Wednesday, November 18, 2015

To Justin Trudeau: “Hang in There, Hoss! Hang in There”

Listening to CBC radio and television lately I get a queasy feeling that there is a subtle message in the reporting and commentary that is seeking to influence Canadians, along with our Prime Minister, to agree to renege on Trudeau’s promise to get our fighter planes out of Syria.  I hope Trudeau doesn’t dither on his promise to do this.  After the Paris massacre our Prime Minister is facing lots of pressure internationally, subtle and otherwise, as well as some panicked Canadians to join a coalition of more war.  We should all encourage our Prime Minister to resist, at least those of us want peace, and to hold steady in his promises. And because my own political leanings were formed in Louisiana where I was raised, I usually find myself searching for connections In Canadian society.  Canada has a history of socialist thinking (mostly coming from the NDP and early labour unions) which the US doesn’t. But when it comes to encouraging politicians to stay on a chosen course, Louisiana political scenes of the fifties pop into my mind.

Louisiana politics at that time was crazy, and still is. But we had a governor then named Earl Long who was very progressive for his time; he was socialist and anti-racist in his thinking.  He was also well, colourful.  Earl Long drank too much and made no secret of his relationship with a stripper (Blaze Star) although he had an estranged wife who openly despised him, probably with good reason.  But Blaze followed Earl Long in his campaign for re-election (he wanted her there) almost always standing in the back of a pick-up truck ready to cheer on a man whom she obviously adored. Not that the crowd needed much prodding. Long’s constituents were mostly poor people. And “poor” described the state of Louisiana in those days.


 Long had already pushed through many reforms such as transportation, health, welfare, and new schools for both white and black kids (the state was still segregated then and many rural black kids had previously had no schools at all to speak of).  So Earl Long, and his brother before him, Huey Long (previous governor and state senator) who was assassinated, had already made the moneyed people of Louisiana (Standard Oil) who sucked the state dry by tax loop-holes, pay for them. In doing so, Earl Long had earned many powerful enemies. But Earl was re-elected in spite of his drinking and open love for Blaze Star.  However, the scenes that stick in my mind are these:

The huge crowds that swarmed to hear Earl Long speak in small towns and large cities didn’t seem to care that he drank too much and loved a stripper, what they cared about was that he was fighting for them.   African Americans also attended his rallies and stood around the back of the crowds.  They couldn’t vote, or even try to, without fear of being lynched but they knew Earl Long fought for them, too, and they wanted to see him.  If Long showed signs of fading a bit in his oratory during a firey speech Blaze Star would shout standing from the back of her pick-up truck: “Hang in there, Hoss!  Hang in there!” The crowd would roar with laughter and then echo Blaze’s call.  Renewed, Earl Long would go on for at least another half an hour while the people listened, mesmerized, full of hope.

Okay, so Canadian politics doesn’t have quite the same face as Louisiana politics of fifty years ago, but one thing is the same.  When a politician anywhere thinks he or she is doing the right thing politically and citizens agree, we should say so.  Politicians need these same kinds of validation from the people, these same kinds of encouragement, these shouts of understanding when the going gets tough.  Not just in elections.  And selected polls don’t cut it, either.  

Because there are those who are already saying “no, no, you can’t do this, Justin, you can’t bring the war planes home, we’ve got to go to war for political reasons.” But he can.  And some are saying, “no, Mr. Trudeau, you can’t bring all those refugees here, we don’t know who they are.”  But he can. And we can.  And we can, those of us who feel it, stand up and yell collectively some version of…”Hang in there, Hoss! Hang in there!”