Vermont Musician Michael Franti

“As I’ve traveled around the country and traveled around the world, I’ve realized that there’s millions of us who believe that we should do everything in our lives to create peace, and that we’ll be more effective in putting an end to “terrorism” by creating bonds of friendship than by dropping bombs on people and creating more enemies.”

On the afternoon of November 11, 2005, Michael Franti was live on the air on UVM’s own, WRUV FM Burlington. This interview preceded the inspirational documentary and rocking performance that took place that evening at the Ira Allen Chapel. Michael provides profound insights to the issues that seem so clouded at times. His experiences are truly remarkable and of vital importance to our generation

Cynic:What I’m really interested in is checking out this documentary that you’re working on. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Franti: “It’s a film called “I Know I’m Not Alone” and in June of 2004 I went to Iraq and played [music] for people in the street and in the hospitals, as well as for U.S. soldiers. I also traveled to Israel, Palestine, West Bank and the Gaza Strip and played music there too. Then I would take my video camera and ask people what’s it like living in Baghdad when the largest Air Force ever assembled is going to bomb your house. And then we made a film about it and that’s what we’ll be.”

C: What was your main motivation in going over there?

F: “My main motivation was to see what you don’t see on American television. The thing I kept noticing in all the coverage leading up to the war was that I’d hear a lot from generals and politicians about the economic cost and the political cost of the war, but I never heard about the human cost of the war.”

C: You were talking about the effects that your music had on people in the area. You said it made the walls fall down. Can you talk a little bit more about the effect that your music had on the people in the area, both on the civilians and the soldiers?

F: “Well it was interesting because, for example, I’d go into a hospital, but I wouldn’t have any access to this hospital, so I’d walk into the lobby and just start singing a song and I’d wait for these guys with machine guns to either kick me out or say go talk to the next person and that’s what would happen. I would go and pass through a gateway and entertain all the people in there and then I would go and talk to the administrators. I’d sing a song for them and they’d reluctantly say, all right go play for the kids and then you’d walk into a room of thirty kids under going chemotherapy because of all the depleted uranium weapons that had been dropped in the first Gulf War. Their mothers were living in the beds with them in the hospital because they didn’t have homes to stay in. Then you start playing a song and their face lights up and they start to clap and sing. You realize that music is this universal language; it really restored my faith in music. Being a musician in America with the clear-channeling of music, there are just fewer and fewer opportunities for artists who really speak from their heart. To experience music that I was playing, not just myself, but to see other music-to jam with Iraqi musicians, or to play with Israeli or Palestinian musicians, or just to listen to them and to see how their music was able to open up people too, it really restored my faith in this goddess.”

C: Being there and interacting with the people and seeing how they responded to you and how you responded to them, do you have any better idea of the best way to resolve this situation?

F: “The way I look at what’s happening in Iraq is that there are three options: the first one is to just stay the course-spend a billion dollars a month, continue to occupy this nation that doesn’t want us there, and continue to have two or three or eight or ten or twenty of our young people come home in body bags every day and thousands of Iraqis killed.”

“Option B is to take this nation which has three different distinct ethnic groups, the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, who are having a hard time getting along right now, and do like what happened in India, which is to divide it into three countries-India was divided into Pakistan and India-and give each different ethnic group their own country and have civil war, and mass exodus, which is what people there are fearing today.”

“The third option is to do what we should have done before the war started which is to go around the world and create an international body of support, not the coalition of the willing, which is really like the coalition of the coerced, but to create an international body of nations that want to provide support to a nation that needs help- economic support and helping the Iraqis rebuild the nation itself because you’ve got to remember that after the first Gulf War there were sanctions against Iraq. No nation could provide them with aid, but they were able to rebuild their country all by themselves. So they just need our assistance. They don’t need Halliburton and Vectel and other American companies to go over there and skim money. They need the money to go to Iraqis.”

“The final thing is to provide UN peace-keeping forces that can help to bring stability to a nation, because that’s the thing that people fear the most right now, losing their life in the crossfire. But what you find is that around the world, when people have jobs, homes, electricity, and fresh water to drink, they’re a lot less likely to pick up a gun or strap a bomb to their car and go explode it.”

“So that’s what we need right now is diplomacy, as well as to elect a leader in this nation that is going to be willing to humble him or herself and go around to the rest of the world and say we’ve created a mess that we need some help in getting out of. And in our arrogance we’ve alienated our self from the rest of the world and the main thing for me, from my experience being there, is that I have so much empathy for our young men and women who are serving over there and the way that I say support the troops is not by spending billions of dollars on a war that can’t be won, on a war to find weapons that weren’t there, or on a war to take out Saddam who wasn’t involved in September 11th. The best way we support the troops is by doing everything we can, in our power, to get them home safely and let the Iraqis have their country like India did after the British left.”