‘let someone else do it’

In life, each of us is faced with those moments when we grow weak at the knees. In my case, that moment is always the point at which the great WAMC fund drives begin.

This drive is symbolic of a great community effort in which each person who listens does something. It begins this Monday at 6 a.m. So far, the WAMC community has never failed to meet its announced fund drive goals.

I know that sooner or later, we may fail. This public radio enterprise is tenuous, to say the least. It is outside the fee-for-service model. For most things, you pay your money first. In this case, you get the service and in return, you pay what you can, when you can.

For some people, “personal best” is achieved at a gym. For others, it is measured on an exam. For me, starting in 1979, three times a year, it is that daunting moment when I find myself in front of a microphone trying to make the case for a group of people who work their guts out to make the best public radio station in the country. That dependency alone is pressure personified.

All great community efforts almost always come down to two distinct phases: innovation and sustainability. If there is a word of our times it is “sustainability.” We use it relative to our food supply and to our environment. It is as true about a radio station which we have all made together as it is about our environment. The very reason why WAMC is such a fragile experiment is that in a democracy or in a great radio station, there is always that moment when people say, “Let someone else do it.”

Fewer than 50 percent of Americans vote in our presidential elections. When people are too busy or too concerned with other aspects of their lives, they often walk the other way. That’s when a constituency, often made up of people like the Halliburtons of the world, use their money, their clout, and their campaign contributions to load the game and take over.

We all know that if we listen we should do something, be it a dollar or a thousand dollars, to keep what we treasure and use. Sure, there are some who will say, “I heard something I didn’t like.” The beauty of the radio station is that we hear all kinds of things so that we can be exposed to all kinds of ideas. As my brother Lewis has said so many times, “There are a thousand reasons not to give.”

We watch our environment fail because of our refusal to recognize the science behind climate change. We watch our air waves being taken over by rich monopolists who hire clowns with names like O’Reilly, Limbaugh, Hannity and Savage. When those efforts fail as people walk away from commercial radio and start listening to WAMC, these same forces undertake to cut off federal and state funding for NPR stations.

As difficult as this sounds, I say let them take the money and let us see if we can sustain what we, all of us, have built. With partners like The Berkshire Eagle who have been so good to this station, we can survive and thrive. But, let us all recognize this — when people say, “Let someone else do it,” we will lose what we have built.

As always, it all comes down to what we as individuals will do. So far, we have had the will to succeed. So far, some people who can have made those lifesaving challenges that move a fund drive along. So far, each person who really loves this station has put something in to the common effort. It’s never easy but so far, the WAMC public radio community has survived.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 6/4/11

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