Die Like an Eagle

Michael Franti and friends fight the hawks with hits

Let the eagle soar / Like she's never soared before / From rocky coast to golden shore / Let the eagle soar -- words and music by John Ashcroft

Few people have seen the clever propaganda memo that the White House recently released in an attempt to stem the tide of youth protest to war in Iraq. The Houston Press has secured a copy. Here are some excerpts:

"America. That's my bitch. Her golden shores raise me and get me all fuzzy-feelin', and her majestic forests are tight. She's kinda like an eagle, soaring like she's never soared before, like when you first tried to snowboard and you fell over, but then you got used to it and pretty soon you were like, booyaaaa!

Right-wingers fill Michael Franti with dread.
Anton Corbijn
Right-wingers fill Michael Franti with dread.

"One thing cool about my girl is that when another country totally opens a bottle of Haterade she's all, Nuh-uh! No you di'n't!

"Shit's getting deep, tho. Shit's getting deep. Now people wanna front on her, taking to the streets all like, 'No blood for oil! Not in my name!'

"Nothin' but playa hatas! Straight-up nizzle de-shizzlas!"

The effects of said memo remain to be seen, but John Ashcroft's upcoming collaboration with Method Man could stem the tide, proving what we already know: that music has the power to change minds.

Or at least to raise the spirits of that disenfranchised segment of society known as "the liberals." Thousands of us took to the streets in 2002 and 2003 to protest Bush's Yosemite Sam approach to foreign policy. For those who are ambivalent about the war or even in favor of it, watching from home was a study in anachronism. The recent trade-talk tumult in Miami reinforced the current regime's dim view of protesters and even peripheral participants, including union leaders, clergy, reporters and passersby. Protests, like it or not, are still associated with hippies. Hippies, like it or not, are associated with drugs and being out of it, or worse -- being flaky. Face it, it's possible that demonstrations will never again work to bring about results other than strengthening the solidarity of the protesters.

"I don't look at it that way," says San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop musician and activist Michael Franti. "I don't look at it like it's something from the '60s. This battle with violence and militarism is a battle that's been taking place for thousands of years…and if it's looking back at the '60s, so what?"

Well, first of all, the only time any real progress is made in this country is when the middle-of-the-roaders get involved. They need to be swayed. If the media continues to make protesters look like some loony fringe -- which they tend to do -- the middle isn't going to listen. People opposed to this war need to get themselves a fresh PR campaign. In this case, music might be a good place to start. If someone like Jay-Z would step up and speak out about our expensive and morally dubious occupation of Iraq instead of focusing on our to' up domestic situation, the apathetic middle might get off its ass and show some support.

Franti and his group, Spearhead, answered Ashcroft's soaring eagles with an antiwar ballad called "Bomb the World," the lead-off single from Everyone Deserves Music, released in September 2002. Like Gil-Scott Heron, Franti chews his rhetoric into bite-sized pieces, so the message never sounds too radical when he spits it back out. "You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace," he observes.

Last January, Franti spoke at Yale University, President Bush's alma mater, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His speech focused on music as an instrument for social change. "Music has a way of bringing out emotions in us…in a way that politicians, money and religion do not," he explains. "It also has the ability to live outside the mainstream, even today, when music has become so corporate and MTV is so powerful. There's still an opportunity for independent voices to be heard."

Besides, Franti says, music is but one tool, just like demonstrating. The real effectiveness of protest lies in motivating the already aware to keep going. "You can't look at it like things are going to change tomorrow if we protest," he says. "Bush isn't gonna pick up the paper and say, 'You know what? You 200,000 people who were out in the street today, you guys were right.' But if we raise the consciousness that maybe schools should take a precedence over the military, that health care should take precedence over corporate tax breaks, then over time maybe we'll develop that awareness."

Franti and Spearhead are regulars on the antiwar circuit, appearing as part of the Not in Our Name antiwar benefit concert along with Ani DiFranco, Saul Williams, Chuck D and Ozomatli. "My personal goal is to raise money for AWOL magazine, which is a really great magazine that gives space to musicians, poets, artists and filmmakers who are doing socially conscious work," Franti says. "The second thing is just to provide an opportunity for people to come together and look into the eyes of others who are concerned about what's happening with this war. As always through my music, I try to enrage, enlighten and inspire folks. And right now is a time when we can all use some inspiration."

Tight. Now, may Ashcroft's eagle get sucked into the jet engine of the people.

 
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