These Artists Amplify 415 Day's Message of Resistance, Resilience and Restitution

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Baghead and Cereal For The Kids stand in a park in San Francisco. You can see cyprus trees in the background and they stand amidst brush. The sun shines on them but they are dressed for cold weather.
Baghead and Cereal For The Kids are artists and activists in San Francisco. (@le_sapo)

A few days ahead of April 15th — 415 Day —  we’re talking to two artists from San Francisco who have lived, fought, partied, and made art for their hometown.

Jules Retzlaff (Cereal For The Kids) and Sachiel Rosen (Baghead) are the duo behind the film and album, Dedicated To Those Who.

Cereal For The Kids produced the film, which highlights one of the most picturesque cities in the world, some people who make it what it is and the history that brought us here.

Baghead is the producer behind the audio portion of the project, which serves as the soundtrack to the film. His album incorporates quotes from luminaries — like Toni Morrison, Nipsey Hussle and James Baldwin — as they speak to topics that transcend the boundaries of San Francisco’s seven mile by seven mile grid.

This week, we’re talking San Francisco’s art and activism, its history and its homies.

Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with Baghead and Cereal For The Kids.

Pen: Are there any message you want to share with the world as it relates to 415 day?

Baghead: [415 Day] highlights how the people of San Francisco have always pushed back against forces that don’t want to respect them. It’s saying this is our land, this is the people’s, we want to grow our crops here we wanna grow our families here. And you can extend that idea to the world. This is the people’s world… We can’t keep building from these places of anger and hurt and pain. We have to enjoy our life and the people around us so that we can be invigorated and charged up to go do that work.

Pen: What is the intended purpose of the film “Dedicated To Those Who”?

Cereal For The Kids: This is a love letter to the people who fight every day for the City, who fight to be here. And it’s also a call to action. You know, if you aren’t already throwing down, this is the time and we live in a very particular historical moment where we can make great change that lasts for generations. And we should celebrate that too and get hyphy, have a lot of fun, talk shit and drink 40s, but also, you know, do it and then show up at city hall the next day.

Baghead: We explore the role of artistry inside of a community revolution and love. And it’s not pretty and it’s not perfect, but it is really beautiful. And that kind of goes back to at the very end of the album, James Baldwin is talking…

Baldwin: “Your suffering does not isolate you but is your bridge, and many people have suffered before you, people have been suffering around you and always will…. All you can do is bring a little light into that suffering… We don’t change anything all we can do is invest people with the moral to change it for themselves”

Baghead: … We don’t change anything, we just give people a place to figure out their reality and learn how to engage with engage in it in a way that is going to create change.

Pen: Gotcha. Gotcha. And while Baghead held down the audio side of things, [Cereal For The Kids], you were behind the visuals.

Cereal For The Kids: The imagery is all reminiscent of our families histories. Like my father has lived in San Francisco since the 70s and was organizing. It’s an homage to folks here and gone, and the solidarity we have for each other…  generations gone past… When our families migrated here 10 years ago, that struggle that brought them here is part of that intergenerational movement and that struggle in the city too.

Pen: There’s a lot of different footage, there’s ethnic studies footage, there’s some from labor strike. What footage are we looking at in terms of protest imagery?

Cereal For The Kids: There’s footage from the Frisco 500 action where folks stormed city hall. Mario Woods was murdered in 2015. And then in 2016 is when organizing really kicked off. There’s also footage of the White Night riots when Dan White murdered Harvey Milk — which is an homage to the gay rights movement in the city, another moment in which city hall was stormed. So just trying to juxtapose historical moments to the ones we’re currently experiencing and trying to let folks know that history is a cycle, but we have the chance to break that cycle if we pay attention to it.

Pen: Baghead, Mario Woods, the organizing that happened around his killing, how did that politicize you and how does that show up in your art today?

Baghead: That moment was kind of everything for me. Around the same time Mario Woods got killed, the administration at SF State was trying to cut funding to ethnic studies. And there was a huge march to expose the administration for cutting that funding. And relating it to the history of there being no space for Black and brown voices, or for working class voices.

Pen: Were you a part of the hunger strike that happened? At SF state?

Baghead: Well, myself, [Cereal For the Kids], Ahkeel and Hassani went on hunger strike at SF state to push the administration to not cut funding as well as the other other list of demands.

Pen: How’d that go? How’d it end?

Cereal For The Kids: It’s complicated, a lot of mistakes, a lot of good things too. We were able to fight the cuts but we did not make all our wins: the need for the expansion of programs that were not getting the funding they deserved. It was a big learning lesson for us as new organizers. But I think it also helped rejuvenate some stuff at State and was a really important politicizing moment for a lot of people.

Pen: You’re doing this work and you are in the City where it’s expensive as hell. How do you keep it together? How do you work with this collective group of people? I imagine it’s got to be tough.

Baghead: Being an artist is hard as it is, but when everyone has a job, and on top of it, they have to work as much as they can to be able to live here, it makes it hard to collaborate in a healthy way. Ya know, a lot of us have these moments of being burnt out, but it’s the passion that keeps us going.

Cereal For The Kids: There’s a lot of mutual aid. There’s a lot of… we’re helping each other, all of us in our community deeply care about one another, have such fucking love.

Baghead: We’re not really sure how we’re going to make this city, from top down care about the people who built the city. We’re not sure how we’re going to make this a better world. We’re not sure how we’re going to make our dreams come true, but we believe in it. So go finish that sentence for us. Figure out your role, figure out, help us out, help yourself out.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.