Taking an American Gun to the Confederate Flag: Todd Mathis Releases Protest Tune "Fuel the Flag"

fuethatflag By: Michael Spawn

In a world of uncertainties, it’s comforting to know we can always count on Todd Mathis for a good protest song.

In 2013, the American Gun frontman, along with members of Whiskey Tango Revue, released “NRA,” three minutes and thirty seconds of honky-tonk satire in which Mathis assumes the perspective of a loud-and-proud firearms enthusiast, hell-bent on protecting an Amendment that is actually in little to no peril. The song is funny, but where “NRA” uses irony to make its point, Mathis’s latest bit of musical conscience arrives in truly earnest form—no jokes, no winks or nudges; simply his feelings on an issue that has the eyes of the nation fixed squarely (again) on South Carolina. But Mathis’s sincere delivery is completely appropriate, given how simultaneously delicate and explosive that issue really is.

Along with ad-hoc backup band The Discard Pile (Paul Bodamer and Philippe Herndon) Mathis just recorded and released “Fuel That Flag,” a protest song in the staunchly American tradition. Musically, the song couldn’t be less subversive; its standard chord progression rides merrily atop an unflashy, mid-tempo backbeat, with the overall feel being that of mid-‘90s alternative rock, a sludgier Superdrag. The tune is easy to latch onto and the chorus pops with confidence, but as with all protest music, the lyrical message is really the whole trip. “Fuel That Flag” began life as a poem partially inspired by Abram Joseph Ryan’s famous Conquered Banner, and once he was satisfied, Mathis put his words to music, recruited a couple of friends, and turned his verse into a recorded document. The lyrics are plaintive without being overly maudlin; they express anger but leave ample room for hope. “Show the state / And show the world / Fuck this talk / Of respectful furl / Take it down / And start tomorrow / To put away / The pain and sorrow,” Mathis sings in the song’s second verse, which gives way to the chorus of, “You say heritage / I say hate / Fuel it now / It’s not too late.” Given Mathis’ well-known humorous touch, (this is, after all, a guy who named his band American Gun, only to turn around write a piece of Second Amendment satire) his sincere delivery is all the more powerfully felt. The vocals dominate the mix—he wants you to hear what he’s saying and how strongly he feels about it all.

Protest music in the United States first gained real traction in the 19th century and from there, it’s bloodline moved through Woody Guthrie, to Bob Dylan and Janis Ian, on to the hardcore punk scene of Washington D.C., and finally finding its most recent wide-reaching embodiment in the vitriol of Rage Against the Machine. I’m obviously only skimming the surface. The total history of American protest music isn’t nearly as important as the history that music aims to make. Not all succeed, but our society inevitably progresses. With this in mind, it might be fair to say that Todd Mathis has written the most important song of his career. While one song might not change the world, passionate people do. And songs don’t write themselves.

Here's a link to the song's Bandcamp, where you can listen for free or as a name-your-price download.




There’s a Road We Must Travel: Mariangeles Borghini on the Road to the Removal of the Confederate Flag

Mariangeles Borghini By Haley Sprankle

“South Carolina is a beautiful state, and we are a diverse community,” local social worker and social justice activist Mariangeles Borghini says. “And we don’t all fit under that symbol.”

On June 20, 2015, thousands of people gathered on the State House lawn. A symphony of car horns sounded in support and agreement upon entering the scene, and chants of “Take it down!” flooded the streets. The people of Columbia united for one cause—the removal of the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds. Borghini was one of the driving forces behind this movement. Along with Emile DeFelice, head of Soda City Market, and Tom Hall, attorney and filmmaker, the trio created an event that changed the game of rallies in Columbia, in South Carolina, and in the nation.

“After the attack in Charleston, I was looking online to find discussions about the connection between what happened and the Confederate flag we have flying at the State House…And I couldn’t find any,” Borghini states.

As a social justice and human rights activist, she did what she does best and joined a team rallying people together by creating a Facebook page, “Take Down the Flag SC,” which now has over 8,000 likes. Through the page, Borghini was able to promote the online petition against the flag, while also creating an event under the same title. The immediate response was amazing—in less than 24 hours, the event had over 1,500 people pledging to attend.

“I had no idea how this was going to take off,” Borghini explains. “At Saturday’s rally, we had thousands of people around the State House asking in a peaceful, respectful, and hopeful way. That’s what I call democracy, social participation, and community advocacy.”

The grace of the crowd and profound statements of the speakers were a testament to the honest intentions of the movement. There was no violence, and there were no visible counter-protesters, but there was a whole lot of love. “We worked as a team to make this happen,” Borghini adds. “Not only the three of us, but the thousands of people supporting us through the [Facebook] page and our family and friends that pushed us forward and had our backs.”

While many have openly voiced their disagreement with the movement and claim the flag is merely a symbol of “heritage,” Borghini takes a stronger stance on the hot topic.

“Since I came to this country more than five years ago, it was always a shock for me to go downtown and see the Confederate flag flying in front of our state Capitol. Every time a friend or relative came to visit, it was really difficult and shameful to me to explain that to them. I’ve always felt frustrated and impotent about that,” Borghini divulges. “…The flag has been used as a symbol of hate, racial discrimination, and injustice, and it is offensive for many of us that are living and raising our families in South Carolina.”

In a press conference on June 22, 2015, Governor Haley announced her support for the flag’s removal, and gave a July 4 deadline for the decision to be made.

“I am thankful with our Governor for taking a step forward on this. To remove the flag is the first reasonable step in the process of healing a history of segregation, discrimination, injustice, and loss for many human beings. We are identifying with different values—we are not what the flag symbolizes to the majority of people. I really hope our legislators move in the same direction,” Borghini says.

Activism can’t just stop at a rally, though.

“My advice is to love each other and to speak up when we see something that is not right every day,” Borghini advocates. “Racial violence and other types of injustice happen on a daily basis, so let’s not let that happen. If we don’t do it, we cannot expect others to do it for us!”

For information about future events and initiatives regarding the removal of the Confederate flag, be sure to like the Take Down the Flag SC Facebook page.

“It is great we are not being silent anymore,” Borghini affirms. “We are speaking up and taking action towards having a better place to live and raise our families.”