Michael Franti on Occupy Wall Street, His New Album and Fostering Compassion Everywhere

A few weeks ago we caught up with socially conscious hip-hop/reggae artist Michael Franti days after he
played at Occupy Wall Street. Spearhead's frontman and driving force has been an activist for more than two decades, and he showed up at the protest in pigtails and a tall-crowned
cowboy hat. Sans sound system, Franti
played several songs on his guitar, including 2007's “Yell Fire,” which features the
lyric “Three piece suits and bank accounts in Bahamas / Wall Street
crime will never send you to the slammer.”

Over the phone Franti told us, “I just wanted to see what was going on. I went
down there as an observer,” adding, “Wall Street as banking is part of everyone's
life and the world whether we like it or not. I'd like to see Wall
Street be responsible and accountable for themselves, having received
the big bailouts that we've given them.”

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Michael Franti at Occupy Wall Street

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According to our sister blog Sound of the City,

Franti told the
audience that showing up for your first protest is easy. “But it's
difficult to come the second and third time, waiting to see the
newspaper the next morning to announce that Wall Street has changed its
ways,” he said. “In order to keep coming back,” Franti told the crowd,
“it takes what we call soul.”

Days later, Franti explained what he took away from the experience: “People are there for all different kinds of reasons; some want to see Wall Street
folk who committed crimes during the financial crisis prosecuted because to this point none
of them have been. Others want to see businesses investing in
renewable energy. And some people are just mad that our tax dollars were
used to bail out bankers who used all of our money–and then lost it!”

Franti says the main thing
expressed is people are tired of having the 1 percent elite members of the population dramatically altering the lives of the rest of the 99 percent. He says, “I really don't believe that as a world we have time for this us
and them division. There really should be no more us versus them. And
our country's politics makes a lot out of dividing people because of
economic class, or Republicans versus Democrats, black or white. So many lines of
division that are constantly being drawn.”

As a musician–and a socially conscious one–Franti says “the great thing about
music is it breaks down those barriers and allows people to come
together and see that there's a possibility of a different way of being.”

“And that's why I do it, so when I go to a place like that I learn. I
have friends who work on Wall Street, in the military and prison, and
everywhere I go I try to listen so I can be a better communicator so I
can bring people together.”

Franti, who's gotten a reputation for concerts that are family friendly, says the one thing he's most proud of is how accessible his music is. His themes have evolved as well; his songs are now less about social
change and more about “inspiring people to be the best they can be, whatever they do.”

Inspiring people to live in a compassionate world–and hope–is also the theme of Franti's latest album, which should be out next year. “I think
the biggest force behind it is right now we need to see light at the
end of the tunnel. As a nation, a world, people are worried about the
future. We need signs things are improving. Sometimes you see it in a
new baby or a flower growing in a crack of a sidewalk. As we go on to
this next election year, things are going to get really hot and heated.
There's going to be a lot of efforts to divide us and I think now is a time
to be a nation, to come together.”


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