Georgia on my mind

The U.S. state of Georgia has many similarities to B.C.

A heavily forested coastal state with plenty of mountains (although the famous Blue Ridge Mountains have nothing on the Rockies and the Coastal Mountains), Georgia is dominated by one sprawling metropolis with a handful of small urban centres and a significant rural/urban divide.

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For Canadians trying to understand the bipolar personality of the United States, then and now, Georgia is a good place to start.

Lost in the calamity of last Wednesday’s siege on the Capitol in Washington, Georgians narrowly elected two Democratic senators, giving the incoming Joe Biden administration a tie with the Republicans in the federal Senate that will be broken by Kamala Harris, when she is sworn in as vice president next week.

In typical Georgia fashion, its two new senators are trailblazers. Raphael Warnock is the first black senator to come from Georgia, while Jon Ossoff is just 33 years old and is the youngest person elected to the U.S. Senate in decades (Biden was just 29 when he was elected senator in 1972).

Their narrow victories reflected Biden’s razor-thin victory over Donald Trump in Georgia in the November presidential election. It was the first time a Democrat had won the state since Bill Clinton did it in 1992.

Like B.C., Georgia has undergone dramatic change in the past 30 years. Like Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, Atlanta and its surrounding counties has been home to most of that change. Just as significant parts of B.C. have seen little or no political, economic and population change in decades, the same goes for Georgia. 

Like Vancouver, Atlanta is a bustling world city much richer, far more socially and politically liberal, and much more racially and culturally diverse than its neighbouring rural regions.

In the early 1970s, a year before Dave Barrett became the first NDP premier in B.C. history, Jimmy Carter was elected governor of Georgia. Both men were modern progressives who marked a sharp departure from the past and left a permanent change on the regional political landscape, despite only serving one term in office.

Like B.C., Georgia has a difficult racist history that shapes life to this day. A slave state and proud member of the Confederacy, the Ku Klux Klan was founded in Georgia and Lester Maddox, the state governor before Carter, was a fierce segregationist.

As Canadians, when we look to our cousins to the south and imagine ourselves so much more sophisticated than them, far less extreme, nowhere near as gullible and self-centred, we need to quit being ugly as they say in the peach state, badmouthing the neighbours when we’re no better.

The tensions that run through Georgia and B.C. are merely shades of the same colour. There is much to like, much to celebrate and be proud of in both places but anger, fear, resentment and hatred are running as hot in the forests of B.C. as they are amongst the Georgia pines.

That’s a song we should all keep on our mind.

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