By Philip Baillargeon
Source: Brynn Anderson/AP Photo
If you know me, you know that I very rarely talk about myself. I am a relatively private person, and I would rather focus on the achievements of others than to opine on my own success. However, with the recent Senate elections in Georgia and the deliverance of two Democratic Senators from a state I knew as deep red just a few years ago, I feel that I am able to bring some necessary context to these historic wins for progressive politics and social reform in the United States of America.
I lived in the state of Georgia for the years of 2007-2009, the year in which Republican Senator Saxsby Chambliss won his runoff election by fifteen points. It was a period of time in which I, a first grader in the Atlanta suburbs that Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock were able to shift toward the Democratic side, saw daily interactions that would have been fireable offenses in the state of New York. Racism was a spectre that I did not know at the age of six or seven, but I can recognize its work so very clearly today. Teachers would lambast and insult Black and Latinx students (commonly referred to as “Mexican” whenever addressed), but they would then coddle white students who would make the same mistakes. Mind you, I left that school when I was in the second grade; how this behavior progressed to the present day is beyond my knowledge. This is why, when I heard optimism surrounding the special election from the Democratic side, I urged caution. Democrats had never won a special election of any kind in the history of the state, voter suppression causes incredible organizational challenges for the party that relies on minority voters targeted by such tactics, and the Georgia I knew was engraved so vividly in my mind that I could not comprehend such a dramatic shift in such a short amount of time.
After his election, Senator Raphael Warnock will be the first African American Senator elected in the state of Georgia, and the 11th Black Senator in the history of the body. His victory was marred by the events on January 6th, but the historic nature of his win, coupled with the victory of Senator Jon Ossoff, will reverberate in the years to come. Senator Warnock grew up in a housing project, rose to hold the position of pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, and will now serve in the United States Senate. For all the injustice I saw as a kid growing up in suburban Georgia, for all the pain and suffering I saw but could not name, my memory of my time there holds one powerful image that now can truly supersede them all. I remember visiting the burial place of the immortal Martin Luther King Jr. with my family, walking through the halls of his childhood home, and listening to the people who worked to preserve his legacy speak about the greatness he strived for and his dedication to civil rights. The fact that another man could follow in his steps and serve in the most prestigious legislative body in the country by being elected statewide is an incredibly powerful progression for the state.
This is also the victory of the incredible organizers like Stacey Abrams and LaTosha Brown who organized an effort to combat voter suppression and elevate silenced voices to the forefront is an incredible achievement. Thanks to the people of Georgia, who elected an African American man to the Senate in one of the most divisive times in our country’s history and in spite of a racist campaign run against him with millions in corporate funding, the United States will be able to formulate effective measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic in the short term and potentially institute a $15 an hour minimum wage, tackle climate change, reform our healthcare system, and strengthen our democracy under a Biden Presidency.
My past with Georgia is complicated; but hopefully, because of their dedication to justice and equity, our future together will be bright.