Following President Barack Obama’s re-election, residents of more than 30 states have signed petitions asking to secede from the union. Georgia, with one notable secession under its belt, is among them.
By Wednesday, the Georgia petition online at whitehouse.gov soared past the 25,000 signatures needed to prompt an official White House response. The petition asks that the onetime 13th colony be allowed to create its “own new government.”
As the online movement grows, so do theories about the motives of its backers. Is the political disaffection that prompted thousands to take to their keyboards tinged with racial animosity?
Not so, said Danny Dukes, a Canton-area consultant who this year made a failed run for chairman of the Cherokee County School Board.
“It’s like the Boston Tea Party sending a message saying, ‘We’re fed up with the way things are.’ We want progress and direction and leadership and don’t agree with the route things are taking,” he said. “The racial issue has been checked at the doorstep for a long time.”
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Tyrone Brooks, president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, sees it otherwise. “It’s nothing but race,” he said. “Some people are upset at the fact that we have an African American president.”
Because the signatures are not vetted and are generally just a person’s first name and last initial, tracking down supporters can be as difficult as the act of secession itself. It’s not even clear how many of the people who signed the document actually live in Georgia.
Zachary Goldstein, of Woodstock, offers this explanation for why he signed the petition:
“It is about the simple fact that our country is so divided and spread out that a centralized government in Washington D.C. is no longer a viable representative of the people,” said Goldstein, via email. “This is a peaceful, grass roots movement that shows people are fed up with the over-reaching federal government.”
And this came via email from Beau Bowers, of Newnan: “Obama won re-election, and though I am not happy about it, I do accept it. I signed the petition however because I hope that maybe the thousands of signatures will register the tiniest blip to the Obama administration that they need to try to govern for the entire country.”
Other Georgians reacted to the petition effort with skepticism and a bit of disgust.
“Words cannot express how utterly ignorant and ugly this seems to me,” wrote Betsy Dunbar, of Lilburn.
“…I do enjoy seeing the secessionists’ viewpoints if only for the schadenfreude,” wrote Paul Hoover, of Buckhead, employing a German word for reveling in the troubles of others. “Can you imagine Georgia without federal oversight? Shudder…”
Popular conservative writer Erick Erickson also took to Twitter to address the movement: “Dear people who want to secede, as we say in Georgia, ‘Delta is ready when you are.’”
Dexter Porter, of Lithonia, filed his own petition on whitehouse.gov requesting that the government dismiss any secession proposals.
“I think maybe some of them have a valid point about the overreaching of the federal government’s powers into the state … but I think a lot of it is sour grapes from the election,” he said. “They’re not patriots. Patriots don’t run. Cowards run.”
Gov. Nathan Deal’s office declined a request for comment on the phenomenon.
Mercer University economist Roger Tutterow said that even if the state had a plausible legal path to secession, it’s hard to imagine how it would function.
Fundamental activities of the federal government would have to be replicated at the local level, he said, starting with national defense, the most pure example of a “public good.”
“Even for those of us who believe that the government closest to the people governs best, it’s hard to take this as a serious proposal, to even think about what the implications would be,” he said.
Daniel Franklin, an associate professor of political science at Georgia State University, pointed out that even though tens of thousands of people have signed the petition, millions more Georgians (and Americans) have not.
“It may show there’s a fringe in Georgia politics, but it doesn’t represent Georgia tradition, which in fact was never for secession,” he said. The Georgia Secession Convention of 1861 was created only after secession was rejected by the state’s voters in an 1860 election, he noted.
Bill Nigut, Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, is loath to attribute the movement to racial motives without further evidence, but he called it “absurd” and “deeply divisive.”
“I don’t think there’s any question that the election generated some of the most heated emotions, pro-Obama and pro-Romney, that we’ve seen in any election in my memory,” he said. “I do recognize that there are a lot of people out there who are having a very hard time, given the passions generated, in accepting the fact that their side lost.”
Franklin advises those dissatisfied with the election results to take heart: There’s always another one.
“As long as there is a chance to win through playing the electoral game, I think calls for revolution are a little premature,” he said.
If Georgia’s petition signatures climb into the millions, he said, the state may have a problem.
“But I don’t think the Union is going to let them go,” he said. “It would be a shame to fight that one again.”