Last night, Dirk Powell and his wife, Christine Balfa, took the stage at the Blue Moon Saloon for an inauguration party. Musical guests included Corey Ledet, Linzay Young and Zydeco Joe Citizen. The show was billed as “Oui, On Peut,” a reference to a music video the group posted on YouTube in support of Barack Obama. Shot and uploaded just before the election, the video garnered national attention and created a local stir. It’s even led to the local nonprofit organization Louisiana Folk Roots explaining why it doesn’t and can’t participate in politics.
In the days leading up to the 2008 election, musicians Powell, Balfa, Ledet, Young, Citizen, Jeffery Broussard and others gathered at Jim Phillips and Christy Leichty’s Whirlybird in Opelousas to cut a video for the original tune “Oui, On Peut,” sung in French and in support of Barack Obama.
After the video was posted on YouTube, it was mentioned on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC and was subsequently viewed 8,000 times within 24 hours. Since it was first posted on Oct. 21, the video has attracted 151,000 views.
On Oct. 30, a group calling itself “Native Cajun Musicians for Free Speech,” supporters of John McCain, posted a response to “Oui, On Peut.” It’s unclear who is behind the video, which is a slideshow of text fading in and out over a red background for over three minutes. It reads in part: “Since the posting of a YouTube video of a ‘local’ musician campaign ad for Obama/Biden, a fury of backlash has developed within the community of (native) Cajun/Musicians. ... Subsequently a small group of Cajun Musicians quietly phone polled about 70% of known Cajun Musicians to determine the feeling about such a video, its message, and the censorship by its host.” The video then lists reasons why the group takes umbrage with the video and why it supports McCain over Obama.
Powell says after the video was posted he was contacted by a dozen people who were upset by it. “Me and Christine were told that we would be alienated and ostracized and that it would come back to bite us on the ass, literally, and come back to haunt us.”
But most complaints were that the group didn’t represent the Cajun culture or its beliefs. “We never claimed to represent the Cajun culture,” Powell says. “I have never, and never will, claim to be Cajun because I’m not. One of the things that amazed me is that people who would never consider Creoles to be Cajuns claimed that this video was attempting to represent Cajuns when half the band is Creole. It’s very clear that the message of the video is racial unity between black people and white people. So how white people — who will never claim black people as their own — can claim that this is an attempt to represent them is very upsetting and incomprehensible to me. The ones who are so-called pro-Cajun and who got in touch with me would never include Creoles. So it’s very clear to me, right off the bat, that they should have understood that this video did not represent them and was not an attempt to represent them.”
Regardless of people’s intentions or motivations, Louisiana Folks Roots wants nothing to do with the politics. On Thursday, its board of directors and staff posted an open letter on its Web site, www.lafolkroots.org. “Louisiana Folk Roots cannot, is not and will not be affiliated with or participate in any active campaign for public office or related activities.
“Further, Louisiana Folk Roots cannot and does not wish to influence the activities of private citizens wishing to participate in these kinds of campaigns. Moreover, we as a group are vigilant in our efforts to ensure that our decision-making processes are free from any related influence or bias.”
Todd Mouton, Louisiana Folk Root’s executive director, says, “We got a few letters and a couple of phone calls asking if we were behind, were a part of, or were somehow involved in the video. Then they expressed concern that if that was the case, that was not something they were in favor of. Most folks probably don’t know that 501c3s can’t be involved in campaigns for public office. We can do a lot of things, but we don’t do that.”
Perhaps some of the confusion over whether Folk Roots was involved with “Oui, On Peut” stems from the nonprofit’s origins. Christine Balfa is the organization’s founding director, a title she retains, but she ceased to be the director in May 2003. Today, she and Powell sit on the nonprofit’s advisory board not on its board of directors.
“This video was made with absolutely no affiliation with Folk Roots whatsoever,” Powell says. “It had nothing at all, in any way, to do with Folk Roots. To say that a member of that organization can’t support, through freedom of speech, the political candidate of their choice is absurd. Anybody on any board can campaign for anybody they want, just not in the context of that board.”
Adds Mouton, “We’ve been honored to work with the artists in the video, and scores more in one way or the other over the years, but we haven’t, won’t, and can’t work with them on projects like that.”
Powell says he is putting the YouTube hub-bub behind him. “I think the country is ready to move,” he says. “I think the mood of the country is ready for a change, and I think people have a hard time accepting change. But it’s here. We would all do better to look forward, for our kids’ sake and everybody’s sake.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.