Bryan Baker stuck a roll of toilet paper on a paint roller that he’d attached to a leaf blower, and switched the leaf blower on. A stream of white paper shot into the air and fluttered delicately to the ground. It was Baker’s twist on a tradition of the Bawcomville Redneck Christmas Parade, where marchers throw toilet paper – as well as toothbrushes, ramen noodles, beads, and candy – at spectators along the road in West Monroe, Louisiana.
“We have Leroy the Redneck Reindeer,” Baker said, pointing to the stuffed deer head with a red nose on his float. “You can’t get any more redneck than that.”
“Redneck” doesn’t necessarily mean broke – there are plenty of expensive trucks in the parade. To Baker, redneck meant “We’d rather be out in the woods, be out in the country – sit back on the porch, bonfire, cold beer.”
But behind the jokes was a more serious reality. The parade route went past people living in an RV and a tent, abandoned stores, a pawn shop, and a couple Dollar Generals. More than 30% of Bawcomville residents live below the poverty line, and the surrounding Ouachita Parish was deemed a persistent poverty county in a 2022 report by the Congressional Research Service. A 2015 documentary called “The Other Side,” which follows a man addicted to meth, was filmed in Bawcomville. The area is well-known locally as a poor community in need of better housing, and there’s a derogatory definition of a resident on Urban Dictionary (“characterized by having at least two broke-down vehicles on their front lawn…”).
West Monroe residents told CNN the economic strife they see every day affects how they plan to vote next year.
Debi Mayo and Rachel Holmes were doing outreach at the parade for Bawcomville Hope, a non-profit that gives food and hot meals to the needy.
“People don’t realize this is kind of like a Third World country,” Holmes said. There were many homeless people in the area, living in abandoned mobile homes, she explained. “And in the woods,” Mayo added. “Makeshift tents.” They said homelessness was harder to see there than in the streets of the big cities.
“It’s a terrible situation we’re in. Even people with jobs are suffering because of the high price of the economy,” Mayo said.
As for the 2024 presidential election, Mayo said, “We hope Trump gets back in there. Maybe he can straighten it out … Because it wasn’t in this turmoil when he left. All this has managed to happen in the last three years.”
Former President Donald Trump holds commanding leads among Republican voters but has to win the party nomination through state contests beginning in less than six weeks.
President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign has been touting “Bidenomics” – saying the economy has gotten better since the pandemic, a war in Europe, snarled supply chains and increased spending sent inflation to four-decade highs. Although economic metrics show that’s true – unemployment is at a historic low, low-income paychecks are bigger, inflation is falling – public opinion polls show that a majority of people still think the economy is bad.
Some commentary has suggested this is not rational. “Disproportionate doom seems to be a new American affliction,” a Financial Times columnist wrote in December. A September Bloomberg opinion column was headlined, “Risks Are Growing of a Double-Dip ‘Vibecession’” – “vibecession” being a term coined in June 2022 by Kyla Scanlon and picked up widely to express fears that gloomy economic views could become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
“That’s a big fat lie,” Toni Boler, a parade spectator, told CNN of analysts who said Americans just didn’t understand that the economy is actually better. “Just look at our pocketbooks … What little people may have been able to save from the stimuluses we got – all that is gone. People are living off credit now, if they even have that.” She said her property taxes, property insurance, and utility bills had gotten more expensive. “I don’t know how these families that come to this redneck parade – this community – even can buy groceries.”
Shane Wooten, a local real estate agent, said he’d bought hundreds of packets of ramen noodles to toss from a La-Z-Boy he’d propped on a motorized scooter to ride in the parade, a reference to a joke that rednecks snacked on dry noodles as they were cheaper than chips.
“It’s just not your typical Christmas parade. It’s something to laugh about,” Wooten said, dressed as the Grinch as the parade got ready in an elementary school parking lot.
A line of monster trucks was capped off by a monster VW bus with weed-smoking icons cut into the rims. Floats included one with with a man sitting on a toilet, signs reading “kiss ur cuzin” and “crack is wak,” boughs of empty beer cans, a nativity scene, a tractor, a trash truck, and many, many pickups.
In the crowd, Boler said she works with the Louisiana Department of Health, and that her job involved getting people “with serious mental illness a way to get out of the nursing homes. But we really kind of hit a roadblock because there’s no place for people with mental illnesses to go … There’s no housing for people.”
She added, “I think there’s a lot of the population that gets lost – that the administration is worried more about things they don’t need to be worried about, instead of what’s really going on with people that are out here trying to work.”
Louisiana is a deep red state, and none of the presidential campaigns will spend much money to win over voters here.
Jane Temple said she couldn’t wait for the general election for Trump to get back in and fix the economy. “We’re counting on him,” she said. “I think he cares. I may be wrong, but I think he does.” She said Trump wasn’t perfect but added, “For the most part, when he was in office, even with everything going on, he accomplished a lot.” As for Biden, Temple said: “I don’t think that he has a clue.”
William Thompson owns a convenience store in the area. Working there, he’d seen a lot of people struggle with meth and fentanyl. “I blame Biden for that, too,” he said. Given the chance, he will be voting for Trump in 2024, he said, “because he’s the only president in my knowledge who’s given back to the people and helps the people.”
“If he’s in jail, I’d vote for him,” Thompson said.
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