The People's Republic of the Bayous?
So what does it all mean?
Mark Krasnoff thinks Ville Platte is the shape of things to come: southern Louisiana getting its interracial act together to take on its colonizers and rulers. A small, wiry man with the build of a dancer or gymnast, he is an actor (most recently in a prophetic FX network TV drama, Oil Storm, about a category 6 hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast) and a stunning bilingual raconteur. He is also the Che Guevara-cum-Huey Long of Evangeline Parish. His beat-up pickup wears the bumper sticker LOUISIANA: THIRD WORLD AND PROUD OF IT.
"Look, Louisiana is the same as any exploited oil-rich country--like a Nigeria or Venezuela. For generations the big oil and gas companies have pumped billions out of our bayous and offshore waters, and all we get back is coastal erosion, pollution, cancer and poverty. And now bloated bodies and dead towns.
"People in the rest of America need to understand there are no 'natural' disasters in Louisiana. This is one of the richest lands in the world--everything from sugar and crawfish to oil and sulfur--but we're neck-to-neck with Mississippi as the poorest state. Sure, Washington builds impressive levees to safeguard river commerce and the shipping industry, but do you honestly think they give a shit about blacks, Indians and coonasses [pejorative for Cajuns]? Poor people's levees, if they even existed, were about as good as our schools [among the worst in the nation]. Katrina just followed the outlines of inequality."
Mark is incandescent. "The very soul of Louisiana is now at stake." He enumerates the working-class cultures threatened with extinction: the "second line" black neighborhoods of New Orleans, the French Indians in Houma, the Isleno (Canary Islander) and Vietnamese fishermen in Plaquemines, Cajun communities all along the Gulf Coast.
"If our 'leaders' have their way this whole goddamn region will become either a toxic graveyard or a big museum where jazz, zydeco and Cajun music will still be played for tourists but the cultures that gave them life are defunct or dispersed."
Mark's worst fears, of course, are rapidly becoming facts on the ground. Bush's Housing Secretary, Alphonso Jackson, told the Houston Chronicle on September 30, "I think it would be a mistake to rebuild the Ninth Ward." He predicted that New Orleans' black population, 67 percent before Katrina, would shrink to 35 to 40 percent. "New Orleans is not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again," he said.
This was undoubtedly music to the ears of Republican master strategist Karl Rove, who knows that the loss of 10,000 or 15,000 active black Democratic voters could alter the balance of power in Louisiana and transform overnight a pink state into a red state. The GOP could gain another senator as well as the governorship.
Mark's preferred solution is secession: "Let us keep our oil and gas revenues and we can preserve our way of life as well. We don't really belong to the same cultural system anyway. You prize money, competition and individual success; we value family, community and celebration. Give us independence and we'll restore the wetlands, rebuild the Ninth Ward and move the capital to Evangeline Parish. If you wish, you can ship the Statue of Liberty to Ville Platte and we'll add a new inscription: Send us your tired and huddled masses and we'll feed them hurricane gumbo."
We all laugh, but everyone understands it is gallows humor. Ordinary people across Louisiana and the Gulf Coast are beginning to understand what it's like to be Palestinians or Iraqis at the receiving end of Washington's hypocritical promises and disastrous governmental and military actions.
Katrina and Rita have stripped Louisiana naked: Exposed to a brutal light are government neglect, corporate rapine and blatant ethnic cleansing. Equally revealed, however, is the bayou country's ancient moral bedrock of populist revolt, cultural resistance and New Testament generosity. But when in the entire bloody course of history has the kindness of strangers ever defeated the conspiracy of money and power?