Michael Franti on Midterm Elections: 'I'm Voting Because... I'm Worried'

Michael Franti & Spearhead
Anthony Thoen

Michael Franti & Spearhead

Billboard asks artists why they're planning to vote on Nov. 6.

In the lead-up to the Nov. 6 midterm elections, Billboard reached out to artists across the musical spectrum with a simple request: Complete the phrase "I'm voting because..." Below is Spearhead leader Michael Franti's response, which touches on the world he wants his infant son to inherit and the democracy his father told him it was his responsibility to uphold. (As told to Gil Kaufman.)

The first thing that came to my mind is: because I give a shit. I care about what’s happening in our country right now and the effect it's having on the world and on my 4-week-old baby, who is in my arms right now. I’m worried. There was a time when I was in [1980s band] The Beatnigs, which was a really political punk rock band, and we did a tour of Europe. I came back from our 1988 tour and my dad read this article with me talking about some political issue and me criticizing the U.S. government and the president.

"You know what happened when you were over there? We had an election and you didn’t vote," [he said]. He gave me an old framed picture of the first black vote. "Do you know how many people died and fought for the opportunity for you to vote? There you are criticizing what’s going on, and you didn't show up!" That stuck with me ever since. I have empathy and I will sit there and lament and bemoan everything that’s happening with the state of our country right now. But as soon as you tell me you didn’t vote in the last election, I tune you out.

Voting takes 15 minutes. Daily I sit on my toilet and look at Instagram for 15 minutes; certainly I can get off my fucking ass and vote. If people go through all the random things -- standing in line at a coffee shop to get a mocaccino latte -- so many random things we do and we're only asked once every two years to go and show up for this experience. As I've grown older and see how many elections are teetering -- this last election, Trump barely squeaked by and won -- in those counties where he squeaked by... this whole thing with [Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanaugh wouldn't have happened.

A woman’s right to choose, voting rights in our lifetime will change completely based on the results of this election, the environment could be eroded. These things matter and they add up. ... I talk about it every night we’re on tour. I always end our shows by encouraging people to vote. We have Headcount at a lot of our shows to do voter registration. It's amazing when I sit down and talk to people who are super concerned about what’s going on and how few of them vote and how discouraged they feel.

We have to take back that power. A week and a half ago we played in Parkland [Florida] to commemorate the attack at that school at a festival the students put on. We met with those students there who were on fire, they feel it deeply and there was one woman who was a teacher who taught social studies ... she lost two children in her class and she said a week before the shooting, they were studying the Holocaust. She had a survivor come and speak to the kids. This survivor said from every great pain comes great energy and no pain should ever be wasted. That’s my response to people: If you are feeling pain right now because of what’s going on in our country, do not waste your pain; go and vote. 

I was also really moved by [the endorsement post from] Taylor Swift. I was in tears. She started off from the most apolitical space, but she's also been an advocate for the rights of artists, copyright laws and she's shown up big time. I've got mad respect for her. Hopefully she’ll be an example for other artists coming from a similar lineage because it's possible to be Taylor Swift and not end up being the Dixie Chicks.