When I posted an interview I conducted with Shannon Gibney from the Radio-BED website—a network of progressive podcasts—onto mine, I didn’t think it was going to cause so much trouble. Disagreements could not be resolved and I left the collective soon after.
As a former member, I was producing MsRepresent: Behind the Face, a Fierce Woman, one of the podcasts the site hosts. In the spirit of collaboration that the collective endorses, I assumed everyone had collective, as well as individual ownership of the work each of us independently produced. I also assumed that membership was fluid, and when one chose to leave, they would be able to take their work with them. I was wrong and stunned to learn that I have buy the work I contributed towards a group determined to smash the capitalist system.
When I was invited to join Radio-BED a few months ago, there were no contracts signed, and no discussion of who owns the final product at the end. There were no talks about paying rent for the “studio” space (one of the members’ bedroom), professional fees and use of equipment—equipment that was purchased long before I was even involved. Had I known I would have to pay, I never would have joined. It’s too expensive for me. In the common vision to destroy the capitalist system—and as a bunch of East Vancouver rag-tag kids involved in social justice issues—adopting capitalist models and corporate policies would not only be ridiculous, but would violate Radio-BED’s principles. I was wrong, and hoodwinked into making a bad investment.
As recognized former members of Occupy Vancouver and Victoria, as vocal allies of Indigenous struggles, as a collective that insists on living off the grid while taking down the system, their actions are more like those of their class enemies, than those of their supposed class allies. Think Wall Street Wolves dressed in radical left politics.
This is not the kind of community I want to be a part of.
Throughout my life I’ve worked many jobs: As a busser, a restaurant hostess; in retail and numerous customer service jobs; in reception and clerical work, and within the non-profit sector. I’ve life modelled for artists and art classes. I’ve even worked at a sandwich factory, standing eight hours a day at the assembly line, packaging sandwiches sold in vending machines. I’ve worked in the corporate world, as the assistant’s assistant in a law office, and in the insurance industry. Corporations and I never got along: My tongue froze at office gossip, my backstabbing skills were horrible, and sucking up to management confused me. I wasn’t good at office military war games, at pretending to be bffs with co-workers, all the while trying to get each other fired, and gunning for a seat in upper management’s round table.
And yet, as much as I despise the corporate work place, they, at the very least, pay—very poorly and often without benefits—their lower-rank employees. A miserable paycheque in exchange for their labour conjures the illusion that a worker’s labour has some value.
I received no respect or value from Radio-BED regarding the work I contributed, work that, under a different economic and social system, I have a right to. What about my time and my labour spent contacting guests and arranging interviews? Completing research which included watching—numerous times—the films of Karen Cho, reading the essays and memoir of Jowita Bydlowska, dissecting the scientific papers of Dr. Jennifer Gardy—this was not an easy task for someone more inclined towards similes and rhyme schemes over mycobacterium tuberculosis mutation. And then there are the interviews, all of which I conducted. I was never paid, and didn’t expect to be paid, since Radio-BED is supposed to be a community radio collaboration made up of volunteers, not a business venture. I thought that, when the time came, I would have access to the raw material. I don’t.
As a full-time student, I work weekends selling admission tickets at a local museum. I live off an ever-growing student loan which is never enough; by the end of the semester I am stretching the last bits of my loan to buy food, to pay rent. As a child of working-class immigrants who are close to retiring, I have no property, no assets; I live paycheque to paycheque, budget weekly, shop at dollar stores, stick very close to my grocery list, dumping loose change at the checkout counter like the grandmas at the local grocer. I’m happy the odd times when my paycheque is higher than usual—but only because I can pay all my bills, instead of paying the most urgent expense, accruing interest on the rest.
I can’t afford to buy the content I produced. In principle, I shouldn’t have to.
You may be wondering what I want to do with the interviews. Obviously, I want to put them up on my website—my online portfolio—in the same way Radio-BED wants to put them up on their website. To be clear, I take no issue with sharing the interviews, since sharing was the original premise of Radio-BED.
I’m proud of these interviews, of the amount of work and effort I put into them. They’re expressions of my creativity, products of my labour that Radio-BED claims does not belong to me. I find this not only offensive but hateful. I’m certainly not going to be making money from my podcast.
Radio-BED and I have very different goals; therefore collaborations are impossible at this point. One goal is about protecting a business investment; the other is about taking pride in creative, non-profit work. And since no common goal is shared between Radio-Bed and me, I decided to leave the collective.
I have yet to receive the invoice from Radio-BED. I have no doubt that I’ll be charged a rental fee, charged for equipment use—although I never touched the equipment as I have no clue how to operate a state of the art, mobile recording studio. At best I can turn on a corded microphone. Thus, I’ll likely be charged for technical services, since another member of the collective pressed the record button and monitored the volumes while I conducted the interviews. I’m anticipating the final bill will be massive. It wouldn’t matter though, because in the end, I can’t pay. I don’t have the money, and choosing between paying rent and buying interviews is a no-brainer. As painful as it is to let go of the six interviews I produced, I have no other choice but to move on, since I can’t win against a radical left collective employing corporate strategies. I have no energy, no time, no patience to negotiate schemes and backroom deals.
In moving on, I’m hoping that my former guests, all high-achieving, intelligent, women in the arts and sciences, whose work I respect and admire, who took time off from their hectic schedules to be interviewed, are willing to be re-interviewed. This is an embarrassingly time-consuming request, but I can only hope they’ll say yes.
In looking at the big picture and in trying to be as objective as possible, I’ll give Radio-BED the benefit of the doubt. We live in a capitalist society, where money rules and property ownership is paramount; where anything can be bought, sold and squandered; where principles are distorted and morals turn into perversions. Even within radical left movements, it’s a daily struggle to transcend from, and reject capitalist values and ethics. Aside from political commitment, it takes a lot of personal reflection and humility to forsake pettiness and competition, after all, the desire to rule a hierarchy, no matter how small or radically left-leaning is very strong.
There are many who genuinely oppose class structures, who are dedicated, in principle and in action, to create non-oppressive and non-exploitative practices, who challenge themselves and their communities against capitalist tricks and methodologies. This is not a smooth ride of course, because it’s easier to stick with or reform dominant models, than to imagine and construct new standards and ideals. We’re all susceptible to the magic of capitalism—radical collectives included.