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20,000 People Gather in San Francisco to Call for Peace: An Interview with Hip-Hop Artist and Activist Michael Franti

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Some 20,000 people gathered in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for a daylong rally and concert to call for peace on Saturday. The “911 Power to the Peaceful Festival” brought together musicians, artists and activists committed to social justice and against war. We speak with Michael Franti, hip-hop artist, activist, and one of the organizers of the event. [includes rush transcript]

The festival was first held four years ago to call attention to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s impending execution. The date 9/11 was chosen to note the emergency status of Mumia’s case. But after last year’s attacks, the date 9/11 took on a wider significance.

The day began with a moment of peaceful meditation. Then rapper KRS-One, musician, and Green Party candidate Jello Biafra, hip-hop artists Michael Franti and Mystic, Mario Africa from MOVE, Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange and many others spoke and performed.


  • Michael Franti, hip hop artist and activist, and one of the organizers of the rally

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Franti, singing this weekend at Golden Gate Park at a protest rally, “Power to the Peaceful.” Between ten and twenty thousand people gathered at the park in San Francisco for a daylong rally and concert to call for peace on Saturday. The 911 Power to the Peaceful Festival brought together musicians, artists, activists committed to social justice and against war. The festival was first held four years ago to call attention to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s impending execution, the date 9/11 chosen to note the emergency status of Mumia’s case. But after last year’s attack, the date 9/11 took on wider significance.

The day began with a moment of peaceful meditation. Among the people who were there, KRS-One; candidate, Green Party — former candidate, Jello Biafra; Mario Africa from MOVE; Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange. Before the whole event began, I had a chance to speak with hip-hop artist Michael Franti.

    MICHAEL FRANTI: Well, the first year was Mumia 911, and it was an international day of art and culture for Mumia, and so there was people all around the world that put on painting exhibitions, plays. And what we did in San Francisco was a musical manifestation. And so, we had an event, a concert, and we used 911 to draw attention to the emergency status of Mumia’s case, so we used those numbers. And then in 2000, we did another concert that was expanded to be in opposition to the prison-industrial complex as a whole. And then last year, obviously, September 11th took on a whole new significance, and it became a peace concert.

    And what we’re doing here this year is really making the statement that, like Martin Luther King said, that peace is not merely the absence of war, but it’s the presence of justice. And if we want to develop a lasting peace throughout the world, we’re not going to do it through bombing; we’re going to do it through social justice. And so, today we have gathered over a hundred different social justice organizations who are representing here today, ourselves, Spearhead, KRS-One is here, Mystic is here, a lot of other great musicians and artists and speakers and performers.

    AMY GOODMAN: How has 9/11 affected your music and the response to it?

    MICHAEL FRANTI: Well, in two ways. One is that I feel like it’s really important that the musical community leads the voice for peace. We don’t hear it in the corporate media. Even in some of the alternative media we don’t hear the voice of peace coming through. And I think it’s important for artists to, in this time, be there to enrage, enlighten and inspire people to work for peace. And so, the way that my music has changed is that, you know, I’ve written some songs that are about those issues, but I’ve really tried to dig deep in my music to touch an emotional core, because I feel that that’s the way music works the best. There’s scientific reasoning, and there’s, you know, political polls and all those things that work good in that field, but what we do as a musician is try to work with emotions.

    AMY GOODMAN: How do you link the two issues? How do you link your 911 events before 9/11, which really focused on critical resistance, the prison-industrial complex, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and what’s happening now?

    MICHAEL FRANTI: Well, ironically, those attacks took place on the same day we were putting on our concert, so we didn’t have to reach very far to try to link them together. But the way that they’re really linked is that, you know, the budget surplus that was accumulated during the Clinton administration has now gone into, quote-unquote, “homeland security.” It’s gone into bombing people in other parts of the world. And it’s gone into the pockets of militarists. And that same money has — we’ve been speaking out for it to go into the schools and to go into social services and to go into promoting clean living and clean energy instead of the prison-industrial complex and instead of the military.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about “Bomb the World”?

    MICHAEL FRANTI: Well, I have a song called “Bomb the World,” and the lyric says, “We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can’t bomb it into peace.” And I think that it’s important that the focus shift from just revenge for these attacks and just revenge on — or first strike against people that we think may have these weapons of mass destruction. I’m like, well, what were the weapons that we dropped in Afghanistan? They caused plenty of mass destruction there. And I believe strongly that we need to have young people, we need to have Middle American people, we need to have as many people as we can to raise our voices and say that if our goal is lasting peace in the world and lasting safety in the world, that we’re not going to get it through bombing.

    AMY GOODMAN: There are all sorts of activities that are taking place around the country, and people are talking about a crackdown as well around the country. Even in just putting together your concert, how are the police dealing with this?

    MICHAEL FRANTI: Well, two days ago, the police — we had a — they called us into an emergency meeting and said that “We’ve heard that this event is going to be fifteen to twenty thousand people, and we need you to hire two more squadrons of police officers.” We hadn’t hired any, to begin with, but they told us that that would cost us $7,500, and that if we didn’t have this money, that our concert couldn’t go.

    AMY GOODMAN: You have to hire publicly?

    MICHAEL FRANTI: We have to hire them. And my argument to them was, well, people are supposed to have equal protection under the law. If the KKK throws a march or a rally or a political event, the police come out and protect them. If we’re doing a direct action, like, say, at the WTO, we shouldn’t have to pay for police in riot gear to come beat us up. We’re putting on a very peaceful event here that we’ve done for four years without any problems, and this year they’re just, you know, sticking it to us. And there’s nothing that we could do. We’re just going to have to try to fight it after the fact.

    AMY GOODMAN: So how much are you supposed to pay?

    MICHAEL FRANTI: $7,500.

    AMY GOODMAN: So this would scare other people if they want to put on an event.

    MICHAEL FRANTI: Yeah, yeah. Basically that’s what it’s about. You know, just trying to strong-arm us into doing this. And we’ve tried — you know, we’ve called our supervisors and everybody that we can, people at the mayor’s office, the previous police captain in another district that we did the event last year who didn’t charge us anything, and tried to get all their support. But it’s not been working.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Michael Franti, hip-hop artist.

    AMY GOODMAN: When the President-select comes to town when there’s a political rally, do they charge people?

    MICHAEL FRANTI: I don’t know. I mean, in the past we’ve never had us be charged at any other political events that we’ve done, so I don’t know why they’ve chosen this. You know, I understand the concern. You know, if there’s a whole bunch of people that are coming, and the last thing a police captain wants is if somebody gets hurt and say, “Well, why didn’t you have police out there?” But no one’s — you know, we pay for it in our taxes, and it’s supposed to be part of what we buy, you know? So, I don’t know. I think if they come out here, I’m going to put them to work, man.

    AMY GOODMAN: Could you get to deduct money that you’ve paid if they do beat anyone up?

    MICHAEL FRANTI: I don’t know. I don’t think that’ll happen. I mean, this is not that type of event. But, I mean, last year they came out, and they stood around, and they clapped, and they danced, and they had fun, you know. And I don’t think we should have to pay them 7,500 bucks for that. If anything, they should be paying us.

    AMY GOODMAN: If you have to pay, maybe you can get them without the frills, like without the tear gas, without the batons, maybe without the guns.

    MICHAEL FRANTI: No, I think there’s only one standard issue that you get.

    AMY GOODMAN: In talking to other musicians, as you travel nonstop around the country now, how many are putting out the message that you are? And how many feel free to do that?

    MICHAEL FRANTI: Well, there’s very few that are really putting out this message, but we’re hoping that it’ll be more. And we’re very excited that KRS-One came onboard. You know, he called me last week and said, “Hey, I really want to be there,” so he flew himself out from LA. I was really excited to see that Meshell Ndegeocello just popped up out here just unannounced, and now we’re going to try and get her up on stage.

    And so, we’re hoping that — first of all, we’re hoping that we don’t go into Iraq, but we’re hoping that if we do go into Iraq, that the musical community will really stand up and be counted for.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Franti, hip-hop artist. Power to the Peaceful rally, musical concert and protest on Saturday at Golden Gate Park. It was broadcast live by Pacifica station KPFA and Hard Knock Radio. A shout-out to them. When we come back, we’ll hear Jello Biafra, a former Green Party candidate, who took the stage on Saturday.

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Next story from this daily show

Jello Biafra Speaks at Peace Rally in San Francisco

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