Friday, March 09, 2007

Michael Franti in Fayettville: What's the Use of Political Music?

Michael Franti & Spearhed played at George's Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, AR on March 6, and I manage to catch the show. I first hear of Franti back in the early nineties, when he led Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, who are best known for their song, "Television: Drug of the Nation." I saw him perform with Spearhead in Seattle, I think it was back in 1996. I've not followed him so closely of late, but I still consider him one of the most important political artists around.

The concert was sold out, just jammed with a crowd of 2-300 that could loosely be termed "hippies." The crowd was very appreciative, very familiar with the music. Franti seemed quite surprised at the enthusiastic reception he received in his first-ever concert in Arkansas--and the crowd was of course very glad to hear themselves praised by the likes of Franti.

But all during the concert--which I enjoyed immensely--I couldn't get the thought out of my mind that this Sunday, March 11, the Omni Center for Peace and Equality is organizing anti-war, anti-occupation demonstration, on the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.
There were flyers advertising the march spread around in the club, and due to the efforts of a couple of my younger friends, the flyer managed to end up in Franti's hand at the conclusion of the concert and he read it out. I'm pretty certain, however, that despite Franti's endorsement, and despite the fact that Franti's music is consistently progressive and political (and the politics is expressed very clearly), that very few of those at the concert will come out to the march. Twenty at most, I imagine, and I will know most of them. The march (if the weather holds up) will probably include several hundred people, if the last march is any guide, but it won't be the hippies who attended the Franti/Spearhead concert. They're sympathetic with Franti's message, but they'd pay $20 and show up to dance and drink beer (and smoke some Chronic--a lot of that in the air) than participate in a demo. Our demo on March 11 will include people of all age groups (with a lot of middle aged folks like me), but it will be very short on young folks of the "alternative" or hippy variety.

So is Franti's music, so infused with radical politics, of any political use in a place like this? I discussed this with my friend Dave, and he suggested that probably, in a place like San Francisco, there would be more of a convergence between the audience at a Franti concert and marchers at an anti-war rally. I think that's probably true. And I'm not sure why all the good-hearted pot-smoking longhaired young people here are so unlikely to show up at a rally. I have no answers, only a feeling of depression...


Susana Rosetta said...

I am 26. I have long hair. I didn't go to the show at George's but I own several Franti cds and caught a Franti & Spearhead show at the Jazz Cafe in Camden Town, London in 2005 it was hott!
I plan to be at the march tomorrow.
.....keep the faith.

Greg Moore said...

Hey Ted! Good questions. I was disappointed with the turnout at the march. But, of course, used to it. why have we peaked at around 200? I think this is a complicated question and there are several parts to it. Here are some thoughts.

1. I think marches would be better attended if they were more directly challenging a power holder. They would feel more productive. I heard a story about Cheny coming to town like 4 years ago and there was a massive demonstration planned on very short notice that was quite a bit larger than the demos we have been having. Do you know anything about this? is it just a rumor? A friend of mine said there were at least 600 people there. Is this wrong information?

2. Organizing in the "Bar Scene" never works. It just doesn't work.

3. I know many of these hippie types and spoken to them and they are NOT REVOLUTIONARIES. Not even liberals or progressives. Many of them are conspiracy theorist-types. Most of them are way way into this wacky spirituality type of mode. So I think they are filtering Franti's message through their own wierd mindset. I went to a showing of Franti's Documentary on the 7th and during the discussion portion people wanted to talk about the mysterious end of the Mayan calendar! The year 2012 or some shit like this. Have you heard of this? So people with this kind of magical perspective cannot be counted on for actions.

Greg Moore said...

Oh yeah, one more thing: last year we had way more participants. twice as many. probably more than that.

We spend alot of time making these demos as familiar and as comfortable as possible so they will be easy to attend. This is good for new comers. but maybe there is a section of folks who have had enough of that and would be more likely to attend more serious and strategic actions. Just a thought.

Ted Swedenburg said...

Of course Susana and Greg were at the march, and a few other fans of Michael Franti--but where were all the others?

Responding to Greg: The anti-Cheney demo a few years back was quite big, and it was organized on short notice. Don't know if whether there were 600 people, but probably more than this March 11, and more spirited.

I don't really have a clue as to how to mobilize more numbers. As someone involved in the Vietnam war era protests, I find it interesting that although there is very widespread and mainstream opposition to this war, and that people seem quite irritated with Bush & Cheney & Rumsfeld, that there simply isn't the same degree of ANGER that was evidenced in the Vietmam era. I remember an anti-war chant: "One two three four, we don't want this fucking war. Five six seven eight organize to smash the state." Our chants are quite polite. Of course we can't chant "fucking" because young children are present in our marches, but we could be angrier and more militant in our expression of opposition and disdain for our shameful, deadly and horrific adventure in Iraq. We should be PISSED at what is being done in our names and act according to our sentiments.

Meanwhile, the Democrats and are being quite 'nice' and 'polite' in their opposition and proving ineffective at stopping the war. We should be organizing ANGRY protests at the office of our Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, one of two Democratic Senators to vote against a Senate resolution aimed at withdrawing most American combat troops from Iraq in 2008. (The vote, requiring 60 votes to pass, was 50 to 48 against.)