Interview: Mike Park of Asian Man Records and the Plea For Peace Foundation

words by Louis Ferrara
| Wednesday, November 10th, 2004

Mike Park

Originally published in Verbicide issue #12

Plea for Peace is a grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated to inspire social and political awareness through music. Their platform rests on the iconoclastic idea of rekindling a relationship between music, social awareness, and social activism. In the spirit of rock and rebellion, Plea for Peace offers an avenue for America’s youth to learn and become involved in issues that govern their future. During the 2004 election year they’ve tackled the issue of voter registration, simply by setting up a booth on the Plea For Peace tour. In conjunction with Music For America, the organization is offering patrons of their musical events a taste of politics and an opportunity to become a voter for life. What could be more timely?

Mike Park, head of Asian Man Records, spearheads Plea for Peace. After I watched his humble sound check, I sat down with this soft-spoken gentleman in the bar at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. A line of young, thirsty patrons loomed in the window behind us waiting to get in, the Lakers playoff game rattled off on the bar television amidst cheers from the peanut gallery, and roadies and artists hustled and bustled in anticipation of a rock show. Mike sat like the eye in the storm, sober and serene. His attitude personified his message of logic and action in a country spinning in a tornado of doubt and confusion.

What is your political affiliation?
With the United States? Or with what?

Yeah, with the United States.
I am a citizen of the United States. It’s a big question, but I’m a registered Democrat and I’ll be voting for John Kerry in the 2004 election.

What is your reaction to the current state of this country?
I think there are a lot of people who are voicing their displeasure with what the Bush Administration calls a war on terrorism…I feel more or less, [that] in the history of our nation, there’s never been a time where there has been so much outrage. So, I think it’s a scary time. I think right now we’ve blown in more so than ever before. Our foreign relations are completely destroyed. We have lost key allies. We’re not a country that people trust anymore. It’s a sad and sorry state and yet I also feel that most people in the United States are so apathetic to what’s going on. Their living with blinders on and it’s business as usual. That’s what the president is trying to say, “business as usual.”

What is your opinion on social activism through music?
I think it’s an amazing ingredient or tool that we can, that we, as musicians can share our ideas. It’s such a powerful tool. People, whether they realize it or not, are affected by music in every capacity. It can affect their moods in positive ways and negative ways. Walking through a department store, you’ll hear music that they target that type of music to get you to buy more. It’s such a powerful tool that you hear it everywhere, on the bus, in line at the 7-11, whatever. Music can be used to voice an entire revolution if it came down to it.

Are you inspired by a particular generation or sect of social change in America? Not sect, more like aspect.
I’m influenced by everyday life. Everyday life can influence me, whether it be something I read or something I see, but being influenced by a certain sect…it doesn’t really…

Maybe the civil rights movement?
Sure, of course, if you look at history. If you look at what happened in our history, there are amazing people that have done amazing things that, of course, influenced me, but at the same time I am influenced by so many things. It could be seeing a blind man walk across the street on his own. That‘s pretty powerful thing to see, that he’s not afraid to still live his life as normal as he can, though his sight is completely gone. Everything influences me. It can be watching a flower bloom and seeing the sun shine bright. It depends.

Is what you’re doing with this tour altruistic or purposeful?
Of course, there is definitely a purpose. We are trying to defeat the apathy of young America and get them to think. By taking a non-partisan stance, we’re not shoving our little politics down anyone’s throats. We’re saying, here’s an opportunity to register to vote. We’ll mail in the forms for you. We’ll buy the stamp, just to give them that option in November. If they want to vote, they have that right, and, hopefully, it gives them the freedom to think for themselves. That’s the whole purpose of this tour, is to encourage young people to get excited about the electoral process and the freedoms that we do have in this country.

This has probably been really rewarding for you. In the past, you guys did tours for charity. Are you going to continue to do events for charity in the future, or stick with the social change issues?
It depends. This is an election year. It’s a special situation. But even [with] this tour we are still raising money for charity. Plea for Peace is the foundation; we’re a non-profit [organization] and the money for this tour is going to the foundation for us to continue doing work in our communities, specifically, in the Southbay of Northern California. We’ve been working towards opening up a youth center in the San Jose area. That is what the foundation is trying to do.

Does an attitude of negativity or intolerance ever get you down?
Sure, all the time. A lot of time, I just feel, what’s the use? Just like anybody, I’m human, so I have ups and downs, so I got to just keep pushing and trying to push the envelop to another level. That’s what I will continue to do, and, hopefully, I wont give up, but there are definitely days of doubt.

Is it the little things that keep you going, moments, people…?
It’s everything. It’s the combination of meeting new people, like-minded people. It’s about reading a special interest story. It can be so many factors, a letter that someone gives you for support, watching the direct action actually materialize in front of you. Those are the things that keep you going.

How receptive is this particular audience on this particular tour?
It’s pretty good. It’s a lot different than other tours because we have a more diverse audience. I think there is more ethnic diversity. You go to most indie rock shows or punk shows, you’re looking at ninety percent white America coming to those shows. With Saul Williams on the bill, I think we’ve definitely been able to draw more ethnic diversity. And myself, I’d like to think I’m helping draw Asian-Americans out to these shows and kind of just breaking that stereotype of what corporate music has shoved down white America’s throat. This is what you listen to. Hip hop, this is what you listen to. Country, this what you listen to. That’s what they do. I’m in the minority of a minority, if that makes sense. We’re trying to keep the doors open in terms of the color barrier and open the door to everybody, but not overtly saying that. We never said it. It’s just kind of there and hopefully people can subliminally get that message of, after coming to these shows, “oh that was neat, I’d never seen someone do spoken word, I’ve experienced such an event.”

We touched on this a bit, but go into more detail about how music influences people.
There’ve been tests. At the grade school level, kids that are in some kind of music program where they are playing an instrument, their test scores in general education are higher than those who don’t play music. It’s kind of a hard thing to [discuss] because there are so many things I can say. I can talk for days about it. If you’re reading this and you are wondering about the question, think about it on your own terms, how does music affect you? It can make you shake your ass, it can make you cry, it can make you smile, it can make you think. It can do all of the above.

What about in terms of unity?
It can [affect] that. It depends on the artist. If the artist is saying, “let’s fuck shit up and fuck authority and let’s break everything,” than it can do that. It can bring out the worst in people. But if the band is sending a powerful message of, “we’re all one, we’re here, everyone in this audience we treat as equals,” people remember that and go, “okay, encourage people to smile when they meet new people instead of having their head down.” So, yeah, of course, it can bring people together. Look at the whole Woodstock generation and the powerful political music that came out of the late ‘60s and ‘70s.

What does patriotism mean to you?
Patriotism means loving your country, but it doesn’t mean accepting your country or the media saying, “this is the way it’s going to be, and therefore you are either with us or against us.” It’s about loving your country, but at the same time questioning what your country does.

How important is participation?
I guess it depends on the individual. If it’s something that makes you feel good, by all means, wave that flag and support…

What about voting?
Voting is a right and a priviledge that we have, [and] I think everybody needs to take advantage of that. If we don’t, we are really abusing our rights. You have no right to complain about what’s going on in our country if you are not going to voice your opinion.

What sparked your interest in this particular issue? How did you guys hook up with the voter registration thing?
It’s an election year. That’s pretty much it.

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