Like many of my political persuasion who call the United States home, I have occasionally threatened to leave the country. In the build-up to the Iraq War in the early years of the Bush 2 administration, I regularly threatened to move north to Canada if we invaded Iraq. Lucy and I and our youngest son, Hank, marched through the streets of Poughkeepsie, NY, to protest the imminent  invasion amidst the drumbeat of war from the neocons surrounding Bush. Yet my threats to seek Canadian asylum from the bellicosity of the Bush years proved hollow.


There were many reasons we didn’t emigrate — all sound ones. They included in no particular order the following: 


  • My ordination vows
  • The complexity of changing our citizenship
  • Leaving my extended family behind
  • The guilt that would come with leaving
  • The “spoiled bratiness” of the idea


If I’d thought seriously about it, I am sure I could have come up with more reasons, but those were enough. So I retired the empty threat of moving out of the country over a decade ago and didn’t think about it again until recently. 


So . . . . why the title of this blog? Why bring up the tired old threat again? What caused me to reconsider fleeing? No, it’s not the very real possibility of four more years of Trump, although that might push me over the edge. The immediate reason I again pondered leaving home was the outcome of Louisiana’s last gubernatorial election and the fallout since. It was no surprise last fall when Louisiana voters replaced our former Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, with a fire-breathing MAGA warrior named Jeff Landry. And it wasn’t a surprise when the state legislature became even more solidly Republican — reliable, compliant cheerleaders for the new governor. Everyone saw it coming, and now the new team in Baton Rouge is showing us how fast they can restore Louisiana’s reputation for being “tough on crime”. We used to be the mass incarceration capital of the world, only to lose that honor to Oklahoma, but not for long.  


Within weeks of being elected, Gov. Landry called a special session of the legislature to rush through a package of tough-on-crime measures he’d campaigned on. The Republican-controlled legislature dutifully rubber-stamped  them in just a couple of weeks. One bill will allow Louisianans over 18 to carry concealed weapons without a permit on the nonsensical notion that a good guy with a gun has the right to take out a bad guy with a gun.  Seventeen-year-olds will be considered and prosecuted as adults. We will go back to executing death-row inmates with nitrogen gas and electrocution in addition to lethal injection. It will be much harder (impossible?) for prison inmates to get paroles. Landry also took it upon himself to pick a little-known bureaucrat to head the state Public Defender’s Office, an appointment previously made by a board experienced in criminal defense work. Move over Oklahoma, we’re reclaiming our title. 


I’ve highlighted only a few of the bills passed during the special session, but enough, I hope, to show why they appall me and other like-minded Louisianans. Unfortunately we are in the minority. 


Landry says he’s just begun; he’s actively pushing other equally offensive right-wing initiatives. Think Ron DeSantis on steroids with no serious opposition or “Drill, Baby, Drill”  and you’ll get the picture.  Louisiana was already deep red before Landry was elected. I was accustomed to being ashamed of the state where I live most of the year. But the sudden changes after the election alarmed me. The ease with which the new governor was able to turn back the clock to the days when the state earned mass incarceration honors shocked me. 


Since Landry assumed office in early January, the headlines have trumpeted one legislative victory after another. Unfortunately, as a subscriber to The Times-Picayune, those headlines land on my kitchen counter seven days a week. Lucy relishes the opportunity to write snide comments in big red letters over the headlines, her way of reminding me of what offends us as residents of The Pelican State. She’s less attached to this area than I am, thus prone to suggesting that we take our leave from this benighted state. 


That’s an option, of course. But will my acute disappointment in the course Louisiana has set for itself cause me to abandon it for Rhode Island? Nope. Let me explain why. 


Our decision to move to New Orleans back in 2012 had everything to do with the endlessly fascinating city, nothing to do with the state. We thought we would love living in New Orleans— as distinguished from Louisiana, a deeply red state. New Orleans has a look that reflects its long, colorful history; it’s populated with an ethnic stew that contributes to its eccentric ambiance. In some ways, it has the flavor of third-world countries I’ve spent time in. I would miss it terribly. 


The fact is, I can’t leave now. I feel bound to the place because its people make it special for me. Not just those with whom I share an affiliation, like my parish family and my friends at ACLU-LA. I’m talking about all the folks I interact with as a resident of this city. Some of them agree with me about the new governor, who is unpopular here in Orleans Parish. But they can’t afford to just up and leave in protest, as I can.  I would feel disloyal if I left them, however backward the state’s politics. 


And leaving would be abandoning people who are working hard to change Louisiana for the better. Our parish, St. Anna’s, is heavily involved in social justice ministry. We are pushing back against the kind of policies our new governor champions. We are the opposition. Likewise, the ACLU-LA is involved with pushing back on mass incarceration, racist policing, and systemic racism. Would it be right to turn away from the struggle because I am peeved at the Louisiana electorate?  


Of course, one could support those efforts from afar — send financial support in from somewhere else where the MAGA creeps are not in charge. But that would be retreating to seek comfort elsewhere. What a pathetic message that would send. What if all my friends who live in South Carolina decided to leave because it’s also a MAGA stronghold? Would I applaud them for leaving? No. South Carolina, like Louisiana, needs every progressive soul it can muster to oppose the right-wing agenda. 


In the end, I’ll fight rather than flee. It’s actually a selfish decision since it will make me happier. Most of us who have attained old age have learned that being part of a movement or a cause —  whether large or small, local or national — is more rewarding than self-indulgence. So sticking around when things are not going well is simply part of a commitment to make a difference, however small our part may be. Everyone counts.

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About Buck Close

Deacon Buck Close serves on the staff of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Newport, RI. He was born in South Carolina, graduated from Tulane University in 1972 with a BA in Economics and Latin American Studies.

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