Taken from Chattanoogan (December 27, 2007)
Michael Franti - Power To The Peaceful
by fil manley
In October, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with poet-musician Michael Franti. Part humanitarian, part egalitarian, part politician, Franti has stayed busy the past few years developing his own brand of non-profit activism called “Power to the Peaceful.” He’s driven home their message on the road with his vibrant hybrid of reggae, funk, soul, folk and rock & roll. I sat down with him at 2007’s most fun and least dusty “big” music festival, the Echo Project in Atlanta.
Franti has been ignored by mainstream radio to some degree, but his music, in true “lamp on a bushel basket” style flows torrentially through the spirit brand music scene. Franti’s message of peace, justice and truth telling has struck a chord. Franti has walked barefoot for years to highlight the inequity between first and third world countries, and puts on free concerts to support his activism.
He traveled through the Middle East in 2004 visiting Iraq, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, trying to get to know the faces behind the war. His film documentary “I Know I’m Not Alone” is his way of examining the idea that they’re somehow different from us.
I shared interview time with Fadel Zeidan of UNCC and I’m posting both interviews with his permission.
FM: Michael, I understand that you practice Yoga?
MF: Yeah, we try to do it every day, sometimes twice a day.
FM: Yoga has made a big difference in my life, 20 years of smoking cigarettes almost killed me. You know, coming off of that, high blood pressure and all that stuff. When I saw you at Bonnaroo, I talked to a mutual friend and she spoke so highly of you, then when I heard you play at the Solar Stage, a line from one of your songs stuck out in my mind: you said, “an F16 is a homicide bomber.”
FM: That blew me away. It was an epiphany for me. I’d like to hear more about your efforts in the non-profit arena. I’m working on my own 501c3. It’s a non-profit search engine you can see at helpforhumans.org. I’m trying to compile a list of resources for people who need help.
MF: I believe that it takes more than governance to solve the problems of the world. It takes people in the private sector, it takes people in the non-profit world. It takes action, you know? My music is (meant) to inspire consciousness that can turn into action. We support a number of non-profit groups. Everything from prisons, prison awareness, prison activism, to environmental groups, like Rock the Earth, and to our own private peaceful organization, which is non-profit, that works in the US and other countries, helping to bring music, art, and culture to people rather than violence and gangs. I feel right now is the time, especially in this country, when we’ve been through a very dark period. In order for us to move beyond that, it’s going to take the action of individuals and people coming together to form organizations and so on. I think efforts like yours and creating databases, and creating ways for people to link up with one another is really important.
FM: There’s a lot of stuff out there, but unless you make it available, people can’t use it. Theres no Yellow Pages for non-profits. You can call people at United Way, but your average person living poor, doesn’t necessarily know that they can go to United Way and say “Hey, help me out,” or they’re just afraid or they’re embarrassed or whatever. A lot of what we do is directed more toward helpers than those being helped.
MF: Craigslist is a really good access for people. If you look on Craigslist, if you just look up non-profits, they actually have a non-profit boot camp, which is a place for people who want to start a non-profit organization. They have a training that takes place in San Francisco every year, and you go there, for I think it’s like three or four days and you learn everything you need to know, from fundraising to PR to organizing.
FM: Where are you from?
MF: Oh, I live in San Francisco. I live in Hunters Point San Francisco.
FM: Where’d you grow up?
MF: The hood of San Francisco. I was born in Oakland, in a town called Davis. In 1984, moved to San Francisco and been there ever since.
FM: What would you like to see, what is something you would most like to accomplish, with everything you’ve done, what would be your ultimate dream?
MF: I have some short-term goals and some long-term goals. You know, on the short term, I think ending the war in Iraq is really important but more than ending the war in Iraq, we have to change the consciousness of this country. Say, do we really want to be a nation that is known around the world for bombing and for killing people? Or do we want to be known as a nation that is a benevolent nation, that is the leader economically, for the good of all people, and that is a leader globally in terms of compassion? These are the things that we should be known for, not just killing.
FM: I agree so much, because I feel like we’ve tried so hard, through all these like, 270. You know, In God We Trust. Does it have to be the one that you specify or can other people believe the way they want to believe? That seems to be going away, like what we believe in is being legislated into submission. I feel like it’s just a matter of time before we’re all chipped, and that bothers me. It’s a natural progression when technology becomes the goal and not the tool, you know, television, cell phones. When I was in high school, no one had a cell phone; they didn’t exist.
MF: Well it’s all in our choice and however much we want to be linked to the technology, and we can live in fear of it or we can use it to our advantage, you know. I’m somebody who chooses to use it to our advantage, you know.
FM: I totally agree.
MF: We’re already all chipped, in terms of we all carry cell phones, we all use the Internet, and our cell phones are just personal GPS devices that can find anybody anywhere if you’re holding the cell phone. But if we want to live in fear of that, we’re gonna drive ourselves crazy. We just use it in positive ways and do everything we can to counteract whatever negativity
comes from it.
This is the other part of the interview conducted by Fadel Zeidan
(Fadel) You spend a lot of time encouraging people to vote.
MF: If we don’t show up at the polling booth then we’re BS’ing as much as anyone is.
(Fadel) Exactly, exactly. I understand that you meditate.
(Fadel) And I study meditating. I study neurosensive meditation.
(Fadel) It’s a two-part question. A) Are you religious? Do you subscribe to religions? and B) what is meditation? Because I think that is another thing that needs to be brought up for awareness and people need to rely on their own lives and what not, but that’s another story. What does meditation do for you on an everyday basis?
MF: There was this quote I read. I think his name was Paul Terek, he was a theologian and he said, “Religion is whatever is of utmost importance to you.” Some people may claim to be Catholic, may claim to be Muslim, may claim to be Hindu, may claim to be Jewish. But what is of utmost importance to them is not the principles of their faith. (Laugh) You know, it’s something else: it’s money, it’s their, you know, personal greed. And all of us have that. In my practice I try to quiet those voices in my head, and so I practice yoga every day. And in my other practice as we’re going through the Asanas, which is the movement and the stretching, and it’s a really hard physical work. We learn to breathe and to quiet our minds and to lower our heart rate as we do it. And in that practice, in each breath that we do, we try to have it be a breath for the divine. So that whatever benefit comes to us through our practice, it’s dedicated to the greater good. You know, and so that’s my way of, of battling, the first part of what I said, you know that thing that’s about serving yourself, things like how am I gonna pay my rent this month or how am I gonna pick up that girl, or you know, whatever it is that goes on through our heads. It’s like learning to quiet that voice so that we can let our actions for the divine, for the greater good. And as we breathe, we take in breath, for ourselves, and we breathe (breathes in deeply) as we breathe in, that’s taking in the divine, and as we breathe out, (breathes out quietly) that’s giving back the divine. It’s taking one step closer to the divine, and as we breathe in the divine is taking one step closer to us. And so that’s, in essence, my practice, and all the other things that I do, all the other prayer, chanting, sitting, Asana, stretching, are just ways to get to that practice of being.
MF: Where’s your family from?
(Fadel) Um, my Dad is from Hiva, and my mom is from Jerusalem. They had exiled and I was born in Kuwait.
MF: Did you hear about this news this morning about evacuating Syria? They did. Israel struck Syrian targets with missiles, and it was hush-hushed, and the Syrian government put a censor, all Israeli media was not allowed to speak about it. This was about 3 weeks ago. And now it came out that what they hit was what they believed to be a nuclear refinery. That was just in the very beginning stages, like they hadn’t even started doing anything. They were just digging and building a building there. And there was no nuclear enrichment taking place. And Condoleezza Rice said that this is the first time the U.S. Administration has given a, like a scolding to the Israeli people. Even though they knew they were doing it, they were aware of it, but Condoleezza Rice came out this morning and said that, this is not okay. This is the first time the Bush Administration has ever stood up against Israel.
(Fadel) We’ll see how long that lasts.
(Fadel) I just went there this summer and I was going to Jordan to see my family and I flew into Tel Aviv, they kept me from traveling for nine hours, they went, they pulled up my grandfather’s pictures, I mean, it was, you get the feeling I could be erased like that.
MF: That stuff’s scary man. Every time I go there, I get stopped, but never that long. Held for a couple hours. One time I missed a flight. I was leaving Tel Aviv and I missed my flight. I had to spend the night in the back of Tel Aviv. And then I had to come back the next day and do it all over again. They pulled my records as if I had never been there before.
(Fadel) They know everything that goes on there.
(Fadel) Thank you, Michael. You are the man. Love you, man.
MF: Keep up the good work.
(Fadel) Right on. You, too. Thanks for inspiring.
These articles are co-published on http://www.helpforhumans.org
Help for humans is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to use inexpensive software to create web-based tools which help people locate and connect with life reforming resources.
We focus on the reduction of poverty, homelessness, disease and violence toward all people. We have a special mandate to create tools custom tailored to the needs of the inner city and indigenous peoples of the continental United States, Hawaii and Alaska.
Help For Humans acts as a publishing vehicle for interviews with people who have something to discuss which can help to raise awareness of problems they’re particularly interested in as well as encourage people to make changes in their own lives. These include interviews with artists / musicians, theologians, philosophers and humanitarians of all stripes. If you have an issue or cause you feel is worth discussing, you can contact us through the website.
The Help For Humans website is the home of the BackPacks for the Homeless outreach which we started in 2000 and which is now in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, New York, Michigan, Cleveland, Oregon, California and Texas.
Editor: Hollie Daugherty
Transcriptionist: Melissa Lapsley
Special Thanks to Jill Brogan of Guerilla Management (Michael Franti and Spearhead), and to Caren West of Caren West public Relations (The Echo Project) for their time, patience and for doing an all around fantastic job.