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Dec 2011 27

By Justin Beckner

The dawn of another brutal election year is upon us and the majority of the country has developed a feeling of distain for politics all together. Still, masses of protesters have flocked to the streets to speak out against corporate greed and corrupt government practices. Never has there been a better time for a band like Anti-Flag to make new record and gear up for another world tour.

Anti-Flag frontman, Justin Sane has relentlessly spoken out against injustice since he and his friends formed the band back in 1988. Sane has long been hailed as one of the most intelligent songwriters of our generation. While musically, Anti-Flag is a direct descendent of classic punk rock bands, lyrically they ring reminiscent of a Woody Guthrie or Billy Bragg. Anti-Flag had a few minor hits with songs like “Protest Song” and “Turncoat” which could be heard being played at almost any protest demonstration during the Bush Administration. It is rather common to find Anti-Flag playing shows at protests. They recently played at an Occupy Wall Street Demonstration. Sane draws a lot of his songwriting topics from his experiences playing at and marching in these kinds of events.

Aside from his rigorous touring schedule with Anti-Flag, Sane has also put out three solo records (one full length and two EPs) and is in the process of putting together another album. In these solo records, he has found a freedom to pursue different musical directions – often this means falling back into acoustic music and dabbling in different genres. The light-hearted solo albums are a glimpse at the other side of the charismatic frontman.

In the following interview, Sane and I discuss the roots of his love of music and activism, the causes and effects of the Occupy Wall Street Protests, and the new Anti-Flag album due out this spring.

Justin Beckner: It seems to me that there are a lot of ideological similarities between traditional Irish music and punk rock music. You came from an Irish household, is that where your passion for music and social justice came from?

Justin Sane: Yeah, it really did. My dad is from Ireland and both of my mother’s parents are from Ireland so I am 110% Irish. My parents were both really involved in activism as a result of their Catholic upbringing. In Catholicism, there’s something called “Liberation Theology” and that’s the kind of theology that Jesus preached – that you should help out in your community and work with the poor and stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves or give a voice to those who don’t have a voice in the world. With the British occupation of Ireland for hundreds and hundreds of years, there’s always been that drive in the Irish people to work for their own liberation. I think that the idea of fighting for people who are oppressed was carried along with those who left Ireland. Those ideas have been well documented in Irish folk music which is something I grew up listening to and playing. My parents had nine kids because Catholics don’t use birth control. I was the youngest of the nine and we all played instruments. It was like our own version of The Pogues or Flogging Molly within our own family. I’m not Catholic myself, I’m not really religious, but I think that I was influenced by that Liberation Theology that my parents were so profoundly influenced by. They fought for civil rights and fought to make the environment clean for their kids.

JB: Were there any non-political bands that you were influenced by on a more technical level?

JS: Yeah, I mean I’ve always loved KISS. I thought they were really cool. I’m sure there were others – I listened to Jackson Browne a lot. I listened to much of the same music my older brothers and sisters listened to and a lot of it wasn’t political. The Beatles were a band that was unanimously liked by everyone in my family and they had their political songs and their non-political songs. So there was a lot of non-political music that I drew influence from.

JB: You’ve spent a fair amount of time at the Occupy Wall Street Protests. Do you think the message that is being sent by the protesters is getting through to those who need to hear it?

JS: I think it’s definitely getting through because the protesters are being addressed quite often with brutal physical force by a police force that has traditionally been used to work for the elite. I think what we have now is a police force that is propping up a corporatocracy. Let’s look at it from this perspective – if there were protests in North Korea where protesters were trying to make a statement by occupying a square in North Korea and the police came in a brutally beat people up and pepper sprayed them and hit them with non-lethal weapons, the State Department here in the US would be on Fox news decrying the authoritarian rulers of North Korea. But we have that exact same thing happening right here in a democracy where we supposedly have the right to free speech. We have peaceful protesters making a peaceful statement and they’re being beat down by police. I think that says something about the state of our nation and it says something about the concern that those in power have about a message like that being freely spoken. If they didn’t think that message was dangerous, they wouldn’t be sending the police out there to shut those people up. There’s a very clear and directed initiative to suppress that speech and I think that’s really tragic. I’m really proud of the people who are out there making that statement because it obviously needs to be made. People are waking up and realizing that the rich in this country have been taking advantage of the poor for a very long time. So, they’re waking up and making the statement that things in this country are very out of balance – in that respect I think it’s very important that statement be made.

JB: That sense of injustice and imbalance has certainly been getting much harder for people to ignore in recent years. The top 1% of Americans control 42% of the country’s wealth and assets. That’s a pretty staggering figure.

JS: Yeah it is and I think in America there’s a sense of fairness – that everybody has an opportunity to get ahead and that’s based on an assumption that there’s a level playing field that we all start out on. Now people are looking around and seeing that there isn’t a level playing field, things are vastly out of balance, and people with a lot of money are actually breaking the law in many cases and doing things that should be illegal to make more money – all this while the rest of us are just trying to scrape by. I think Americans are pretty fair minded – most people are just saying that they want a level playing field and that’s why we see a lot of protests popping up recently.

JB: Over the past couple weeks I’ve noticed major news networks belittling the protesters on Wall Street. How do you feel when you hear people say that the Occupy Protesters don’t know what they want?

JS: I think a lot of people have a hard time verbalizing it, but in their gut they know there’s something out of whack. That’s where I think the media does a really great disservice by putting out things like, “There’s these occupiers out there but they don’t know what they want.” Because the reality is that if you spent five minutes at any of the Occupy events and walked around and talked to some of the protesters, you’d very quickly find out that there are incredibly articulate people who can tell you exactly what they think the problem is, what should change, and they’d give you statistics to back it up. They’d tell you that the corporations have bought and paid for our politicians to the point that they don’t represent us anymore, they represent corporations, and we want corporate money out of politics so we can have our politicians back. Those are the messages that we don’t see on Fox or CNN. When I go to Occupy Wall Street, as I have a number of times in several different cities, I talk to people who are really articulate, and then I turn on the news and they’re interviewing some guy who can hardly talk and doesn’t seem to know why he’s there. It makes me wonder why the hell aren’t they running interviews with the people I talked to when I was there. But those people at the top of the food chain at Fox news and places like that don’t want a clear message coming out of there. They’re doing their best to make people look stupid but the amount of knowledgeable people down at these protests is unbelievable. I just wonder why we’re not hearing those voices on the news.

JB: With the dawn of another election year upon us I’ve got to ask, how do you think these protests are going to influence the elections in 2012?

JS: One thing that was really clever about the way the Occupy movement was structured was that there is no figurehead leading the movement. That’s a good thing because leaders can be coopted, they can be bought, they can be bribed, they can be stroked in different ways. The Occupy movement is a true democratic process and a true movement of the people. I think that politicians today are just too corrupt to bring this country back to some degree or normalcy. However they will do what they need to do to get reelected and in that sense the Occupy movement is a message of what the people want. It’s not a message of what the corporations want. Ultimately politicians have to bow to the will of the people, and little by little, as a result of the Occupy movement, we see that happening. So it’s a step in the right direction. I think that what the Occupy movement is going to do is change things on a broad scale and politicians in turn will be pulled in and forced to think about what the people want if they want to get elected.

It’s going to take time and it’s going to happen as a result of attitudes and ideas changing. One of those ideas that has to change is that we can have corporate money in politics – we just can’t. There are huge payoffs for these politicians. Say I get elected to the senate and I vote with a chemical company in my area even though I know it’s really bad for my constituents. I know that even if I get voted out of office the next term, I’ll still have a cushy job at that chemical company where I can use the friends I made in Washington to benefit my company. This is what happens over and over again. Our former senator or Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, who is running for president right now, is a poster child for this type of thing. Dick Cheney is another stellar example – he was with Halliburton, then in the Senate, went back to Halliburton, and then was vice president. That is how these corporations use their influence – what we have right now is not a democracy, it’s a corporatocracy and it needs to change. The Occupy movement gives me a lot of hope. I think people went to the ballot box expecting change from Barack Obama and they didn’t get it. They’re realizing that change isn’t going to come from the ballot box and they’re going to find a new way to move the country in a different direction – it’s really exciting and I feel optimistic for the first time in twelve years!

JB: Switching gears back to music, I’ve been told the new Anti-Flag album is in the mixing process right now. Do you have a title or a release date?

JS: Yeah we’re tentatively titling it The General Strike. A general strike is generally where a city or a country is shut down to make a point that progress will not move forward without the people’s labor. The UK had a massive general strike which wasn’t even mentioned in this country’s news. They shut the entire country down. The idea behind calling the new album The General Strike is that it’s a worldwide general strike and Anti-Flag is a band that is talking about unity between all people. I think there really is a group of people who have unified in this world around the idea of equality for all people – and that’s the concept that the title came from.

JB: A lot has happened in the world since your last album; is there any certain subject matter that you focused on with the writing of the new record?

JS: After going to a number of Occupy Wall Street Demonstrations and witnessing the recurring theme of police oppression and the masses of cops working as a tools for what I refer to as the corporate state, that was certainly on my mind when I was writing for the new album. Because I’ll tell you what, when you’ve had a billy club shoved in your face or been pepper sprayed or witnessed innocent people being beat down for absolutely no reason – the videos are on The Daily Show so you don’t have to look very hard to see it – it makes you angry. Especially when it happens to an old lady or people you know, and when you see this happening day after day to peaceful people who are just expressing their democratic right to free speech. So writing about police oppression was something that happened on this record as a result of that. I’ve been having a really hard time looking at police and feeling good about them. It’s really unfortunate because I have police officers in my family and when police do their job and serve their community and protect people, it’s really nice to see them. But we keep seeing over and over again police acting outside what their role is. It’s really enraging and it’s something I’ve been putting pen to paper about because that’s my way of dealing with it.

We’ve also been writing about the exciting events that have been happening around the world like the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the ousting of Moammar Gaddafi, and the changes happening in Saudi Arabia. And then we’ve got a song about skateboarding (laughs). There’s a general theme that the songs are about what’s going on in the world, but we like to have some fun too. It should be out sometime in the spring of 2012.

JB: There will be a tour ensuing the release of that album I’d imagine?

JS: Yeah, we’re looking at starting in Australia and then playing Indonesia for the first time which we’re pretty excited about. Then we’ll definitely be doing our dates in the states and the Europe. After that we’ll see what happens, were always looking forward to meeting new people, seeing new places, and experiencing new things.

JB: I also understand you’ve been writing some songs for a solo record. What do you get out of writing songs for a solo album that you don’t get from writing Anti-Flag songs?

JS: We had an idea when we started Anti-Flag that we wanted it to be a political punk rock band and when people started to follow the band that was the impression they got as well. When we stray from that formula people don’t accept it very well, some react pretty viscerally to it. On the record Bright Lights of America, which we released a few years back, we really tried to expand and go in some different directions and people either liked that about it or they hated it. [Instead of] trying to force people [to hear[ something that they don’t want from Anti-Flag, I write solo albums. With my solo albums, if I want to write about my cat or my girlfriend I can do that. With Anti-Flag I don’t feel free to write songs like that. Another thing is the ability to write different types of music. In my family we listened to so much music and it was so diverse that it almost makes more sense to come across me playing an acoustic guitar in an Irish pub than playing electric guitar in a punk rock band.

The solo albums give me a chance to do something else and that freedom is really exciting. It’s an opportunity for people to know the personal side of me. Sometimes in Anti-Flag people get to thinking that we’re just these serious political robots all the time – it’s kind of funny. Anyways, I’m hoping to get a solo album together in 2012.

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Dec 2011 09

by Yashar Ali

I don’t like to drink. I don’t like the taste of alcohol. And, outside of a handful of memorable drinking stories that my friends and I repeatedly share with each other, I don’t get drunk and I don’t like to get drunk. I also don’t like the loss of time that comes with a hangover and the loss of control that comes with drinking.

And it’s not because I have a drinking problem. I never have. I just don’t like drinking alcohol, it’s simply not part of my life.

Even though I am in my early thirties, I still face this incredible pressure – peer pressure – to drink. I am talking about the kind of pressure we’re reminded of when we think of teenagers, college students, or those in their early twenties, and how our friends, during this phase of our lives, were pushing us to drink.

Although we often think peer pressure in drinking is tied to a younger more footloose group, to twenty-somethings who are still finding themselves, I’ve discovered through my own experience and through learning about the experiences of my readers, that age and professional status really plays no role in whether someone will pressure or be pressured. Men and women in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s are doing the pressuring.
It seems to me that social pressure to drink is more a cultural issue than an age issue.

I even have friends who claim they could never be in relationship with a person who doesn’t drink. Because that’s what every solid relationship is built on: consumption of alcohol.

In (Western) adult social culture, alcohol is a primary and important component of being part of a group, and people who are not interested in alcohol or dislike the taste, are subject to pressure to drink. They, in turn, are forced to find or create, what are deemed “legitimate reasons” for not joining in with the drinking. Failure to drink creates a barrier between the drinkers and those people, who, for various reasons, choose not to drink alcohol.

Why are we judging and pressuring people who don’t drink and why do we make them justify or explain their reasons for refusing alcohol?

Alcohol (and drinking) is a part of the wide range of social pressures in our culture and it’s part of the fabric of many people’s lives. However, it’s not an insignificant thing to ask and pressure someone else to drink.

I get that alcohol helps people loosen up in social settings, but it creates a barrier between people who choose to drink and people who don’t. And this barrier sets the tone for who talks to, and who hangs out with whom. It’s as if alcohol is the social glue that keeps us together, and if we don’t have it and are faced with some people who drink and some people who don’t, things seem to get off-balance and uncomfortable.

The idea of someone who doesn’t drink is so foreign to some people that we sometimes falsely assume that the person who is not drinking has a past of alcohol abuse or we force these non-drinkers to constantly explain themselves.

Mindy, a reader from Chicago in her early 30’s, often deals with new friends or colleagues who assume she was an alcoholic or member of A.A., because she chooses not to drink.

So when it comes to socializing, do we only have two categories for people: sober alcoholic or drinker? There are so many people that fall in between these two categories, they’re not really sober, but they’re also not active drinkers.

A friend of mine who works in corporate advertising commented on the pressure she feels when ordering a glass of water or lemonade at a restaurant with colleagues when everyone else is ordering wine or a cocktail, “I’m made to feel like I’m not an adult.”

Susie, a 38 year-old paralegal found herself being excluded from activities at work, because she barely drank.

“You won’t want to come out tonight because you don’t drink,” she would hear from her co-workers in an almost sympathetic tone (she would always be included in activities that didn’t include heavy drinking).

“I can still have a good time without drinking. It’s not like I’m standing there with my arms crossed at a bar, frowning. I just wonder if they feel judged if I am not doing shots with them and that’s why I’m not being included.”

For Susie and other people in her situation, the social interaction between colleagues, the same interaction that often aides people in their careers, is something that is stripped from her. Unless she’s willing to drink to intoxication, people just don’t feel comfortable having her around and so, Susie misses out on one part of professional networking.

My friend Erin, who is in her late 30’s, found her second pregnancy to be the saving grace, in terms of alleviating the pressure that comes with drinking, “I find it a relief now that I’m visibly six months pregnant, because I can point to my belly and say, ‘Sorry, I can’t!’”

“It will be a drag when I have to go back to explaining to people, ‘No really, I just don’t like it.’”

Having an excuse, whether it’s an illness or pregnancy, seems to offer a reprieve to those who don’t want to drink. But it still doesn’t make sense to me. I understand (but don’t accept) the social pressure to drink during high school and college-age years, but why are adults so obsessed with their friends, family, and colleagues drinking?

And why do there seem to be real, social consequences for people who don’t care to learn the difference between a Chardonnay and a Cabernet?

***

Yashar Ali is a Los Angeles-based columnist, commentator, and political veteran whose writings about women, gender inequality, political heroism, and society are showcased on his website, The Current Conscience. Please follow him on Twitter and join him on Facebook.

He will be soon releasing our first short e-book, entitled, A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not Crazy — How We Teach Men That Women Are Crazy and How We Convince Women To Ignore Their Instincts. If you are interested and want to be notified when the book is released, please click here to sign-up.

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Dec 2011 02

by Yashar Ali

When most people are seeking love, they have a basic list of check boxes they hold up to their prospective partners. On this list are questions like: Is he single? Is he ready to be in a relationship? Is he emotionally available? Does he want to be in a relationship with me?

It makes me wildly uncomfortable when all the boxes on that list are checked. I am attracted to and fall in love with unavailable men.

For years, especially in the past three years, I have slept with married men, men in relationships, and emotionally unavailable men (the latter would be fine if sex was all I was after).

And with some of these men, I have developed serious romantic attachments as a result of our sexual relationship and friendship. I would wish, even hope that they wanted more than sex, that they would want a relationship with me.

Why have I been so self-destructive?

I have put myself in these emotionally trying places out of fear that my imperfections and weaknesses would be exposed in the course of a serious, long-term relationship. I didn’t want anyone close to me because closeness calls for a release of all pretenses; I would be forced to expose my strengths and my faults. In a healthy relationship, accountability and questions are part of the deal. I didn’t want any questions; I didn’t want to be accountable when it came to my problems. So I chose men who I knew would not or could not be in a relationship with me.

My entanglements with unavailable men allowed me to avoid men who would see the real me and also gave me the opportunity to experience the feelings of love and emotional and sexual attraction that we all need.

I always knew going into these situations, that the men I was seeing weren’t available for actual relationships. I never had to be told by others that, “He’s just not that into you.” None of the unavailable men with whom I have had sexual relationships can say I pushed them to do anything. I never bothered pursuing romantic relationships with these men because I knew, point blank, that they were unavailable. Instead, I stewed in my frustration and sadness, sharing my pain with one or two friends.

Over the years, my friends have made multiple attempts at setting me up with prospective boyfriends, but I always knew these men would be emotionally, mentally available. What a turn off – right? So I would refuse the set-up, or I would find a reason why that particular man wouldn’t work for me after going out with him.

I would occasionally date romantically available men for short periods of time; I gave them a small chance. But I would never allow them into my world, they wouldn’t meet my friends, they wouldn’t be a part of my life. And soon, they would either tire of the situation or I would find a polite way to move on.

The concept of unavailability in men comes in many different forms and it’s an issue I’ve seen many of my friends struggle with. For some, it’s about being in a relationship with a man who could physically be in the same room, but is a million miles away in terms of his emotional commitment. For others, it’s about falling in love with a man who will never be open to a sexual or romantic relationship. For me, an unavailable man is someone who gives me enough to live on emotionally and sexually, but is someone who is totally and literally unavailable for a relationship.

Sometimes, when we chase after things, we are not necessarily chasing after something that is inaccessible. My relationships with unavailable men have nothing to do with wanting what I can’t have. These relationships are about doing everything to avoid what I want the most.

The way I would fall in love with unavailable men was always the same. In fact, it had become so textbook that a few close friends would often notice and point it out when I was heading in that direction. I would sleep with a man, whether I knew he was available or not, and once I confirmed that he was unavailable, I would become more attracted to him. It wouldn’t take much for the emotional attraction to happen. If he said something sweet to me, or asked me the right questions, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to him. Whether the attraction would last for days, weeks, or months, it was incredibly intense and emotionally draining. And I lived out that pain in private.

The process would only be prolonged when I received a perfectly timed text-message or phone call from one of my unavailable men. These connections would provide the warmth and sense of closeness that I desired. Those text messages and phone calls were enough to keep me giving them what they wanted — so I could get what I needed.

My problems, my imperfections are the kind that everyone has. But for some reason, I felt like I had some sort of invisible cloak that prevented people from noticing these flaws unless I let them in. I was wrong. Everyone saw them, as any attempt at covering up problems only leads them to be revealed more publicly. My choice to engage with unavailable men stemmed precisely from this fear of intimacy and a fear of exposing my faults and inadequacies.

My attraction towards unavailable men taught me a big lesson, a lesson about my aversion to revealing my shortcomings to the world. I have fundamentally shifted how I see privacy and what it really means to be private.

Our need for privacy, for secrecy, for keeping our imperfections hidden is seriously taxing our lives — it took me away from myself and nearly destroyed me. We ironically admire this internal suffering as a strong character trait, “Oh, she’s so private,” or “He’s so private.” We seem to think this kind of silent suffering is honorable. It’s not.

For me, sharing my time with unavailable men was a major way to hide parts of myself. Being with these men was my version of privacy. Being forced to talk about my relationships with these unavailable men or being forced to talk about the resulting pain made me feel like I was being exposed to the world. For me, talking about my problems was a weakness. And that’s why I never did it. Until now.

Our tendency towards privacy often relates to our desire to hide our problems and our desire to conceal our fear of exposing personal issues and imperfections. But problems are generally not solved behind closed doors. I also think it’s nearly impossible to cover up or hide our general imperfections or issues — human beings are so perceptive that most people will soon realize that something is wrong. For me, privacy is now about keeping things special or keeping other people’s secrets. Privacy is no longer about burying my own secrets or imperfections. I just don’t care anymore about being judged.

Usually people wait until they’re extremely successful or well past their problems to discuss them. We are often willing to talk about our secrets or our problems once we have solved them. It’s so much more comfortable to say, “That’s how I used to be.” I’m not there yet. I thought about unavailable men yesterday, I thought about them this morning, and I am thinking about them now.

While revealing this issue about my life may be embarrassing for some to hear or know about, I no longer have an issue admitting that I have never felt truly close to anyone. Until now, I have not truly felt close to myself.

I really want to be in relationship. But I know I am not ready. There’s nothing I want to do more than respond to the text from one of my unavailable men that I just received. That text still gives me enough, even though it truly offers nothing. I still have the desire to get what I need from someone who doesn’t want to give me more than sex and a kind word, someone who won’t ask me any questions, someone who won’t require me to be a better person, someone who let’s me keep my privacy, and someone who allows me to keep all of my faults and shortcomings at bay.

But I know I have to stop sleeping and falling in love with unavailable men — because my need for privacy has left me feeling incredibly lonely.

I’ve been knocking on a door when I know that no one is home. I’m tired of waiting around for him to answer.

***

Yashar Ali is a Los Angeles-based columnist, commentator, and political veteran whose writings about women, gender inequality, political heroism, and society are showcased on his website, The Current Conscience. Please follow him on Twitter and join him on Facebook.

He will be soon releasing our first short e-book, entitled, A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not Crazy — How We Teach Men That Women Are Crazy and How We Convince Women To Ignore Their Instincts. If you are interested and want to be notified when the book is released, please click here to sign-up.

Related Posts:

When Everything Is On His Terms
Now…Give Your Uncle A Kiss
The Modern Day Version of “Just The Tip”
Men Who E-Maintain Women
He Doesn’t Deserve Your Validation: Putting The Fake Orgasm Out of Business
A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not Crazy

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