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 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.