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Taken from DOSE (March 16, 2006)

He's Not Alone

by Meagan Fitzpatrick

Michael Franti
Musician Michael Franti. (Getty Images)
Musician Michael Franti traveled all the way to the Middle East to discover he wasn’t alone in his own country.

“There’s been times living in America where I felt like I was the only person in the country who thought that perhaps we should exhaust every other possibility before we consider using our military,” said Franti during a phone interview from San Francisco earlier this week. “And I saw a government and people of our nation being so quick after September 11 to want to go and blow people up and I felt really alone in that.”

But a trip to war-torn Iraq, Israel and Palestine changed his mind and his life. Wanting to see how conflicts in those regions were affecting people on the ground, Franti packed up his guitar and a video camera and set off with a group of friends to find out for himself what was going on.

Franti is now sharing the lessons he learned through a documentary, a book and an album all titled I Know I’m Not Alone.

“What I learned on this trip is that in order for the world to be closer to peace we have to begin to embody a politic that considers the other side. We have to keep our hearts open to listening to the other side,” said the long-time peace advocate.

Franti is currently on tour with the film, performing tracks from the album and answering audience questions after screening the documentary.

He is proud of the film and how it is inspiring people to ask, “What can I do to make change?” His answer is very simple: speak up.

“Whenever we see injustice or things that are going wrong we have to speak up,” he explained. “Speak up at your dinner table at home, around your water cooler at work, speak up when you go to vote, speak up with your dollars and where you spend them.”

The trip proved to be a roller coaster of emotions said Franti, explaining how at times he felt overwhelmingly sad like when he visited children in the hospital and at other times he was hopeful and inspired like when he jammed with an Iraqi heavy metal band who use telephone wire for guitar strings. There was also fear, like when he was shot at by Israeli soliders after crossing into a curfew area, and perhaps even some guilt.

“When I left I had mixed emotions because here I have the ability to come into this situation and then pull myself out when I want to, but there’s generations of people who year after year after year for decades have lived through this violence,” said Franti.

But Franti not only gained a greater understanding of what citizens of the combat zones experience, he also learned about people from his own country—American soldiers fighting in Iraq.

Franti recalls first meeting some of them in a bar where the off duty soldiers had beer in one hand and rifles in the other and he went on to play them his songs about peace.

“I realized these young men and women didn’t have a lot of opportunities back home and signed up for the military thinking it would be a good change for their lives,” he said, “and now they find themselves fighting this war that was based on lies. They told me over and over again, more than anything else they just wanted to go home.”

While that was a memorable moment, it’s the images of young bombing victims in Iraq that Franti can’t get out of his head.

“Visiting children in hospitals who had been blown up really changed my life, my whole view on not only this war but on all wars. This is what my tax dollars are going to, to blow up kids? That’s not what I’m about.”

Franti plans on returning to Israel and hopes to visit Iraq again when it is more safe.


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