"You Say You Want A Resolution"
Pursuing a State Resolution Urging the FCC to Re-Legalize Community Radio
By Tom Ness

In just over six weeks, a ragtag group of Michigan activists with very
little money or experience managed to convince our State Senate and House
of Representatives to introduce non-binding resolutions urging the FCC to
relegalize community radio. Below, I will explain why we think these
resolutions are valuable to our movement, and how we have gone about
pursuing ours. I have also assembled an info pack of flyers, articles,
etc. about our resolution. Please send $2 to cover postage to Jam Rag, PO
Box 20076, Ferndale MI 48220.

As I am by no means independently wealthy with time to kill, I am just
going to spit out everything I can think of, in no apparent order.
However, if anyone wants to pay my electric bill, I'll be glad to organize
this information better.

Let me begin by saying how incredibly EASY it has been for us to get this
far! A mere three hundred letters from constituents was enough to get our
resolutions introduced. Getting them passed is another matter of course,
and we expect we have our work cut out for us. But I hope to inspire you
to try for a resolution in your state --  you can do it! The project has
really served to motivate our volunteers -- 40 state senators and
representatives have now endorsed our movement, giving us a huge boost in
both confidence and respectability.

What is a resolution? Resolutions are similar to laws in that senators and
representatives vote on them and they are either passed on to the governor
to be signed, or they are rejected. The key difference is that resolutions
are non-binding. They are not laws, they are an official yet symbolic
demonstration of the public will, as expressed by our elected officials.

If laws are the meat and potatos of politics, resolutions are usually the
pudding, with little substantive value. For example, they are often used
to pay tribute to the little old lady who volunteered at the local
hospital for 50 years or to honor the Red Wings' Stanley Cup victory,
etc.. Politicians love them because they are an easy way to win favor with
voters, with little chance of making enemies. Resolutions often sail
through with no opposition.

In our case (as expected), our resolutions did not "sail through" but were
instead referred to committees, where they will be debated. Why? Because
in this case, our resolutions present a real pickle. All FCC regulations
are required to be in the "public interest." Resolutions are an official
demonstration of the public will. Therefore, (we believe) the FCC will be
required to seriously consider our resolutions. The agency must either
adopt the policies we recommend, or explain why the Governor, Senate and
House of Representatives is wrong about what the public wants -- and
fat-cat, monopolizing broadcasting corporations are right!

Are we right about any of this? Only time will tell, but it is interesting
that just one day after our resolution was introduced, Senator
DeBeaussaert's office received a call from the Michigan Association of
Broadcasters, asking for "information." And we've been told by a number of
sources that the M.A.B./N.A.B. is going to lobby hard against us. If
they're so worried, we must be doing something right!

We do NOT believe that our resolution alone will be enough to legalize
community radio. We believe it is just one part of a successful national
movement which also includes massive civil disobedience, public protest,
media education, court battles from both defensive and offensive stances,
other forms of lobbying, etc. We do believe our resolution  is an
important part -- however, FIFTY state resolutions would be even better!
And pretty damn hard to ignore.

Other reasons to pursue state resolutions include:

* Giving ammunition to our supporters. When Congressman David Bonior
visited FCC Chairman Kennard personally (on our behalf), Kennard told him
he favors relegalizing our stations. But because of the heavy pressure
from the corporations, he needs clear demonstrations of public demand.
This is one;

* Involving local politicians in our issue. (Of course, resolutions can be
pursued at the city level, too). Although the FCC is a federal agency,
this is very much a local issue;

* Gaining credibility and respectability for the movement;

* Gaining publicity for the movement.

* Gaining a morale boost. Like I said earlier, the support of 40 senators
and representatives has invigorated our volunteers.

Our background: The Michigan Music is World Class Campaign is a loose
coalition of musicians, music-related businesses and music lovers, mostly
from the Detroit area. The Campaign was launched two years ago with the
purpose of furthering appreciation for our state's musicians. We meet,
very informally, every Tuesday evening. We have no official membership, no
officers, no dues. We're just a bunch of friends who get together for
coffee and conspiracy. Jam Rag is a 15,000 circulation full color magazine
that focuses exclusively on the Michigan music scene. It is published by
my wife and myself.

We decided to pursue a resolution at the beginning of August, after the
deadline for reply-comments on RM-9242 had passed. We decided to launch a
letter-writing campaign as, in our opinion, the best way to motivate our

A year earlier, MMWC volunteers launched a similar letter-writing campaign
to state-elected officials, gathering about 600 individually written
letters at that time. This was enough to attract a state senator, two
state reps and an aide to a Town Meeting we were holding. Based on this
experience, we estimated one thousand individual letters would be needed
to achieve our resolution.

It is our understanding that individually written letters are about the
most powerful means of contacting elected officials, with phone calls a
close second. Form letters and petitions are apparently much less
effective -- one must gather incredible numbers of signatures to get
attention. We are also told that email is virtually worthless --
politicians realize the ease with which it can be generated, and on a mass
scale. So we decided to concentrate on individually written letters.
However, in certain situations, such as bars, it is often too difficult to
get strangers to write even a one-sentence letter. In these situations we
tried to get people to sign form letters.

We started with our volunteers, eventually gathering three letters from
each (senator, rep and governor). We hit family members and friends. Every
time a band, writer, driver, etc. showed up at the Jam Rag office, we
nailed them!

Moving beyond personal contacts proved more difficult. We went to
concerts, public meetings, colleges, parks, etc. We spoke to classes,
pushed hard in the magazine -- any opportunity we could find. However,
getting strangers to write a letter (much less three) was hard.

For us, musicians were a natural ally. We already work with them anyway.
And the local corporate stations give very little airtime to local music.
It was not hard to convince musicians of the need for community-level
radio stations. And, although Jam Rag is by no means a media titan, having
a local magazine sponsor the letter-writing campaign has certainly helped.
So I would suggest that others interested in pursuing resolutions work
closely with local musicians, and also try to get a local paper to adopt
the cause.

We asked people to send their letters directly to us so that we could
track the number of letters each senator or rep was receiving. Like I
said, after only 300 letters, on Sept. 23 we got a call from Rep.
Freeman's office, saying they had introduced our resolution. The next day,
Senator DeBeaussaert's office called to say the same. Since those 300
letters had gone out to about 60-70 elected officials, we had averaged
only four-five letters per senator -- not exactly a landslide, but it was
enough. By that time, we had heard from about ten who had offered to
support us if we got it introduced. And Freeman's office said we had
created a buzz in Lansing.

As I said, we had done an similar letter-writing campaign the year before,
so many of these people already knew us. Additionally, over the last year
we had been on them to sign our "Open Letter to the Radio Stations of
Michigan" (urging the stations to play more local music). And occasionally
we have sent our elected officials updates on our various protests and
other activities. We've been working on them, although in a VERY humble
manner, for about a year now.

So when Rep. Freeman's aide asked for names of other reps who might be
supportive, we were able to send her a list of almost 50 names. Bless her
soul -- the woman called every one, and in a single day we gained 38
co-sponsors in the House! That's 35% of the House!

I should mention that neither the Senator or Representative involved us in
actually drafting the resolutions. They just wrote 'em up, introduced
them, and faxed us a copy. It all happened really fast! In fact, the
Senator's was basically a rewrite of the fact sheet we were distributing.
The Representative's was the same, but with more detail.

We created a database with the names of every senator and representative.
When a letter came in, we xeroxed it and made a notation on the computer.
Whenever we got a call or letter in response, we entered that into the
computer, too.

When sending out the letters, we always included our fact sheet. We also
included our Open Letter, which by this time had a rather intimidating
list of signatories -- hundreds of Michigan citizens unhappy with the
state of radio.

One of the reasons we xeroxed the letters was because in about a month
there will be at least 60 new members in the legislature (about 60 are
forced to retire due to term limits). This way, we can send the new
members copies of the letters sent to the earlier occupant of their seat.
(This, of course, assumes we are unable to get our resolution passed
before the new session begins.)

Probably the fact we are approaching an election has helped move things
along, with some of the senators and reps. On the other hand, a surprising
number of our co-sponsors appear to have been motivated by principle
rather than pragmatism. Quite a few supported us even though they'd
received only one or two letters from their constituents.

Again, since resolutions are normally only symbolic, we believe some may
not have fully understand the ramifications for the FCC. But others, like
DeBeaussaert, clearly understood the potential for a backlash from the
corporate broadcasters, yet stuck their necks out for us despite the
potential cost.

Representative Freeman is not running this time due to term limits, but
DeBeaussaert is involved in a particularly tight race. So, we've made an
extra effort to get volunteers down to his campaign office for
envelope-stuffing etc. We feel we owe it to him, obviously, but there are
also practical advantages to hanging around their office...

For our resolutions to make it out of committee and on to the floor for a
vote, the introducing senator and representative must be motivated.
They've got lots of other work on their desk! How do we get them to move
our resolution to the top of their pile? It is essential that the aide in
charge also be motivated -- they are the ones who push the senator along.
The relationship with this aide must be cultivated with great care. You
need to push without being pushy, to make them like you and want to hear
from you because, like the senator, they've also got more work than they
can handle!

In this regard, nothing has helped more than volunteering at their
campaign office. We try to make a presence, and earn their gratitude by
producing a mountain of stuffed and labeled envelopes. While we're there,
we chat up our resolution in an environment where they are obligated to be
appreciative. (And we return the appreciation.) We're not making any deals
-- just talking about what's on our mind.

Recently, while doing envelopes, I had the good fortune to sit right next
to the aide handling our resolution, Jennifer, for a couple hours. Over
our casual conversation I mentioned how helpful the aide in Representative
Freeman's office has been, calling all those co-sponsors for us. And, what
do you know -- this week Jennifer asked for a list of those in the Senate
we think will co-sponsor so she can call them up!

We also are producing a Voters Guide, and surveyed 410 candidates for
state and federal office in Michigan. Although this was truly intended for
the purpose of creating the Guide, it had the effect of educating our
politicians about community radio. Many of them asked for further info,
and virtually every one who completed the Survey promised to support our
resolutions. Virtually all of them also said they would urge the FCC to
issue an NPRM on RM-9242, instead of an NOI (see Skinner).

Of course the election will be upon us soon, probably before other states
can begin organizing, so our campaign experience will not be directly
helpful. But there is a lesson to be learned:  Build a foundation of
support from your elected officials.

You could begin by gathering long lists of names on a simple petition like
our Open Letter -- people unhappy with radio (not too hard to find). Show
that list to your elected officials and ask them to sign it. Then begin a
letter-writing campaign for your resolution, and enclose a copy of your
petition with every letter, to show your broad support.

Believe me, you'll thank yourself for doing this groundwork because
eventually you'll be on a first name basis with a large chunk of your
state's lawmakers. You never know what else you might need them for.

It certainly won't hurt to mention that resolutions have been introduced
in Michigan. One of the biggest obstacles will be finding a senator with
enough free time to help. Show them our resolutions, and tell them to just
change the name at the top!

Our state, Michigan, publishes a Citizen's Guide, which is an invaluable
aide. It includes names, addresses, phone numbers, district maps, etc.,
along with a bunch of general government information. We just call up our
local rep and ask him to send over 50 copies when we need more. I assume
most states have something similar. Get a bunch, and get them into the
hands of every volunteer with the least amount of interest.

One of the hardest parts is figuring out what district a potential
letter-writer is in. Almost no one in our state knows who their state
senator is, much less their representative. Most will mention their
congressperson or U.S. Senator by mistake. Even knowing their city is not
always enough -- there are 14 House districts in the city of Detroit! And
with gerrymandering, it can be mind-boggling to determine who is
representing who. However, Michigan has an Elections Commission (the
number is in the Citizen's Guide), and Project Vote Smart has a great web
site that gives precise information (sometimes a zip+four code is
required). To be perfectly honest, I'm sure some of the letters we've sent
out have gone to the wrong rep. Hey, we're doing our best!

We try to hold regular public events. For example, we've held four local
protests against the FCC in the last eight months. We hold a biannual
event, Radio Rendezvous, where we invite Michigan radio stations out to
meet with local bands. This is a very popular event! We've also held
benefit concerts for local community radio stations.

Certainly, media coverage will help. In this area, I confess, we've made
absolutely no effort. We are all volunteers, of course -- sending out a
press release is just one more item on a long list of unchecked "things to
do." However, our efforts have begun to attract some attention on their
own. For example, the local scab paper just printed that our resolution
had passed the State House (it has not).

Frankly, our Campaign's first activities two years ago were covered very
well by local press, radio and TV, partially due to persistent massaging
on our end. However, three months later we found it was difficult to
attract attention, and felt we had worn out our newsworthiness to some
degree. I suspect an effort to pass a resolution would be news, but not
big news. Perhaps it is reasonable to expect some coverage in the smaller
neighborhood papers, and maybe the occasional mention in the dailies.
College and high school radio stations have covered us quite well, along
with the local NPR station. And oOur very first event was covered by three
of the four big TV stations. But since then, very little.

We found that, after the initial flurry of letters, it was hard to keep up
momentum. Once you've gotten all of your immediate friends and family, and
their family, and their friends, and a few strangers, and their friends --
it just gets harder and harder! So we are going to try a contest where we
reward the bands who generate the most letters. We are going to try to get
30 bands to generate 60 letters each. This is not an impossible task for
the bands -- just 20 friends writing three letters each -- but together it
should produce 1,800 letters and probably more.

Of course, the other approach is to skip the public and just focus on one
senator and rep. Convince them that this is the right thing to do, and get
them to fight for you. If it works, you'll save yourself a heck of a lot
of work. On the other hand, if the N.A.B. decides to oppose you, it would
seem pretty important to have the public behind you.

As of this writing, 10-14-98, we have generated about 650 letters. We have
40 official co-sponsors, and estimate we have about 80 percent of the
votes we need for passage. In the House Committee (Public Utilities), 11
of the 23 members are co-sponsors including the committee chair. At this
time, we are not sure which Senate committee our resolution will be
referred to.

We are hoping that no action will take place with our resolutions until we
are certain we have our votes. However, we don't want to wait so long that
session ends and we have to start from scratch -- with a bunch of new

Another thing we have done is sort our band database of about 2,000 bands
by district. We are targetting with phone calls bands who live in the
districts of key committee members.

Our biggest concern is Governor Engler, who has not responded with even a
phone call to about 150 hand-written letters so far. Really, it was about
a pound and a half of letters. We thought we'd get at least a phone call!

We have asked our Senate and House aides if they would not mind keeping us
informed about lobbying from the other side, although we've received no
commitment. Ideally, we'd like to know what arguments are being raised in
opposition, so we can counter them.

In general, we suspect their strategy will be to use technical rhetoric --
you know, the public has good intentions and writes a lot of letters but
does not understand the scientific basis behind  why community radio must
be criminalized, or so forth. We expect they will use technical jargon in
order to dazzle and confuse our elected officials. We need to find a way
to counter this.

We are trying to reach out to other community groups; cultural groups,
free speech groups, peace and justice groups. For example, we will be
participating in a co-demonstration with members of the local Hispanic
community in regards to a recent raid on one of their unlicensed stations.
There is a local arts group, Artserve, a local musicians group, the
Detroit Musicians Alliance. We've gotten support from the Alliance For
Democracy, and we hope the local ACLU will be responsive. Also, Refuse &
Resist has been very helpful.

We're trying to convince the unlicensed broadcasters in Michigan to get
involved! They, after all, are the ones we are trying to keep out of
prison. Surprisingly, most have not done too much. This is too bad,
because they are perhaps best situated to help. Their listeners have a
natural incentive to help with these letters, obviously. A handful are
really working hard though, and we hope the others will come around soon.

That's it! I just cannot think of another word. If you have any questions,
please contact me at 248-542-8090 or jamrag@usnmail.com.

I'm thrilled to help any way I can with other states who want to pursue
resolutions. It's been a great move for us in Michigan -- very rewarding
in many different ways. I hope you'll decide to do it, too.

Tom Ness
Jam Rag/Michigan Music Campaign

Tom Ness
Jam Rag Press/Michigan Music is World Class Campaign
PO Box 20076, Ferndale MI 48220