In the past year and a half, Baton Rouge has seen efforts to create a breakaway chamber of commerce, a breakaway school district and a breakaway city. Now, a conservative nonprofit has been created, reportedly, to challenge the one organization that is trying to bring Baton Rouge together.
The trend is troubling on many levels and suggests something is deeply amiss in our community.
The new nonprofit group calls itself Louisiana Strong, and it was created to challenge Together Baton Rouge, a three-year-old organization that was founded with the support of more than 75 local churches to help bridge the divide between the haves and the have-nots in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Louisiana Strong organizers have said Together Baton Rouge is abusing its nonprofit status and “co-opting religious organizations to gain political power.” They have also said their group is trying to combat the “urban socialism” that is allegedly on the rise in the Red Stick.
That is an interesting choice of words to describe a city that greets motorists along Interstate 10 with three giant white crosses.
Perhaps the reference to socialism comes from the fact that Together Baton Rouge has taken up several left-of-center causes, including wage disparity, food deserts and the much-reviled CATS tax.
Perhaps it is because of the group’s affiliation with the Industrial Areas Foundation, a community networking organization whose founder once penned a manifesto called “Rules for Radicals.”
Either way, the real issue is not that Together Baton Rouge might be a subversive commie organization. It’s that Together Baton Rouge is trying to tackle the ugly truth that Baton Rouge would rather not acknowledge: That we are actually two cities with a split smack down the middle.
Consider that Baton Rouge has both the highest median income in the state and the lowest. It ranks first in Louisiana in terms of life expectancy and also last. Its residents have the highest level of educational attainment in the state and nearly the lowest.
In other words, the mostly white, middle- and upper-middle-class residents of Baton Rouge enjoy the best of what Louisiana has to offer. The mostly black low-income population of Baton Rouge experiences the worst.
These are not new statistics, by the way. But they are not getting any better, and some of us in a position to do something about it are fed up and tired of trying, so we’re packing up and retreating to hamlets of homogeneity rather than trying to work towards a more vibrant, dynamic and diverse city.
Which is not to say there are not very legitimate reasons to be frustrated and unhappy with the parish school system, bus system and metro government. Our elected leaders let us down. Our tax dollars get squandered. Many of our schools really do stink.
But is breaking away the only viable option? I don’t think so. I believe it is still possible to engage in the political process and work towards solutions that address the needs of the whole. Perhaps that means overhauling the way we structure and organize our local institutions. Perhaps that means changing the way we appoint people to the CATS or library board. Perhaps that means electing better members to the Metro Council or incorporating our consolidated city-parish government or merging our bifurcated law enforcement agencies.
Whatever the solutions, or approaches, there are better ways than tearing down, breaking apart and taking on a group like Together Baton Rouge, which works in the trenches to help the needier residents of our community.
Great cities—which we so often hear Baton Rouge is on the cusp of becoming—are not built from fractured, feudalistic townships but from sacrificing for a bigger, better whole.