Sam Burnham, Curator
With the news that the disaster relief bill has stalled out in the Senate, we sit here scratching our heads. With much of South Georgia still struggling to recover from Hurricane Michael as well as tornadoes that damaged small towns and agricultural infrastructure, farmers were counting on federal disaster relief to make repairs, buy equipment, and to be eligible to secure loans for seed. And now planting season is upon us and those who lost last year’s crop to weather have lost this year’s crop before they even had a chance to plant it. Many may lose everything they own.
As Washington becomes more and more divided and the two major parties make moves only in the interest of gaining or maintaining power, the pawns become odder. This is not a frivolous topic. Sure, agriculture is the livelihood of those affected but their livelihood is the most important one on Earth. It’s not only the biggest industry in Georgia, it’s where we get our food and it’s what drives our industries. It is all of our livelihoods.
The Judge, Augustus Romaldus Wright, put it this way:
"Agriculture is the foundation of all production absolutely necessary for the use or comfort of man. He must eat and be clothed, to live, to think, to modify matter into ten thousand forms for his use. By locking up the soil, you dry up the fountain of life and being."
This failure is locking up the soil. That’s not an option we can accept. We cannot allow this to happen. It also seems that we cannot expect to change what goes on in Washington. The only option that leaves us is to start conversations on how to never be at the mercy of Washington. We have to be able to handle this at the state and local level. That requires us to develop sustainable systems of finance, energy, agricultural practices, and disaster relief that are completely independent of Washington. The answers will be local, local, and local.
I don’t have answers and don’t claim to. I’m saying we gotta start talking about these answers among ourselves and with anyone in Atlanta who will listen. And we might have to talk a little louder to those in Atlanta who won’t listen.
Washington is not the answer. We were fools to think it was. Our survival depends on a future with limited influence from Washington. If we don’t count on them, they can’t fail us. It’s time to count on us and to set the example for other states to do the same.
Got any ideas?
Sam Burnham, Curator
Due to the strong themes in the film, I decided to do a commentary piece on them in addition to the movie review.
As I mentioned in the review, the fictitious Teas Midlands Bank plays the roles of victim and villain. As a regional bank headquartered in Ft. Worth but with small branches in several small rural West Texas towns, the bank’s practices and policies keep it successful at the expense of the residents of these towns and the surrounding farms. And the townspeople hate the bank for it.
Ive mentioned community banking on this page before. I do as little business with large financial institutions as is absolutely possible. I’d rather not do business with any bank whose headquarters is not in my town. That’s not always realistic.Market and regulatory issues cause my bank to sell 100% of the mortgages they originate to larger institutions. It’s just not worth it for them to keep mortgages in house. But a bank that depends on the health of your community is a bank that will benefit your community. A bank that doesn’t depend on the health of your community will have different goals.
In Hell or High Water we see a large regional bank and big oil doing well financially. But there’s a price for that success. It’s a price paid for by the community. One scene stands out even more than the rest.
So we reflect on the ways big business has hindered the small town ways of life. Big Banks, Walmart, Amazon, Big Oil, even considering the impact Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds had on the situation I covered in Tobacco Road, all these take money from small towns and offer little in return for it. Without a strong local economy, people remain in poverty. Only someone with a way to offer big money to big business is going to benefit from big business. And no one is getting rich working for someone else these days.
I’m not saying these things to bellyache or spread doom and gloom. These are the very reasons we need to support local businesses, especially banks. It’s why we need to support local enterprise. It’s why we need to support small businesses, entrepreneurial start ups.
Hell or High Water wasn’t just a good movie. It was an important movie. While still avoiding spoilers, it showed a fictional attempt by a few victims to get even with the big guys. I don’t advocate violence, robbery, or chaos. I’m not endorsing their methods. But it’s past time that we fought back. Big Business and Big Government are usually two heads of the same monster. We’ve got to do what we can to get out from under that monster.
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Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire