Thursday, February 10, 2000
"Corporate power, greed, racism and prisons all go hand in hand," writes Michael Franti, front man for hip-hop band Spearhead. "All these things have the lasting effect of further distancing our souls from our minds and bodies."
Spearhead will make an appearance at Cal State University Monterey Bay this Friday, when the university hosts an evening of music and poetry aimed at raising awareness of Prop. 21, on the March 7 ballot.
The gist of Prop. 21 is to allow more juvenile offenders to be tried as adults while expanding the list of serious offenses for which longer prison sentences are given. It would also increase punishment for gang-related felonies and make gang recruitment activities a crime.
Prop. 21 opponents say that California prisons are being built as a business rather than a rehabilitation complex. They point to corporate interest in the prison system and the rapid rate of its growth. Many opponents believe this proposition, which was backed by former Governor Pete Wilson, is designed to increase youth incarceration, and more convictions mean more profits for the corporate investor. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the city''s Bar Association, the California PTA and the L.A. City Council are among the wide array of groups that have come out against the proposition.
"To put it in perspective," says CSUMB student Jacob Degrave, who coordinated this weekend''s event, "in the last 15 years, 20 prisons were built [in California], compared to one university campus."
Spearhead''s rare, live energy and forthright lyrics salute social activism. Heavy hip-hop beats and reggae vibes carry the weighty issues, while the funk fuels audience spirits. They put their politics into action by playing for free at numerous rallies, including last month''s WTO protest in Seattle. After this Friday''s CSUMB gig, Spearhead hits the road on the Conscious Circus Tour, which Franti describes as "a global caravan of activists, poets, fire dancers and DJs evoking the spirit of local justice through art and music." The two-week tour begins in Portland, Oregon and winds up at the House of Blues in L.A..
Sharing the stage on Friday will be CSUMB student and talented saxophonist Randolph Polk, as well as poet Jennifer Louise Banks, who graduated from Kent State with a degree in Pan-African Studies. Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union will join the perfomers to discuss Prop. 21 and the issue of racial profiling in the criminal justice system.
There will also be guest speakers from Barrios Unidos, a Salinas non-profit organization that tries to fight youth violence through art and community activities. Barrios Unidos advocates prevention rather than punishment, while acknowledging that "to deny that gangs exist only empowers the enemy of our children."
The Third Eye Movement, a group composed entirely of San Francisco high school students who organized in response to Prop 21, will also be on hand.
CSUMB''s "Prop. 21 evening of awareness" will be held Friday at the University Center at 6:30pm. Entrance is $3. For more information on Prop. 21, visit Californians For Community Safety''s website at www.noprop21.org.