Global Policy Forum

G8 Protests Make Little Impact at Summit Start


By Paul Simao

June 8, 2004

Outnumbered and intimidated by armored Humvees and attack helicopters, demonstrators who have been the main event at other world summits failed to show up in numbers on the first day of the Group of Eight meeting on Tuesday.

Barely 300 people marched through the Georgia towns of Savannah and Brunswick in two separate rallies focused mainly on opposition to the Iraq war and to President Bush.

Protest organizers in Savannah alone -- a steamy southern town of leafy squares and colonial architecture -- had expected 5,000 to come out and denounce the G8 meeting on inaccessible Sea Island 80 miles away.

Kelly Gasink, one of the main coordinators of opposition to the G8 in Savannah, tried to put a brave face on the low turnout. "This is a town that hasn't had a march," she said.

Compared to 2001, when thousands rampaged against a G8 summit in the Italian city of Genoa, or to the 1999 riots during World Trade Organization talks in Seattle, the small turnout in Georgia could be taken as a signal that the anti-globalization movement has begun to run out of steam. Gasink and other protesters said, "no way."

They said the deployment of thousands of National Guardsmen, police, secret service agents and other law enforcement officers to protect the meeting against possible al Qaeda attack and against demonstrators had deterred many.

Having uniformed National Guard soldiers on patrol was reminiscent of pre-Civil War days when semi-official militias were used to suppress slave uprisings, said William Pleasant, media director of the Labor and Action Research Project.

"Calling in the National Guard has people terrorized because of our history," he said.

Kate, a self-described anarchist who declined to give her last name, said recent police tactics of using overwhelming force against protesters had also scared some people away, or made them think twice about targeting such high-profile events. "People are picking their battles more wisely," she said.

Neither in Savannah, nor in Brunswick closer to the venue on Sea Island where Bush and leaders from Britain, Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Canada and Russia are meeting, are the police giving demonstrators much leeway.

Much of Savannah was locked down tight and parts were closed off to the public. Most downtown residents have taken the week off and headed to the beach, locals said. Coast Guard speedboats with heavy machine guns patrol the river separating the town from a convention center on an island where most media have been based.

In Brunswick, which lies at the end of a causeway connecting Sea Island to the mainland, police made a heavy show of force when a ragtag band of 100 anarchists, pacifists, civil rights campaigners and anti-globalization activists held a two-hour march.

Some demonstrators shouted obscenities at the media and the security forces. Helicopters hovered overhead and military vehicles rumbled through the normally sleepy town. The U.S. military and Coast Guard have established a no-go air, sea and land zone around Sea Island.

The fact that the G8 was forced to meet on an island to protect it from "the people" was a victory for the anti-globalization movement, activists insisted.

"Our numbers may look small but we are not alone. The global justice movement has not died," an anarchist called Sasha told the marchers in Savannah. (Additional reporting by Michael Christie in Savannah)

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