Serving the residents and business owners of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach in Brooklyn, NY, Councilman Justin Brannan is a busy man. The 40-year-old was elected to represent southwest Brooklyn’s 43rd Council District in 2017, vowing to always look out for the "little guy." But why would a politician be featured on a hardcore-centered music website? Well, if you've ever listened to Indecision and/or Most Precious Blood, then you're already acquainted with Justin via his guitar work and songwriting.
Yes, many years before he dedicated his life to working in local politics, the Brooklyn native was part of the hardcore community, so I was curious to see how that world informed his career path. Though his schedule is always stuffed to the gills, Justin still took some time out to speak with me and share his thoughts on the whole thing.
I always ask musicians if they grew up in a home with music always playing in the background, so I’m curious if your family was very politically outspoken when you were a kid still living at home. In other words, did that seed get planted from an early age with you via your family?
My dad was a record salesman and my mom is still a teacher. They read the [New York] Times every Sunday. My mom still does. I wouldn’t say growing up they were super politically engaged but my parents were liberals and definitely very aware of whatever was going on in New York City or across the world at the time. I grew up listening to a lot of Lynn Samuels on the radio. I was always very aware of current events or whatever. My parents were more into people over policy. Same as me I guess. They taught me about civil rights, fairness, justice, the importance of helping people in need, and standing up for those who had no one to stand up for them.
My mom recently reminded me that I used to carry a photo of Rosa Parks in my wallet once I was old enough to ride the bus by myself. I’d totally forgotten about that. But yeah music was everywhere. I’d wake up to the Temptations, Al Green, Captain Beefheart, Squeeze — all sorts of good stuff blasting from the living room. But growing up did I think I would one day get involved in politics? No way. Not in a million years.
Who were some of the bands/musicians that you felt a strong connection to on a political level, whether it was via their lyrics or their outspoken views in interviews, etc.?
I can honestly say, growing up, I learned just as much about world history listening to the Minutemen, Napalm Death and The Dead Kennedys as I did in history class. That’s for sure.
I’m guilty of this at times, but I think there are many people who when they think of politicians, their minds go to D.C. Since becoming a homeowner back in 2012, I’ve realized how much impact my local representatives can have on things.
I wasn’t drawn to politics early on because it felt foreign to me.It was a bunch of old white guys — curmudgeons, basically — in suits and ties in Washington, DC babbling about stuff that didn’t really affect my daily life. At least, not back then. Now things are different. But back then all I knew was my rent was due on the first of the month and I had to somehow buy groceries with whatever money I had left after paying my bills. Politics wasn’t important to me. Yet. It wasn’t until years later that I fell in love with local government. That was more my speed. I could help people with their problems in real-time. That felt right. That was a politics I could get into — and I jumped in head first and never looked back.
It took time for me to realize the correlation between my early teenage animal rights and AIDS activism days and later getting involved in electoral politics. The ligaments weren’t immediately evident to me. Then years later, when I worked at a radio station, I got involved in union organizing and then things started to crystalize a bit. But I was definitely not one of these kids who at 7-years-old wears a bow-tie and tells everyone who will listen that they wanna be President when they grow up.
How would you describe what you do for a living to someone in a way that is easy to digest/understand?
I’m a problem solver, an advocate and an ambassador for about 150,000 people. It’s the best job in the world.
How often does your connection to the hardcore community come up in your professional life?
Some people are puzzled when they hear I spent 10 years on the road with a hardcore band. Other people totally get it. I think because hardcore was always different because it was music with a message, it just makes sense. And believe it or not, there are more of us old hardcore kids involved in politics and policy stuff now than people might think. We have a Facebook group called “Policy Punx” and it's people from all over the country who grew up going to hardcore and punk shows that are now involved in either electoral politics, advocacy, policy, etc. It’s pretty cool to see some of us made it out alive.
Since one of the neighborhoods you represent is Bay Ridge, what can you do to bring L’Amour back? Surely, you must have some kind of pull in that regard!
[Laughs] It was definitely a rite of passage to attend several “last” thrash bashes. That place was great. I’d love to hop in a time machine and see Biohazard, Life of Agony, and Type-O at L’Amour one last time.