A Newly Optimistic Anti-Flag Make Their Plea for Empathy
There’s no nice way to put it: With Donald Trump in the White House, the United States is officially fucked. Of course, the election of an unqualified demagogue / racist apologist is just the icing on top of an incredibly unpalatable cake. Every day, more names join the list of African-Americans murdered by police, alongside Korryn Gaines, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and Sandra Bland; Colin Kaepernick is vilified as unpatriotic for kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner; the recent Standing Rock travesty illustrates just how much control corporations have over government; the Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal proves that the banking industry is as fraudulent as ever; drug companies like Mylan gleefully put profits over people; and Citizens United continues to ensure that lobbyists and special interest groups remain at the center of American politics. It truly feels like the country is about to tailspin into an unparalleled political, economic, humanistic and moralistic catastrophe. The empire is on the verge of collapse — this is the modern Rome burning.
In a way, that’s nothing new. The land of the free and the home of the brave hasn’t been much of the sort for a long time, if ever. After all, it’s a country built upon the backs of slaves, where politicians conduct business behind closed doors for their own self-interest. The U.S. contains just 5 percent of the world’s population, but boasts over 20 percent of its incarcerated population. It’s the only developed nation in the Western world that refuses to provide universal healthcare to its citizens, yet Paul Ryan is doing his damnedest to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. But although the country is in a state of emergency, its prison- and military-industrial complexes and for-profit healthcare system remain strong. That’s all stuff that Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag have been pointing out since vocalist / guitarist Justin Geever (better known as Justin Sane) and drummer Pat Thetic (née Bollinger) first formed the band in 1988. That incarnation lasted only one show, but the pair regrouped in 1992 and the band has been going ever since, raging against the machine for over two decades. While much has changed in that time, an awful lot has stayed the same.
“'Fuck Police Brutality' was written in ’96,” says bassist / vocalist Chris "#2" Barker, who joined the band in 1999. “It’s on the first ever Anti-Flag record, but we’re finding people connecting with that song now at a greater level than maybe ever. It was written because, at that time, Pittsburgh had the highest police brutality rate in the country, and we’d never left Pittsburgh. We didn't know anything but our town.”
Today, though, as police spill black blood on an almost everyday basis, the song has taken on new relevance. And not just in America. Barker recalls the band — completed by guitarist Chris Head — playing “Fuck Police Brutality” at a festival in Belgium not long after the murder of Mike Brown.
“We were actually able to look into people's eyes who are thousands and thousands of miles away from the incident,” he says, “and see them saying, ‘Hey, please add our voice; please let them know we don't believe this is okay.’”
As the name suggests, Anti-Flag have always been driven by outrage and anger at the state of America and the world. Their most recent album, 2015's American Spring, was no exception, yet there was one noticeable difference — there was a sense of optimism running through its songs.
“It’s maybe not what you’d expect,” says Sane, who, like Barker, tends to speak passionately and at incredible length, “but over the years I’ve actually become more hopeful, even when I see on a lot of fronts things getting worse — there’s more warfare around the world, more poverty, a greater gap between rich and poor. But by the same token, what I see on a personal level and what I experience almost every single day when I’m on tour gives me hope to move forward.”
On a macro level, that hope seems little more than a bag of tea in the ocean, an ineffective cloud surrounded by a vast sea of apathy, corruption and an unmovable status quo. If you need an example, just look at how the so-called Democratic Party undermined Bernie Sanders’ grassroots campaign to perpetuate the Clinton dynasty, and thereby the ruling elite of the American oligarchy. Brought to light by WikiLeaks, it’s the perfect demonstration of the lengths that the established order went to maintain the status quo — and it backfired terribly. Even now, it’s uncertain if the Democratic Party has learned its lesson, blaming third party voters and Russia for the loss, rather than looking in the mirror.
Regardless, some kind of change is afoot. The members of Anti-Flag are under no illusions about how the system works and the great lengths needed to smash it, but they’re also aware that the band functions on a micro level. And in the pits at Anti-Flag shows, the results are more obvious. The example Sane gives is of someone who was on course to join the army to fight in the Iraq War, but instead decided to become a peace activist — all because they heard Anti-Flag’s 2003 album, The Terror State, and read its liner notes.
“We hear those stories fairly often,” he says. “And what I realized from those personal interactions is that the song 'Die for the Government' wasn’t necessarily going to stop the war, but it made a lot of kids stop and think about what the Iraq War was about, and whether they wanted to participate in it or rally against it so that in the future young people don’t have to go and fight, kill and die for U.S. corporations. Those are the kinds of things that give me hope.”
Barker, too, has seen the lasting, knock-on effect that the band’s music has had — one that inspires people to go out and make their own impact on the world.
“I’m less of an idealist now than I was when I was a young kid,” he admits, “but we meet people who tell stories of how they came to a show and they left with a pamphlet and became vegetarian or vegan, or they’re now ACLU lawyers or social workers. Those are the tangible victories that you can count, but there’s a lot more of these small steps that make us want to keep doing it, even in the face of some pretty heavy shit saying otherwise.”
Anti-Flag also work directly with numerous humanitarian organizations and charities, from Amnesty International, Greenpeace and the African Well Fund to food banks in Pittsburgh. The band does these things because of their own social conscience, but they also see themselves as continuing the legacy of punk rock activism — whether that’s the political music of the Dead Kennedys or the Clash, or the fringe lifestyle of Minor Threat — that came before them, carrying that torch and passing it on, one person at a time.
“For all the evil that’s happening in the world,” says Sane, “and for all of the negativity that’s out there, we’re surrounded by so much [positivity] that, even within all the strife, I’m reminded that the world does have a chance. Every life that’s impacted in a positive manner by someone else is worthwhile. It’s really important. Even if it’s just one person, it’s definitely worth fighting for.”
“It's about creating places of solace,” adds Barker. “Places where people are free to be themselves and acknowledge there are other people who are concerned and who care, and it's on this grassroots level that we’ll be there to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves.”
Barker remembers playing “Fuck Police Brutality” in St. Louis the week before American Spring was released and experiencing a sensation close to how he felt on that stage in Belgium before playing the same song. It was the closest the band had been to Ferguson, Mo., since the shooting of Mike Brown some nine months earlier, and the wound was still very raw and real.
“To have some young suburban kids,” says Barker, “who didn't really know how to manifest or demonstrate their frustration with what had happened to Mike Brown and his family come to the show and look around and recognize, like, 'Well, I'm not alone. Even though I feel like I'm alone living in the white neighborhoods of St. Louis, Missouri, I'm not,' that’s powerful. This is about bringing folks together. That's the band's goal.”
Barker isn’t naïve enough to assume that Anti-Flag will be the catalyst for revolution, but by arming people with information, the band’s music and actions can at least open the door for them.
“We've been a band for over 20 years,” he says, “and we've seen it our entire band's life. We've seen people come into the scene, be energized by the camaraderie or the family or community that they gain out of punk rock, and then go and tackle politics in their own way in their own lives. It's kind of this gateway drug to activism."
Released in May 2015, American Spring was — and continues to be — a powerful battle cry and a source of political enlightenment. Inspired by the uprising in Tunisia that sparked the Arab Spring, the idea of American Spring was to help sow the same seeds of change. It’s as much a movement as it is a record, in the same way that the Arab Spring was more than just a series of seasonal revolutions. That’s why, at Wrecking Ball in Atlanta on August 13 last year — some 15 months after the album came out and a few days after the second anniversary of Mike Brown’s murder — the four-piece is continuing that movement, both onstage and off.
Live, new cuts like “Fabled World” and “Brandenburg Gate” sit perfectly alongside “Die for the Government” and “Fuck Police Brutality.” On record, these new songs may be more polished than the band’s earlier material, but they’re just as powerful, pure and headstrong. Before playing American Spring’s “Brandenburg Gate” — a Ramones-meets-Billy Bragg profession of love for socialism — the band asked everybody to shake a nearby stranger’s hand. “This community is founded on empathy,” Barker told the crowd as people shook hands, hugged and fist-bumped those around them, “and relationships are formed in moments like this one.” The band launched into the song and a pit formed in the busy-for-3PM crowd. A couple minutes in, a butterfly floated over the bodies below, hovering for a moment before flying off into the blue sky. It was nothing more than coincidence, but it felt like a beacon of peace and hope, an embodiment of that empathy and a physical manifestation of Anti-Flag’s ceaseless quest to help forge a better world. After their set, the four members headed to the Amnesty International tent for a fan signing of both posters and petitions. The struggle continues.
“A huge change needs to happen," admits Barker, “not just in American politics, but in global politics, too. Here, you don't become an elected official unless you're a millionaire, and that's fucked. That's not democracy. That's the idea of referencing the Arab Spring, because we need some form of direct democracy to happen. That was a pro-democratic movement in a part of the world where they said that would never happen. There's still a tremendous amount of work to do, but it's not Presidents who change the world. It's human beings that aren't millionaires, and I think that's the corner we're turning right now politically around the globe."
It’s a corner that Sane thinks the world desperately needs to turn. He doesn’t mince words, either, laying out in no uncertain terms the worldwide catastrophe that lies ahead if things continue the way they’re currently going. Yet, as ever, there’s an element of hope lurking within his doom-laden prophecy.
"I do believe there’ll be a time when there’s much more justice,” he says. “If there’s not, then we as a civilization, as a species, won’t make it. This economic system of capitalism has to end, because this current model we live in now is completely unsustainable, not just from the paradigm of wealth inequality between the rich and the poor, but also when you look at the environment. Resources are being stripped away at a pace much faster than the planet can cope [with]. America has the most unequal wealth distribution of all the developed countries in the world, and at some point you'll hit a wall there. They didn’t fix any of the systemic problems that led to the economic crisis of 2008, and the banks haven’t learned anything. In fact, they’ve made the situation worse. There’s going to have to be a major paradigm shift where people decide it’s more important for there to be justice and equality across the board than for a very small, elite group to have a criminal amount of wealth. People will have to decide whether we want to prop up this system of inequality or take things in a completely different direction.” He pauses, adding extra gravitas to his next thought. “And I think that major change is going to come from crisis.”
In the U.S., perhaps that crisis has already come with the travesty of the 2016 election, where the general public was forced to choose between the two most unpopular Presidential candidates ever, between Hillary Clinton’s neocon warmongering and Donald Trump’s heinous, race-baiting bigotry. Yet, however much this campaign became a vote for the lesser of two evils, Trump’s victory is incredibly worrying — not least because he’s stirred the underbelly of racism that has defined the U.S. since its inception. Slavery and segregation may no longer exist, but he’s given a voice to and legitimized the Jim Crow-ism of millions of Americans. Yes, the country elected its first black President in 2008, but if you look at killings by police of black people in that time, if you examine the numbers of incarcerated African-Americans compared to whites, and if you acknowledge the racist obstructionism that Barack Obama faced in office, it's clear that the Civil Rights movement — the mantle of which has been taken up by Black Lives Matter — has a long way to go. Trump’s victory has only lengthened that journey.
It goes without saying that Anti-Flag are vehemently opposed to Trump. They took aim at him numerous times and will continue to do so. But politics isn’t always that black and white, and propelled by their long-held Chomskyan values, it’s equally important for Anti-Flag to rally against the less obvious enemy. Nobody gets a free pass. Before Trump’s election, they’d started writing songs aimed at holding Hillary Clinton to task, and they’ve been fiercely critical of Obama, too.
“When Obama was elected,” remembers Barker, “we went, for the first time ever, to an inauguration not as protesters, but as observers. [People thought] we were championing Obama, when our statement in fact was we are far happier to have Obama in office than any alternative. But it’s our job as watchdogs of the powerful — or whatever you want to call the punk rock scene — to stay on this dude and not turn a blind eye. He came in with all this gumption and power where he could have forced through a healthcare system that wasn’t just benefiting the healthcare companies, but benefiting the voting public, and he missed that opportunity, and we ended up being forced into giving our money to healthcare companies. That, to me, is a total misstep.”
“There’s a true possibility he does care about people,” ponders Sane, “but when you look at who his political donors were, you have to recognize that, ultimately, he’s beholden to them, not the people who voted for him. He’s going to take care of the people who put him in power, and more than anybody, it was the banks and Wall Street.”
One of Obama’s policies that Anti-Flag opposed most vehemently was his advocacy of the CIA drone program and surveillance. Although initiated in 2004 by George W. Bush, the former increased drastically after Obama took office.
“It’s one of the greatest PR moves of any administration,” says Barker. “People are willing to believe that drones are these pinpoint-accurate, only-bad-guy-destroying things, and there’s just endless civilian casualties from them. And they just chalk it up as collateral damage.”
That’s addressed on American Spring’s “Sky Is Falling,” a tense, doom-laden invective against drone bombs. Staunchly anti-war, it’s a straight-up protest song with concern for human life as its focus. Yet, while it takes issue with U.S. drone strikes and cluster bombs, it’s no less forgiving of foreign powers that engage in the same practices. At end of the day, it all goes back to the one true driving force at the band’s core.
“It’s not anything more than giving a fuck about more than just yourself,” says Barker. “It’s that simple. It’s about living with empathy.”
That compassion can be traced back to Anti-Flag’s hometown. A traditionally blue-collar city, Pittsburgh suffered a tremendous economic decline after the decimation of its century-long steel industry. The result was a broken, run-down city rife with unemployment, homelessness and everything that goes along with that. Even if they were oblivious of it at the time, it had a profound effect on children growing up there — kids like Barker and Sane, born in 1980 and 1973, respectively. Barker’s mother arrived from Italy at the age of 13 with her parents and nine siblings.
“They came over because there was work at the steel mills and the railroad,” he says. “So, when cheap labor became the rule of thumb and all the jobs were shipped overseas, that politicized the town even more so than it just being a blue-collar, working-class steel town. It was seeing globalization happen.”
In recent years, Pittsburgh has recovered — even prospered — thanks to its university and its nonprofit hospital. Yet, those tertiary industries aren’t without problems.
“The CEOs are doing fantastic,” says Barker, “and those at the bottom are suffering. It's a microcosm of capitalism, and especially a non-universal or socialized healthcare system. It’s great that you can have whole economies based around education and healthcare, but we’re also staunch believers that those things should be socialized and all should be benefiting from that, and not just a select few.”
The macro-economics of Pittsburgh’s history aren’t all that shaped the band. Much is from the way their personal lives are inextricably linked to the city. For Barker especially, the personal and political are inseparable. Not only did the writing of American Spring coincide with the end of a 17-year relationship, but his outrage at the injustices addressed on it are closely linked to his own experiences growing up in Pittsburgh, seeing his brother regularly hassled by police. Barker’s father was also a convicted child molester, arrested when Barker was too young to comprehend why. Understandably, that had a huge impact on him, instilling in the then-“eight or nine”-year-old a distrust of police that remains to this day.
“I wasn't old enough to be told everything about my father,” he remembers, “so to see the police fucking with my brother, I remember being extremely politicized by that. I remember saying, 'Fuck cops! First they take my father and now they're going to take my brother — what the fuck is going on?!' So, I don’t empathize or sympathize with their situation at all, especially here in America, where most of the cops were the jocks that went to my high school. That's the job they chose to continue to fuck with people. There are places in the world where you need to have a college degree and go through greater training to become an officer of the law, whereas here in America it's on the books that they don't want the best and brightest serving because they don't want folks who are able to think for themselves. I don't think many people here go into law enforcement to make a positive impact or change the system. They go into it because they want to continue and maintain the status quo.”
In 2007, Barker’s sister was fatally shot in what seems to have been a drug deal gone bad, drawing Barker deeper into the inner workings of the U.S. criminal justice system. The assailant was 19 and confessed to the murder, but Barker says the case was mishandled and he was found not guilty. That caused a complex chain reaction of conflicting emotions within Barker, feelings that would rear their head some eight years later with the murders of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. Deeply affected by their deaths, Barker drew from his own past experiences, the deep well of empathy that, despite all he’s been through, exists within him.
“To watch Mike Brown’s family go through all that,” he says, “and not even get an option to go through what I went through — to have a trial — I was faced with that empathy and sadness and all of those emotions once again.”
The end result has become something of a mantra for Anti-Flag: trying to forge something positive out of tragedy and injustice in order to make moves to change it. Barker began telling his story, and it soon opened up a dialogue that had previously been missing from not only his life, but, it turned out, those of the band’s fans.
“Before I knew it,” he says, “kids were coming up to me and talking to me about people that they’d lost and that they loved in their lives, and that still happens today. I still don’t have all the answers. I just know that there’s proof music is a way to change the way people think and act and view the world, and therefore, it’s the outlet we find viable to try and do so.”
Anti-Flag’s music has always been full of ire, an aggressive soundtrack to violent uprising and revolution, yet despite this — and despite the fact that Sane’s grandfather was “beaten up by the Iron and Steel police here in Pittsburgh fighting for a dollar-a-day wage” — none of the band’s members advocate violent revolution, no matter how desperately they believe things need to change.
“Peaceful revolutions usually result in a better outcome,” Sane says. “Guns in the streets are not the route that I would choose. I don’t think that’s necessary. That said, it can be bloody and it can be ugly. The capitalists used really violent means to stop the workers’ rights revolutions that led to the eight-hour work day, the 40-hour work week and the five-day work week. People died and people bled. And the Civil Rights movement — people are still dying. It’s not always pretty, and I understand that the odds are stacked against us when it comes to having to face violent tactics used by the opposition. But we also have to recognize that they use violence whenever they’re desperate. Ultimately, staying peaceful is the thing that has won the day for all these great movements in the past. It’s scary, but people have done it before us, so we’re going to have to look to their example to realize that it can be done. We just have to be brave.”
Make no mistake, though — that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t do anything.
“I’m not saying we just sit around and wait for it,” Sane chuckles. “It’s not going to come on its own. People need to organize and agitate. It’s always important to challenge power. It’s always important to be out there, just to let them know you’re there, for starters. The reality is Martin Luther King was one guy, Gandhi was one guy. The young woman who went to Tahrir Square was one woman, and as a result, a dictatorship in Egypt fell. A lot of people would look at her and call her crazy and ask why she’s bothering to do that, but she raised her voice and went out and tried, and that led to some kind of result. Ultimately, apathy is the enemy. Cynicism is the enemy. That’s why I have respect for anybody who’s willing to raise their voice, get out there and agitate. Because quite often there’s no result, but every so often an idea catches fire, and that’s when great change happens.”
Now more than ever, Anti-Flag operate on a level of hopeful, positive activism. Some may say that such optimism is wishful thinking on behalf of a simplistic and idealized paradigm, and the band has certainly been accused in the past of simplifying politics — not to mention inking a deal with (shock! horror!) a major label in 2005 — but their fire seems more potent and considered now than at any point in their career.
“I do think there’s a possibility,” says Sane, “that Anti-Flag suffers from the stereotype that we’re just a dumb punk rock band that says, ‘Fuck the police.’ And I could understand maybe where people could take that point of view, but by the same token, if they don’t talk to us, it’s an unfair characterization. If everyone judged the Beastie Boys by '(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party),' they’ll probably have a very different point of view compared to what the Beastie Boys became.”
“I think the reason punk rock often sounds juvenile when it comes out, specifically in America," says Barker, "is you kind of stop giving a shit about politics once you turn 18, because you either have a $60,000 college debt or you break your arms and you’ve got to pay that shit off. You’re kicked off your parents’ insurance at 26, so it’s not like many places in the world where you can still be figuring out who you are and what you want to be into your early adulthood.”
Barker’s point extends way beyond the punk rock scene and the infantile nature of some protest music, though. It actually goes a long way to explain how things in the U.S. have reached the frightening and ominous tipping point they’re at right now, underscoring just how the corporatocracy is able to control people’s lives.
“I don’t think a lot of Americans understand how not having healthcare impacts their level of political participation and their social awareness,” he continues. “That’s a stress that people live with that really takes away their ability to not want to escape the reality of their life. Having lived in my life without healthcare and with healthcare, not having healthcare is something that causes an incredible amount of strain of people’s psyche. When you’re dealing with that — when you have school loans to pay off or you’re trying to find a job so you can have healthcare so you don’t have to worry about your healthcare — there’s not a lot left to give.”
As both activists and punks, Anti-Flag’s mission has always been to give as much as possible in order that others can do the same. Their unwavering quest for justice has been steady for a quarter-century, and they continue to pursue it with that newfound sense of hope in tow. Yet, they’re equally aware that it feels like activism in punk has dwindled as the ideals, hopes and politics that first drove the movement gave way to the full-blown commercialization and commodification of the genre in the ’90s. Sane refuses to believe that punk activism is dying, however.
“When I came into punk rock,” he says, “I was really interested in social activism and in making the world a better place. My way of doing that was to start a band and try to be heard and try to find people who felt the same way as I did to help build a community and a voice against injustice. It’s a community that was on the forefront of fighting racism in the ’70s and ’80s, homophobia in the ’90s, the Iraq War after 2001. Punk rock has always been a movement that’s in the forefront when it comes to taking a stand against war — wars we see as being fought for a corporate empire — and today I see punk rock as being a movement that’s really pushing hard in the direction of anti-capitalism, pushing towards equality in the economic realm, as well as areas such as police brutality and an unjust legal system. As a community, punk rock has always pushed mainstream society with its ideas, and a lot of the things that were considered radical or crazy when I came into punk rock are mainstream ideas today that punk rock kids see as a given.”
It’s somewhat ironic, then, that American Spring is one of the most political records the band has ever made. Yet it’s also one of their most humanistic, empathetic and cerebral records, too — one that tries to get to the root of, well, everything, by addressing and confronting the idea of inherent bias and the problems (local and global) that causes.
“We’re really addressing a touchstone,” explains Sane, “as to why white cops are killing black kids. It’s so obvious. Or why a lot of people in the U.S. feel it’s okay to drop bombs on people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. A lot of that really comes down to the fact that people are out of touch with their empathy for other people. They’re unwilling to put themselves in other people’s shoes and far too willing to look at other people as ‘the other’ and not as human beings.”
In that statement lies the essence of the band and its activism as it’s evolved over the last 25 years. It's distilled in American Spring’s powerful artwork — the faces of a Muslim woman, a soldier, a police officer and a black kid in a hoodie each obscured by an exploding pink rose.
“When a lot of middle Americans look at a Muslim,” says Sane, “they think, ‘suicide bomber.’ And a lot of left-wing, anti-war people will look at the soldier and think, ‘baby killer.’ They’ll see someone in a hoodie and think, ‘thug,’ see someone in a police uniform and think, ‘racist.’ Ultimately, the point we’re trying to make is that everyone has inherent bias within themselves. Any good sociologist will tell you that, no matter how open-minded you are and how loving and how much cultural diversity you have in your life, you still have inherent bias. The point that we’re trying to make is it’s important to recognize that, because once we do, that’s when we can rise above it. That’s when we can be honest with other people [and] give them the honest chance that they deserve.”
In doing so, Anti-Flag are trying to dismantle the established narrative that most people subscribe to, especially when it comes to the U.S. and the idea of the American Dream. Because, beyond rare rags-to-riches stories, the truth is much more sobering.
“The narrative we have within ourselves subconsciously,” explains Sane, “is that you look at poor people and think they’re poor because of something that they did, and you look at rich people and think they’re rich because they deserve it. Whereas the reality is most rich people start almost at the finish line and most poor people start way before the starting line. There’s an inequality from the very beginning, but the idea is fed to people, and is in people’s subconscious, that everybody has this equal chance. And that’s just not the reality.”
By confronting the reality of the reality, the band is engaging in the dialogue about wealth inequality that’s taken hold in America over the course of the past year. Yet, this is something the band were preaching years before Bernie Sanders and Robert Reich made it a national talking point. That, too, is an intrinsic part of what the band does — raise issues in places and at times where their ideologies are at odds with the general consensus. It’s something they’ve always done, even putting themselves at risk as a result.
“Believe me,” chuckles Barker almost nervously, “we were a band on September 12, 2001. Even within the safety of the punk rock scene, people were still throwing beer bottles at us and telling us to change our name. Promoters were cancelling the shows, and Hot Topic banned Anti-Flag from the shelves. We were banned from the radio, and they’d never played one of our songs on the radio before!”
He recalls playing towns and cities in the South with Pennywise in 2015, having flashbacks to 2002 and “being petrified to have an upside-down American flag.” It wasn’t so scary that last time, though. Ideas have changed as information has spread.
“Maybe you thank the missteps of George W. Bush for how accepted it’s become to challenge things,” ponders Barker, “but that’s the kind of world I want to live in. I want to live in a world where we’re free to question, and I think we need to be doing more of it. None of us are claiming to be the scholars that are going to rewrite how this all happens. We just know that it doesn’t look like this.”
Trump’s win signifies the lowest ebb of what was already the lowest ebb of American politics, yet despite this one huge shove backwards, there have nonetheless been a few small steps forward that indicate the band’s hope isn’t entirely unjustified. People are at least becoming aware of how corrupt and dirty American politics are, how much is governed by the influence of money, and how rigged the economy is. The Confederate flag — referred to by the band as the “slavery flag” on American Spring’s “Believer” — has been banned from being displayed at a large number of state courthouses and cemeteries, and being sold in shops or on license plates. The Justice Department has announced an end to privately-run federal prisons. And across the seas, Ireland and Iceland have actually jailed bankers for their role in the 2008 financial collapse. There’s still a long way to go, but you can bet, through the rough and the smooth — however bad things get and however much they improve — these four guys from Pittsburgh will be there, fighting the good fight, full of the same ferocious conviction they had all the way back when they started.
“I do understand,” says Sane, “that a lot of the issues we’re dealing with in the world today feel so huge that it would be impossible to make them better, but ultimately, great change starts with one person having an idea, and I think it’s really important for people to realize that everybody has this ability to change the world. It happens in history over and over again, where the most unlikely character comes along and makes a change that no one could have foreseen. Every individual has value and it’s important for people to not become cynical and not give up, because that’s exactly what the powers that be want. They want us to give up, and they don’t want any kind of resistance, and when we give them that free pass, that’s really when we just say, ‘Okay, we’re all right with being slaves.’ And the United States already fought a war against slavery. I don’t want to repeat that one. It’s time for us to move forward, and I believe that it’s possible.”
With any luck, he’s right. There’s no doubt that things are going to get even worse before they get better, but however bad things get, Anti-Flag will be there — as they have always been — to stand up against injustice and bigotry, and to hold the powers that be to the flame. Recently, the band made shirts featuring Trump wearing a KKK hood with the word "RACIST" emblazoned on it. Proceeds went to the American Refugee Committee. And for its new live record, Anti-Flag committed the ultimate act of rebellious treason: making a limited run of 10 LPs that had bits of a burnt and ripped American flag pressed into the vinyl. Again, all proceeds went to charity. Twenty-five years on, the band continues its fight with irrepressible vigor, passion and determination one small step at a time, and remains just as relevant, important and necessary as ever. In a world — and an America — that often feels like it’s turning to shit, they’re a glimmer of much-needed hope and change, a butterfly of beauty and wonder floating high as everything goes up in flames beneath it.