Story by Mark Miller
Photos by Margo Robatto

The 7th-annual 911 Power to the Peaceful Festival (PTTP) was held September 10 at Speedway Meadow in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. After a week of foreboding cloudy weather, the sun shone brilliantly throughout PTTP, as if sending its own blessing on this special day and on the 50,000 in attendance.

PTTP is now a San Francisco staple growing in attendance year after year and becoming a unique attraction in its combination of eclectic music and empowering social justice. It’s more fun than an anti-war rally but not as frivolous as a summer rock concert. This isn’t the kind of festival where one escapes reality, but rather confronts it head-on.

At the PTTP press conference, event co-organizer Michael Franti of Spearhead explained how this year’s PTTP theme of “Bring Them Home” was originally concerned with bringing home the troops from Iraq, but in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and all the resultant damage, it’s also a reference to all those displaced from their homes in the Gulf Coast and the resources that have been displaced—to Iraq, rather than being utilized to help the victims of Katrina.

“The catastrophe wasn’t Hurricane Katrina,” Franti articulated without irony. “It’s what happened since that has been the catastrophe.”

Justin Sane and Pat Thetic from the politically-charged punk band Anti-Flag related their opposition to the military targeting college students to find the best demographic groups from which to recruit, and the myth of the “volunteer army” in general. They called it a “back-door draft” where poor youth have no alternative but to get an education, if they can survive a tour of duty in Iraq.

Franti spoke of his time visiting Iraq, Israel and Palestine (see “Michael Franti’s Mideast Diary,” Grow America #6), noting that he remained nonpartisan throughout his travels: “I’m on the side of the peace makers. This festival is about manifesting peace. There’s a healing opportunity here.”

Franti also told the history of PTTP, which originated in 1999 to raise awareness about the plight of Mumia Abu-Jamal, on death row for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia policeman. Most social activists contend Abu-Jamal was framed in retaliation for his radical activism. On Sept 11, 2001 the event took on greater significance as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

PTTP is also about music as much as it was about activism. Anti-Flag’s set, which featured blistering punk anthems such as “Die for the Government” and “A New Kind of Army,” was a welcome change for all the whiney pop anthems that pass for punk in 2005. One irony occurred when the band called for peace and a violent mosh-pit broke out in response.

The world’s most psychedelic clown, Wavy Gravy, made an unannounced appearance onstage and sent out a healing message to the suffering mixed in with his usual nonsensical joviality.

PTTP also featured dozens of activist booths, an eco-friendly skateboard ramp and DJ tent. The booths included Peace Roots Alliance, California Green Party and the Cannabis Action Network.

Back to the main stage, Woody Harrelson, who flew in from his home in Hawaii, queried the audience as to which button he should wear: “Impeach Bush!” or “Got Kush?” Despite the politically motivated audience, “Got Kush” won handily.

Harrelson registered his disgust with big oil and the US government: “After two oil wars and now they’re going to drill in Alaska, they still have the audacity to raise oil prices.” Then he noted poignantly, “It’s only in the darkness that the subtle shades of light shine through—and I see a lot of light out here.”

Harrelson introduced Angela Davis, the legendary Black Panther, author and symbol of the struggle against oppression. Davis included the theme of “Bring Them Home” in her speech, stating that the Iraqi people should shape their own destiny and the US occupation in Iraq should end.

The devastation of Katrina was on Davis’ mind as well, and she attributed the disaster to global warming and the lack of any reasonable plan to respond to the tragedy. Davis called the severely damaged New Orleans Superdome a “grave of US policy,” ironic in that it had originally been built on a graveyard of the poor and oppressed in the Big Easy.

Finally, Michael Franti and Spearhead closed PTTP as they do each year.
“How you feelin’?” he asked the crowd throughout the band’s 90-minute set. While musically skipping from reggae to rap to rock to funk to folk to even a little jamband style when String Cheese Incident’s Michael Kang joined for a few songs on violin, Franti took the opportunity to share some of his concerns with the crowd, questioning why the National Guard is in Iraq and not helping the people in upheaval over Katrina. Or why the United States refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, designed to prevent global warming.

Franti also offered a different perspective, referring to Katrina as our “beautiful sister” in the sense that “nature has a way of unveiling the truth.” He explained that there was a positive side to Katrina, with people helping people, along with creating a national dialog as to how our tax dollars should be prioritized.

Franti’s vision for PTTP has it extending beyond just a one-day concert. The first-ever PTTP film festival was held on September 12 and 13 featuring Greenwald’s Wal-Mart and Franti’s own film I Know I’m Not Alone about his journey to find peace in the Middle East in 2004.