There was a time around the mid-1970s when western St. Tammany Parish was a popular landing spot for countercultural types. The promise of a life in the pines drew those who wanted to live Joni Mitchell’s lyric for real and get back to the land to set their souls free.
There were enough of them around to provide a client base for a health-food outlet in downtown Covington that shared the name of the San Francisco rock band It’s a Beautiful Day (whose signature tune, “White Bird,” was a paean to cage-free living).
You might think that repeated viewings of “Easy Rider” would have disabused them of the idea that hippies could live peacefully in the rural South. But we all know that Hollywood and real life don’t coincide, and the Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda nightmare apparently never befell them.
Back then, St. Tammany Parish had fewer than half the residents it does today. When the population later exploded, it wasn’t among the Red Zinger and bean-sprout crowd; it was folks with more typically suburban preoccupations: gas-guzzling commutes to work, minivan carpools to school and a general desire to replace some of those trees with shopping malls.
Last week, though, I began to wonder if, like Capistrano swallows, the hippies had returned to St. Tammany.
On the ‘Keep Your Fracking Drills Out of St. Tammany’ page on Facebook, there are quotes from folksinger Pete Seeger and American socialist Eugene Debs. There’s a petition from the MoveOn.org website and a link to another of Joni’s songs, “Big Yellow Taxi.” That’s the one with the line about paving paradise to put up a parking lot.
One post resembles a President Barack Obama campaign poster and says, “Yes we can ban fracking.” Another offers “the real secret to beating the Koch brothers.” There are pictures of former Vice President Dick Cheney, St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister and Gov. Bobby Jindal, all accompanied by quotations that are not very complimentary.
Meanwhile, you say you want a revolution? Well, you know, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré was happy to offer just that at a meeting last week in Abita Springs.
Honoré, who has become an outspoken environmentalist, compared the anti-fracking movement with a new American Revolution.
“Let the revolution start here,” he told a cheering and adoring crowd.
There seems to be — to borrow a phrase from the ’60s — some consciousness-raising going on. Judging from the Facebook posts, some people in St. Tammany Parish are beginning to realize that their fight is part of a bigger picture, and there are strands that tie together Northshore fracking, the BP spill, Bayou Corne sinkhole, Keystone pipeline and corporate misdeeds.
The Keep Your Fracking Drills Out page and another one from the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany also post items about recent political problems north of the lake, including those involving District Attorney Walter Reed and former Coroner Peter Galvan. They’ve made a connection between the citizenry’s apparent powerlessness in the face of the fracking proposal and controversy in some corners of parish government.
However, not everybody is jumping on the “come together” bandwagon and buying the idea that St. Tammany Parish activists are a small part in a grand effort. On the Keep Your Fracking Drills Out page, one commenter, referring to the family that owns the huge swath of land where the fracking will take place, says, “Poitevent can drill to his black heart’s desire in Bayou St. John. His rig is not needed in our water.”
Oh, well. As the song says, different strokes for different folks.
Dennis Persica’s email address is email@example.com.