Taken from The Huntsville Times (al.com) (Jan 25, 2013)
Michael Franti shares revolutionary sentiment in Birmingham
by Blake Ells
Michael Franti led a free lecture and performance at UAB's Alys Stephens Center on Thursday, January 24, as part of Birmingham's 50 Years Forward. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of major civil rights milestones, 50 Years Forward will continue to educate the city throughout 2013. Before taking the stage, Franti took a moment to speak to me about his outside impression of the Magic City and how far it has come, marriage equality, gun control and his San Francisco 49ers upcoming Super Bowl trip.
Blake Ells for Birmingham Box Set: You're joining us as part of the city's 50 Years Forward commemoration. While you didn't see Birmingham 50 years ago, what do you think of the progress it has made?
Michael Franti: In terms of civil rights around the country, Birmingham is one of the birth places of the movement. The segregation that was taking place here 50 years ago is such a glaring example - people couldn't eat at the same restaurants, they couldn't use the same restrooms, they couldn't ride the same bus - and here, this type of legal segregation was fought against and won. Still, this division between ethnic groups is far from what we hear in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech - we're still far from that dream.
Some look at that as the glass being half full, while others look at that as the glass half empty. And still others see that as both. But there is always an opportunity to continue to work to improve the lives of other people.
BE: On Monday, President Barack Obama became the first to speak of marriage equality during an inauguration. What did that acknowledgement mean and how will it be remembered?
MF: I'm somebody that believes marriage is a civil right, though some don't see it as that. There have always been people that have gone against what was happening to make progress for this country at that moment. Those norms change and become taken for granted. We take it for granted that all people can vote, not just white men with land. And like most everything, we'll look back 20 or 30 years from now and think, "Wow, there was really a time when gay people couldn't get married?"
Some call it a separation of church and state, but it's more humanistic in terms outside of religion. All people should be allowed to be married. What [Obama] said will go down as historic. I'm not sure that change will happen during his term, but he'll be remembered as the first.
BE: Gun control has divided this country over the last year. Is there a solution?
MF: I think we have to find a solution to what's happening today. We look at things as indicators - whether that's in Colorado with the shooting of 50 people or going into a school and shooting another 10 or 20 - we look at those types of things in America. But when you look at people getting shot, it's every day. It's almost every day in Hunters Point, the San Francisco neighborhood where I live.
There are so many guns on the streets - at the end of the day if everyone has a gun...it's like having a cell phone. If you have one, you're going to use it. If you don't, you are going to have to find other means to communicate your message. I see fights that could just result in a fist fight. But they'll end in a death instead of a black eye.
BE: You became a vegan later in life, if I'm not mistaken. Was that transition difficult for you?
MF: At this point, every now and then, I'll eat fish. So I wouldn't say it's that I'm defined to anything. I was in Bali for a month and the people would pull fish straight from the water and serve.
I did it because I felt better when I did. But there's also so much deforestation - trees being cut down for grazing land for cattle - it's the larger effects than what the meat industry has done. But I've never wanted to suggest that people should stop eating meat altogether. I want to encourage people to be healthier by eating less meat and more fruits and vegetables. My diet now is 80% green vegetables and fruits. I've lost weight. My indicators, my blood pressure, they're all improved.
BE: You've been a favorite at the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores. Will you return in 2013?
MF: I think so. I haven't seen the schedule yet. I love that festival. It's one of the premier festivals in the country. You have something there the other festivals don't - it's right on the beach!
That's a really good thing for Alabama. I never knew that Alabama had beaches. Not only is there one, it's one of the most beautiful in the country - one that rivals anything we have in California where I live. After the oil spill, [the festival] is a good face to show the rest of the nation.
BE: Are you a big 49ers fan? How do you feel about their Super Bowl chances?
MF: I am. Since I was a kid. I grew up less than a mile from Candlestick. We've had some lean years over the last decade, and this team and this community expect them to be great every year. They've gone through some adversity and made some tough decisions at quarterback [laughs].
The stadium is in Hunters Point, which is my neighborhood in San Francisco. And this is "the hood," man. It's the last year they'll play there before moving to Santa Clara next year. People in our 'hood are really proud of them, and they are already planning big parties. They'd love to see them win this in their last year here. Everyone is already tailgating in the streets. It will be a big celebration.
BE: Who are the top five American rock bands of all time?
MF: Top five? Oh man, that's so hard. You're putting me on the spot. I'll say my favorite, and I don't know if it's the best ever, but I grew up in the Bay area, so I'm partial to Bay area bands. We'll do it that way. Santana, Sly & the Family Stone, Grateful Dead, Green Day and the Dead Kennedys.