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Taken from Planet Magazine (September, 2003)

Michael Franti Where were you when you first heard of the attack on the World Trade Center?
On my way to the airport, to visit the universities of Alabama and Mississippi to speak about my opposition to the death penalty.

What was your first thought?
I immediately called my manager and I said, "You know, I don't feel like flying today." And she said, "Why don't you just turn around and go back." So I went to my studio where I turned on the TV and I saw the second crash. I had the wind knocked out of me. I had an immediate recognition that this was no accident - that something really serious was happening.

How did you feel?
At first I felt a sense of horror and disbelief. And then when I saw the buildings collapse I just felt an incredible wave of sadness and fear. Not so much fear that this was going to happen to me, but fear of what was going to come as a result of all this.

Why do you think this happened?
I think there are political reasons why this happened, and there are also spiritual reasons. It's easier or maybe more effective to look at the spiritual reasons first. For myself, I've tried since this happened to really examine what it means to be human, to be connected to all other humans, and to be united with the seven generations of people who came before us and the seven generations of people to come. I've spent a lot of time thinking about my commitment to peace and in what ways am I committed to peace, because I would like to think of myself as somebody who could radiate peace and reflect it. That would be one of my goals in life. So, then I think of that in terms of nations-which are the nations and leaders in the world who are helping to radiate peace and light? And I'm really hard pressed to find nations and governments on an international level that do. There are only a few leaders that come to mind: Mandela, the Dalai Lama. What the U.S. has done around the world through our foreign policy has at best been arrogant and at worst deadly. We're sort of presenting a violent face to the world and saying to the to the world if you don't go along with our business practices then this is what you're going to be greeted by. So when we do that, well, violence breeds more violence.

How has this affected you and will it change your life?
I think the deepest way it's affected me as an artist and a peace activist is that I really have to do a lot of soul searching just in terms of what path I'm willing to follow for peace.

Many people believe that this is the first major event in a new age of global terrorism. Do you agree?
No. Hardly. First of all, I hate the word terrorism. Because as they're trying to redefine terrorism in this nation, they're saying it's anybody who does anything violent [against civilians] to influence the government. But more than that, the same people today we call terrorists we once called freedom fighters. The Taliban are made up of people who we financed and trained to fight against Russia in Afghanistan. To us, they seem to be terrorists. And to them, meaning whoever we're going after, WE seem to be terrorists because we're inflicting terror on them. I think that word is used to draw sides. So I don't like to use that term "terrorism." I think that it's important we put an end to militarism, period, to violence.

How do you think the world should combat terrorism?
I think you have to look at the things in the world that have led to a climate of violence. I think if we just try to stop every person who looks like a quote-unquote terrorist in the airports and along the roads, we're just going build a nation of fear, racism, hatred and a nation that squashes its own civil rights in order to keep our foreign policies and business practices alive, and that's not good. There needs to be a holistic approach but I also think that you must investigate crimes. We need to find who is responsible; and we need to find a way to hold them accountable.

Are you afraid of terrorism in your country?
I live in a neighborhood, Hunter's Point, where we have terrorism. We have tactics of fear [used by the police].

Do you think the United States should go to war over this and if so with whom?
Well, I think the United States has been at war. I don't think that we've ever stopped being at war.

Do feel an attack of this magnitude will have a lasting effect on the worldview of the average American?
I don't really know how it's going to affect them in terms of their worldview.

From here what would you like to see happen?
Well, I would like to see that people hold on to the feeling of sadness, hold on to the feeling of pain, a respect of honoring the people who have died not only in this attack, but in military attacks all over the world. When we do that, our motives and intentions for whatever the next step is we take, will be pure. I hope that out of this some really great new ideas for achieving peace come about. And ultimately, I hope that people begin to recognize that this thing was global for a reason. The first word [in those buildings] was "world" and there were 62 nations that had people killed in that attack and that we don't just rally around the American flag but that we rally around this little marble that we're all living on.

What do you fear might happen?
That all the money in the world is going be siphoned out of health care and schools and into "protecting ourselves", into how do we watch one another; how do we report one another; how do we prevent evil in the world by watching and arresting and fighting and torturing and interrogating one another. And ultimately killing the people that we think are those who might do something that we don't like.

If you could, what would you like to tell the American people?
I think the first thing is to have patience. Be patient and allow your feelings to live and breathe. Work to find new roads to peace. Ultimately, the greatest crimes of the planet are not done by the few who choose violence as a road but those of us who are the majority who sit back and remain silent while this all goes on. We have to raise our voice.

What would you like to tell president Bush?
What would I LIKE to tell him or what WOULD I tell him? (Laughs) No, I would try and be very mindful. My immediate reaction is one of desperation and anger. I feel like 'how dare you beat the drums of war in this situation and try to whip up sentiment for taking the country down a path that a lot of us don't want to go down.' It would have to be a long conversation, but I'd really try to teach Bush history and invite him to go to some places where people have been the victims of war, so he can see that what he saw at the World Trade Center - which I'm sure moved him, how could it not move him? - exists in other places in the world. The hardest thing for me in this time is to have compassion for those people who are the leaders. I feel hatred and I feel disdain for people who want to lead our country down a path of war. And I know to feel that hatred and disdain is not going to be productive in my communicating a message of peace to the world, so I'm trying the best I can to find compassion for them and to try to think of creative ways of communicating on a larger level and obviously I don't have a backstage pass for the oval office. So we got to be the crowd out in front of his rock show and say hey we love this song or this song sucks.

What you would to tell the terrorists?
Well, I think I would tell them to look at what they've done. Look at the lives you've destroyed. Look at the pain that you've inflicted. It's a horrible thing, but there's never going to be any real justice in something like this. And hopefully somewhere along the way we'll find new ways to achieve peace in the world and that will be the way we honor the dead, by really committing ourselves to find a way to bring about peace in the world.

 
 

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