Justin Sane and Jonny5

We Control Tomorrow managed to snag an interview with Justin Sane of Anti-Flag and Jonny5 of Flobots after their recent gig at Manchester Academy supporting Rise Against. Read on to find out what they think of Obama, the recession and people power!
Justin Sane from Anti-Flag and Jonny5 from Flobots talk to us
about the goings on in the world
The biggest change to have happened recently is Obama coming into office. How has this affected the USA?

Justin – Oh everything’s perfect now! The clouds have parted, the sun shines, the birds sing, the angels sing as a choir everyday.. (Jonny5 – the angels are really good!) Haha, no but in all seriousness, do you wanna start?

Jonny5 – Sure! My take as somebody who both worked hard to get Obama elected and who also worked hard to maintain some critical distance is that I think it’s important to acknowledge victories when there is a victory. Obama is someone who says, “I think we need a government through diplomacy not war”, at a time when Hilary Clinton says “No, you’re an idiot, you can’t meet with Ahmadinejad, (the President of Iran) you can’t meet with Hugo Chavez (the President of Venezuela)” and he’s still able to win. I thought the next day he was gonna come back and say “Oh I apologise I was a fool to say that” and he didn’t, so I feel like we have to take our victories where we get them.

For a whole lot of people Obama represents the man on the inside, who is gonna do whatever we make it possible to do. But it doesn’t change the fact that in the political landscape, all the changes are determined by the grassroots. Jim Wallis says social change happens when you have social movement beating down on closed doors. I think Obama has the potential to open that door but we have to be beating down on the door either way. In some ways a whole lot has changed, because for people who once felt like this big silent majority with the anti-war movement, we now ostensibly have our person in there. At the same time he’s inside this system that does not change, or changes only very slowly. So everything’s changed and nothing has changed.

Justin – I would echo all those sentiments. Let me start back at the beginning. I voted for Barack Obama, I endorsed Barack Obama but I did not think Barack Obama was the answer to all of our problems. I still don’t think that, I think that there were better candidates but I could not stomach another 4 years of George Bush which is what I believe John McCain represented. That said I certainly think that Obama takes us in a different direction, and a direction that we needed to go in, somewhere new, but it remains to be seen how far in that direction he’s going to take us and what special interests are going to tie his hands. At this point Obama has been very disappointing to me. I didn’t have very high expectations and in all honesty my vote for Obama was a vote against John McCain. Saying that there were some issues that Obama was dead on about and there is potential if, as my friend here was saying, we push Obama and the Democratic Party. There is the potential with us raising our voices and being out on the streets and being politically active that some things can change for the better. For example this green economy Obama is talking about; I’ve been talking about it for ten years now so that’s very near and dear to my heart. I do believe you can create all of these new jobs with a sustainable energy, plus it’s actually adding something positive to the planet, instead of destroying it which is very odd for corporate America, its very odd for the corporate world in general.

But then when you look at this bank bailout just now, I’m totally against it! If you look at what they did in Scandinavia, they nationalised the banks, kicked out the people who ran the banks, wiped out the shareholders and guaranteed the depositors. So what they basically said is, the people who created this problem, you’re out the door, you’re out of here. In America, they’ve thrown a tonne of money at them and its gonna be trillions of dollars when its all said and done. It’s not gonna work, they’re letting the people who created the problem try and solve the problem; they’re paying them off to solve the problem! In the end what’s gonna happen, I think, is that the banks are going to be nationalised anyway, 1, 2, 3 trillion dollars later which devalues the dollar and it devalues the way people live in general. It’s calling on the people of America to pay for these fat cats to fuck up. And I don’t believe in that. We could use those trillion dollars for schools, for healthcare…

Jonny5 – For the green economy!

Justin – Exactly, for the green economy! So yeah Obama is taking us in the right direction in some ways but he’s not the answer to all of our problems. I think he’s step number one.

Jonny5 – Another good example would be marriage equality. I liked Obama because of his church, which is ironic. The church that he later decided to distance himself from. I actually went to that church the Sunday after he distanced himself. The United Church of Christ is the only mainline protestant church that advocates for full inclusion of gay/lesbian persons, they accept that that is how God has created people. So when he says I believe in marriage between a man and a woman I straight up don’t believe that he actually believes that. I think he even had a quote where he said “I think history will show I’m on the wrong side of this issue”, and that’s something where its clear to me he’s saying “hey everybody, I’m a politician trying to win in the US of A, go out and make it possible to say what I actually should be saying.” At the same time you have people using quotes from him on answering machines lobbying for proposition 8 in California, so he may not believe it but his words are being used, so that’s just one more example of how the limits of a politician as making change is concerned, he can only do what is politically possible.

Justin – Yeah, that said lets look at the issues he came into. I mean he came into a total disaster! An unpopular disastrous war in Iraq... there are some people who are claiming there is some kind of victory right now which is totally absurd especially when over a million Iraqi’s have been killed, millions displaced, and the country is still a total disaster area. Billions of dollars, trillions even, have disappeared during this war and when you look at the financial and human cost of the war there’s just no way you can even begin to call it a victory of any sort. It’s only made America more unpopular around the world, it’s created more people who have a reason to be unhappy with America, who have a reason to want to strap bombs onto their bodies and kill Americans. Then there’s the war in Afghanistan and an economy in full-on collapse. The reality is, Obama hasn’t said this yet because he doesn’t wanna spook everyone, but the banks are insolvent, our currency at this point is basically worthless so certainly the guy is coming in under the most incredible circumstances and in that respect I think he’s doing the best he can. Certainly there are all those other social issues, abortion, gay marriage etc, that are going to be very hard for him to deal with and I think we need to push things in the right direction with those issues so he takes on some of these really macro issues first.

One of the first things he did when he came into office was to say he was going to close Guantanamo within a year. How do you feel about that?

Justin – Alright, he got something right!
Jonny5 – I felt like his day one was pretty good!
Justin – I felt pretty good on day one!
Jonny5 – He had some good symbolism on day one.

Justin – Exactly! One great thing about Obama, he’s the first sitting president ever to come out and call himself a feminist. He’s calling for an equal pay act and he’s signed an act which allows women to claim money back for wage discrimination, which is going to help many women who have been discriminated against over many years who didn’t know about it. The Supreme Court ruled that after maybe 6 months or so if you were discriminated against you can go back and try to reclaim losses over so many years. The only problem with that is some people don’t realise they’ve been discriminated against for 10-20 years and there’s no way you could prove that in 6 months. Those are two great things that Obama has done that I feel really good about.

Jonny5 – Somebody made the comment if (Bill) Clinton was our first black president, Obama was our first woman president!

How do you keep up to date with all these issues while you’re on tour?

Jonny5 – Yeah how do you man?! What websites do you frequent?

Justin – I don’t know… I just kinda feel out with my psychic antennae… like damn, I feel like there’s trouble in the Middle East today…

Jonny5 – The Supreme Court’s passing something... Not good!

Justin – Not good! Haha! I have one of these, it’s called a Blackberry. It’s awesome. My life to a large degree is on here, it keeps me in touch at home. Then there are things like alternet.org, democracynow.org. We have democracynow.org smack dab in the middle of the Anti-Flag website and I try to check out their headlines everyday to see what’s going on. If I have internet access that is decent I can get online and listen to or watch their show so that’s pretty much how I try to at least keep my finger on the pulse a little bit. Maybe Yahoo news every once in a while to see what other people are reading about.

Jonny5 – I used to have commondreams.org as my home page, now it’s our website fightwithtools.org. But I think I check CNN too much because there’s this café in Maine that’s topless and I don’t know if that’s really the biggest story!

Justin – Right, right, that’s kinda why I like Yahoo news, it breaks up the seriousness, like I wanna know, was an antelope swallowed by an anaconda?! Could that really have happened?! Yahoo news, they have the answer to that! I wanna know!

One of the main reasons we started We Control Tomorrow is because we believe that knowledge is power and we want to equip young people with the tools to understand what’s going on in their society and to give them a place to talk about it as well find new music and so on. How would you suggest we go about encouraging young people to get into politics and take an interest in their society?

Justin – Well for me the number one key to activism is getting the idea across to people that it’s fun! I grew up in a family of activists so I could see from growing up it was a great time. We’d get together and plan something, go to a demonstration, make signs, hang out, you meet all these really cool people then you go take over the streets, I mean that’s a good time! So I think the idea of getting across to people that it’s a good time but also at the end of it you feel really good because you’ve stood up for something you believe in and hopefully you’ve made some kinda impact on the world that is positive, maybe you even helped bring about some kinda change. So I think that for me, that is the number one idea that I try to put out to people. You wanna make friends? Go to a demonstration! There are a lot of cool people hanging out there. That’s where I come at it from.

Jonny5 – I think too the idea that whatever it is you have as your natural set of skills or talents, those are in need. There’s an activist group that needs those talents. If you’re an artist they need someone to help make good signs with good graphic sensibility, we’ve all seen these horrible signs, you know? So whatever it is that you’re good at there are people that really need that. I think that so often if someone is really good with finances they get shuffled into the corporate world and the finance world and they find themselves ten years later being unhappy with that when really, they could have been a treasurer for a non-profit organisation which really needs them, they’re making less money maybe than they would have but they’re 8 hours of the day happier and that’s a large percentage of each day. So I think finding your niche within the world of activism is really satisfying. For me, for a long time I thought I needed to be a community organiser because all my friends are community organisers and so I worked with some youth organisations and I thought this little rap thing that I did was a side project, just my thing that I indulge in, my personal form of expression. And then one day I realised oh wait, music is influential, maybe I should try doing that as my full time focus since I really like it, and that’s how I got here. I realised what I was good at, and realised that could actually be my primary contribution to social movement.

You’ve just mentioned you think music makes a change. How much of a difference have you felt that it really has made? Do you get a lot of positive feedback and do you think its really making a difference?

Jonny5 – I think what’s incredible is, talk to any activist organisation or non-profit group and they would love to get the chance to be in front of people 15 through to 30 years old for 6 weeks in a row every single night in 20 cities across the country. That doesn’t happen! The people who get to do that is Anti-Flag, Rise Against, bands get to do that. We are in front of people every night, and people who are really willing to listen to what we’re saying, willing to spend money on our CD’s, our t-shirts, willing to donate to causes that we bring up, so there’s so much power in music. It’s not only that, its people who identify with it at their core, who say this is my subculture, this is who I am, these people represent me you know? And so what we’ve been trying to do is figure out a way to link that power to the people who are in the trenches in the activism world, who are holding the rallies. We’re trying to be that bridge if we can because clearly the people power is there in the music scene and we just need to direct more and more of that towards the activism scene and make them one thing because they really are one thing.

Justin – You know what has illustrated to me throughout my life that music has an impact on people is just my own experience. It was bands like The Clash, Bob Marley, The Dead Kennedy’s that inspired me, that made me feel like you know what I should get out there and make a change even if its just that I’m gonna be the kid that organises recycling at my school because we don’t have something as simple as recycling. I think there’s a power that music has that just gets under your skin, gets into you and gives you life, it gives you that inspiration to feel like you can take on something bigger than yourself and be a part of something. For me in my own personal experience, music had such a profound impact on me as a human being and that’s why I’m here today.

There’s a running theme of unity at your shows, when everybody gets together and they’re all one voice, what is that like to see happening when you’re up on stage?

Justin – That’s beautiful. That’s everything that you go through the day for. It really is incredible. That is what inspires me to, day after day, when I’m sick, as I am right now, to drag my ass out of bed and get up out there and do it. It is amazing. The scene that I came out of when I was younger was this really violent, divisive scene, and there were all these different factions in it. Basically it was just a lot of shitheads looking for excuses to fight. And for me, I always thought that music had this positive power to change so we slowly worked on our scene, changing it to be something positive. Part of the reason we started the band Anti-Flag, and the idea behind the band Anti-Flag was to break down these artificial barriers of sex and race and gender etc. The idea was to bring people together which seems almost ridiculous with the name being Anti-Flag but of course that’s the idea that we’re breaking down the artificial barrier of nationalism. So for me, many years later to have the opportunity to get up in front of thousands of people and say lets put these petty differences aside, lets focus on our commonality and focus on the strength that we have in that commonality, coming from where we came and what we hoped to do when we set up the band, that’s what’s special to me. And I will say this, I do believe it was bands like Fugazi and Bad Religion, and then the next wave of bands like Anti-Flag and Rise Against that had some kind of influence on the overall scene that has gone on around the world around the idea of unity. There were so many negative aspects of the punk scene that used to be so prominent ten years ago that are not around today and I do credit it to certain bands that worked really hard to do away with those things. And of course things like Food not Bombs etc, there are so many activist organisations within the punk scene.

To wrap things up, could you each give us a quote of inspiration for anybody who’s going to access We Control Tomorrow?

Justin – Simply, I would say We Control Tomorrow is so apropos because it’s true. I mean, if you don’t take control of your life someone will take control of it and more than likely that someone will not do with your life what you hope them to do. So get involved, there’s so many possibilities in this world, it’s up to you to take control of those possibilities and I would agree, you DO control tomorrow.

Jonny5 – I would say that there really is no way to overstate how powerful each person individually is, whether it’s an individual act or a move toward a collective act. We are as powerful as decide to be.

Many thanks to Justin and Johnny5 for taking the time out to talk to us. For more information on Anti-Flag, visit www.anti-flag.com and for more information on Flobots and Fight With Tools, visit www.flobots.com and www.fightwithtools.org