Stripping away illusions
Alternative Radio founder David Barsamian teases his annual State of the World Address
If you go to David Barsamian’s State of the World Address looking for quick solutions to the world’s problems, you’ll be disappointed.
“It’s more like stripping away illusions,” Barsamian says of his annual lecture. “A friend [told me], ‘If you don’t have an accurate understanding of what’s going on, any solution you might propose will go nowhere.’”
And so Barsamian speaks about the “state of the world” to educate people, to peel away “layers of propaganda.” There is no magic pill, no get-rich-quick Ponzi scheme, so to speak.
“I give all these talks and people want quick answers,” Barsamian says. “‘Tell me what to do. Give me a number. Give me a website, provide some elixir that I can drink right now and it’ll all be solved.’”
An old-school independent journalist, self-taught with no college degree, Barsamian educated himself through a lifetime of travel, learning along the way that there’s no simple answer to the chaos and strife around the globe.
He founded Alternative Radio in Boulder 30 years ago, even then taking a stance against mainstream media.
From the station’s “world headquarters” on Folsom Street, Barsamian airs lengthy interviews with some of the world’s most renowned political activists and thought leaders: Eqbal Ahmad, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali, Richard Wolff, Arundhati Roy and Edward Said.
He jokes that he holds the Guinness record for most interviews with Noam Chomsky, but there’s no question that it’s true.
His most recent interview was with political activist, famed consumer advocate and former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Barsamian spoke with the octogenarian for more than two hours.
Barsamian knows the key to change is activism.
Despite his first-hand experiences and the depth of his understanding, or perhaps because of it, Barsamian is wary of telling people how to get engaged.
“You don’t want to be pedantic and say, ‘You do this because I’m so smart and you’re not and I’ve seen the light and you haven’t so follow me,’” he says. “I’m reluctant to do that anyway because I don’t think it’s productive. I think people need to own their activism so it’s authentic. The question is what should I do? There are so many things to do, so much work to be done. There are so many immigrants in this community who need English-as-a-second-language training. Whether it’s feeding the homeless or … volunteering at KGNU or interning at Boulder Weekly, but doing something where you feel authentic. It’s important to own it and feel authentic in what you’re doing.”
And, he reiterates, to unwrap the “layers of propaganda” U.S. citizens are exposed to each day, from the media, from political candidates and from the very government that purports to serve the people of the United States.
Barsamian admits he doesn’t know what he’ll say at the Laughing Goat on Sept. 12 when he gives his State of the World Address.
“Meanwhile the overriding critical issue is climate change,” he says.
It requires a hard look at the capitalism system, which Barsamian describes as being “based on the plunder of resources and maximizing profit.”
“That is incompatible [with addressing climate change]. The current capitalist system is laced with corporate socialism: subsidies, tax breaks, loopholes, direct funding. Can that system really change, avert what is going to be a collision course with nature? And we’re not talking 22nd century. This is now, within your lifetime. This is within decades.”
And the global unrest from climate change is already visible.
It’s a very volatile situation and we shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of community, a false sense not just of civility but also of comfort, and go back to, ‘How is the new rookie quarterback for the Broncos?’ And, ‘What about the latest Kardashian scandal or affair or whatever the distraction of the moment is?’ We should not take our focus off this threat to civilization as we know it which is represented by climate change.”
It’s clear there are already climate refugees. But to the Western world, en masse, these are non-people, “disposable people,” Barsamian says.
“So who cares if the Maldives go under or Tonga or other islands in the South Pacific or Bangladesh,” Barsamian says. He references the German anti-Nazi theologian and pastor Marin Niemöller who famously said:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
As Americans, Barsamian says, it’s OK to look at our country and see what we can do here that can affect the world. And maybe we should start by questioning the very foundation of American democracy.
“We have to look at electoral politics — overall is that the answer?” Barsamian asks. “What office did Mahatma Gandhi hold? What office did he run for? What office did Martin Luther King Jr. ever hold? It’s possible to make changes without going through the electoral system, because the system is so corrupt and gerrymandered to death that one has to consider outside impulses that can transform society.”
ON THE BILL: Annual State of the World Address with David Barsamian. 8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12, The Laughing Goat, 1709 Pearl St., 303-440-4628.