Politics is a motherfucker. Governments are the worst. Power blows and those that seek it blow super hard. Human beings do terrible things to human beings. We cut each others' genitals off and drop bombs on one another, hoping it will convince folks that we're really not bad people. We strip each others' rights away in the hopes it will make a "free-er" world.
I'm being a little flip, but that is precisely because of bearing witness to the inhumanity and degradation that we inflict upon our neighbors, ourselves and the planet. The crushing weight of all the ugliness in the world can be paralyzing and it manifests itself in cavalier humor, particularly when one feels like they've been beating their head up against the wall, taking one step forward and two steps back, i.e. losing Bush and Dick and gaining Trump and Cruz.
Anti-Flag has been playing aggressive, anti-authoritarian punk rock for over two decades now and they have taken this debilitating burden on. They have, night after night, tour after tour and record after record, been on the frontlines railing against the System. Fighting the good fight. Keeping hope alive. All that positive shit. Although the righteous progressiveness of their message is inspiring, what I really wanted to know from lead singer Justin Sane is how does a group, so embroiled in the shitty state of affairs, keep from burning themselves out? How, particularly as a mid-level band, do you keep the fire burning to try to right some of the wrongs in which we find ourselves and our country involved?
"There are definitely times when I'm burnt out on the serious issues of the day, because no one person in the world can all of the time, their entire life, just feel like, 'Hey, today I wanna tackle the world's problems.' At some point, people need to take a break," remarks Sane.
I also wondered if Sane, personally, ever feels like they are clocking in to fight the man? In the small spectacle that is the punk rock scene, does caring ever feel forced?
"Every night when I go out and sing 'Die For the Government,' it might mean more to me one night than it does another night ... Y'know, some nights I really react to it and other nights not as much," he states. "But, I feel like the meaning is still important because, hopefully, maybe it's touching someone on an emotional level that is helping them to think."
As the punk rock community can coincidentally be one of the most idealizing groups of individuals — a particularly dangerous position because many consider themselves above hero-worship and conformity, thus shying away from self-reflection and objective judgment — it begs the question, does Anti-Flag find themselves on some sort of radical pedestal, gazed upon by adoring fans as heroes, archetypes of the American radical experience?
"We're not what [fans] expect. We're not political robots, and they're like, 'Wow! Man, I thought all you guys did was sit around and talk about politics all day' ... It's easy to get a perception of who a person is from their art or from their music because our music tends to be so intense, and there's so much passion being put into it when it's created that it can give an impression to people that the artist is that person, or that thing, all the time," Sane said.
Is there perhaps some sort of morally righteous compulsion to continue the band? Is a band that aims to tackle hierarchy and challenge power ever forced into a constricting role of punk rock counselors or Sunday School seditionists, thus turning the egalitarian philosophy of the band and the scene on its head and turning off the band members in the process?
"Well, I will say that I really get a lot of my inspiration for doing the band, at this point, two decades in, from playing the live show, talking to people after the show who are telling me, 'This band means a lot to me,' and ... 'Please never stop.' And I will say that that definitely helps motivate me," Sane says.
In essence, as corny or naive as it may seem to those that have had their fill of political involvement, it's commendable to be in a band that will most likely never be comfortable millionaires resting on their political laurels.
And this is precisely because of the radical political element of the group. The essential politics — beyond the Human Rights Campaign booths at shows and the petitions for political prisoners — are the politics of fighting often unwinnable battles, not because it's sexy and you may get to meet Brangelina, but because somebody's got to stave off the jaded cynicism and teach the next generation the many forms of activism. And that, at the end of the day, pissing in The Man's face is the right fucking thing to do.