“Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.” – Dwight D Eisenhower
After many years of being in a political punk band I’m often asked, “Why bother to write political music or take a stand on anything?”
I understand why people ask me this question. It often feels like nothing ever changes for the better. Too often, evil trumps good. The bad guys win. Backward-thinking, greed-fuelled corporate whores dominate the world’s economic and political systems. It’s easy to look around and think, “Why bother? There’s no hope!”
When we look at where we have been and where we are, it is possible to see that great change has come as a result of people being willing to stand up and be counted, especially in the face of overwhelming odds.
Does racism exist today? You bet it does, all over the world! Recent events in the US highlight the problem of systemic racism, from video after video of white cops brutalising African Americans, to the racist-fuelled murders at the Mother Emanuel AME Church. Even though America still has a long way to go on the issue of race, we are inching towards dealing with it more honestly. The backlash against the Confederate Flag, which many white Southerners have rebranded as representing their Southern heritage, is finally being called out for what it is: an instrument of racist oppression. More people are willing to call the attack on the AME Church exactly what it is: a terrorist attack.
Does homophobia exist? You’re goddamn right it does! Like racism and sexism and bigotry of every stripe, it is an ugly truth of our world. But the US Supreme Court’s ruling legalising gay marriage in all 50 states again highlights the ability of great change to come to pass because people were willing to raise their voice and come together to confront injustice. And not just for one day, but every day.
I was influenced to care about more than just myself because of the message in the music of bands I loved. It made sense to me that if music inspired me to do good things in the world, to stand up for people who could not stand for themselves, then maybe starting a political band of my own would help me to influence others in the same way. So that’s what I did.
Over the years we’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position to call attention to issues that are important to us. We can shed light on – and raise money for – activists and organisations doing extraordinary work all over the world. That’s the ‘Big Picture’ that demonstrates why political music matters. But for me, it’s the ‘Little Picture,’ the personal victories that come in the form of individual stories, that let me know that what my band is doing matters. When people share with me the moment that an Anti-Flag song changed their life in a dramatic way for the better, or the moment that their eyes were opened to an injustice, that’s when I know that music with a message is important.
A cynic might say that these individual stories are great, but they don’t change anything. I see it very differently. Every person’s story is important because no one can predict how their life will affect another’s. All change, great or small, is sparked by one person having an idea and being willing to share it with others. The world changes one person with one positive action at a time. If Anti-Flag can influence one person to do some good in the world, then we have made a difference. And that means that writing music with a message matters. And speaking truth to power matters, whether it’s me with a guitar, or you and a friend organising for a cause that is important to you. It all matters.
Anti-Flag’s new album, American Spring, is out now via Spinefarm