TOES 2004 Experience in Georgia Trent Schroyer & Susan Hunt
Our experience organizing and conducting a counter G8 Summit in Georgia exposed the oppressive domination of the Bush regime. Previous TOES conferences in Houston  and Denver  brought together over a thousand people each from dozens of countries around the world to contest the presumption of the G8 -- a self-appointed rich countries' club - that they have the right to govern the entire global economy.
But our efforts in Georgia in June 2004 to continue the TOES tradition of facilitating a critical discourse about G8 policies were systematically blocked by the Bush administration and their sycophants in Georgia. Their weapon of choice was fear. They began by issuing alerts regarding possible Al Qaeda attacks during the Republican and Democratic conventions as well as the G8 Summit, accompanied by warnings that such attacks could result in collateral damage to those living in the areas surrounding these events. Next, the media raised the specter of thousands of out-of-state protesters devoid of respect for local property invading coastal Georgia, marching across residents' lawns, throwing rocks through shop windows, sleeping and defecating in public parks, and leaving in their wake a smelly mess of destruction reminiscent of Sherman's march to the sea.
The media advised motorists that roadblocks and security checkpoints on bridges and highways would cause major traffic delays and suggested that local residents plan to take their vacations during the week of the G8 Summit to avoid the inconvenience. Those who planned to stay in town were advised to remain indoors -- for their own safety. In response to the possibility of an Al Qaeda attack, every public school and college in coastal Georgia was ordered closed "for security purposes". All postal delivery was cancelled. Should churches desire to organize events during the G8 Summit, they were asked to hold prayer vigils for the G8 leaders. Virtually every conference venue and lodging was either placed off-limits "for security reasons" or booked by the federal government to house the over 20,000 CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, Secret Service, Army National Guard, state and local police. This made it virtually impossible to secure a venue. Not until five days before the TOES conference did the Governor of Georgia finally cave in and give TOES access to Coastal Georgia Community College.
As for finding local people with whom to work, the oft-heard refrain was, "When this is all over, you protesters will return to the places you came from, but we have to continue living and working here." We heard this so often that we began to suspect that somebody had provided a crib sheet to local clergy, union leaders, and educators for holding conversations with out-of-town organizers. Their fear was so palpable that we suspect that they were threatened - with social ostracism if not loss of their jobs. Robert Randall, a courageous local organizer, was fired from his job as an educational therapist for helping to organize the Fair World Fair. It seems that local residents were convinced that if they participated in any G8 related events, even an academic conference like ours, they would be putting themselves in harm's way. A courageous older man who walked with the aid of two canes and attended every TOES session, mentioned that his church had pleaded with him not to attend out of fear that he would get hurt!
In summary, it seemed that the Bush Administration employed virtually every piece of artillery in the Homeland Security legislation to stifle our freedom of speech, assembly and to petition our grievances. They did so with the complicity of local officials in a rural southern state that is predominantly Republican and had already demonstrated its ability to protect "national security" in ways unique to Georgia.
The 2004 G8 Context: "Republicanism" in Recent Georgia Elections
Georgia was secured as a Republican safe zone in recent elections. How this happened illustrates the nature of politics in that state.
Ralph Reed, founder of the Christian Coalition, had returned to his home state to become the head of the Georgia Republican Party. Reed assembled an army of 3000 people to target 600 precincts during the final six weeks of the 2002 election. They interpreted Democratic governor Roy Barnes' downsizing of the Confederate battle cross on the Georgia State flag as a denial of Georgia's identity. Volunteers stood at crossroads on Election Day displaying the flag along with 'Boot Barnes' signs. This strategy resulted in the election of Sonny Perdue, the first Republican Governor in Georgia since 1872!
The same Republican propaganda machine, headed by Ralph Reed, defeated Max Clealand in the 2002 midterm elections. Max Cleland was a moderate Democratic State senator who lost his right arm and both legs in Vietnam. The Republicans pictured Cleland as standing in the way of the new Homeland Security legislation, alleging that he didn't "get it" that the country was in danger. Either Georgia possesses a higher knowledge of "security" -- or 'Homeland Security' is a cultural metaphor that requires membership in Georgia's Republican Party to be fully understood.
Reed is currently Bush's campaign organizer for the Southeast region of the United States, and he promises to do for the whole region what he did for Georgia. Among other tactics, Reed is using Bush's faith-based initiatives to buy the support of black churches.
Homeland Security 'a la' Georgia:
We haven't been able to penetrate the veil of secrecy that surrounds the initial stages of Georgia's efforts to "manage protest" during the G8 Summit. The first phase that was made public, in the fall of 2003, was a G8 legal subcommittee that was established by the U.S. Secret Service and included local, state and federal attorneys. Its role was to review the legal aspects of planning for the G8 meeting.
This legal committee was enabled when, in October 2003, Georgia lawmakers proudly announced they had secured $25 million from the Iraq appropriations bill for G8 Summit security -- $1 million more than the funding available to Miami for security during the FTAA meeting.
According to Dan Drake, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's office in Savannah, the legal subcommittee' mission was to collect and review the protest-blocking ordinances previously enacted by local governments in Georgia that could be used as models. Local governments were then given a set of these legal precedents and ordinances and asked to "come up with a consensus" regarding public gathering ordinances that could be applied to control anticipated G8 protests. Among these was a law passed in Augusta/Richmond County in anticipation of protests against the male-only membership rule at the Augusta National Golf Club, which had been overturned in court. The judge ruled that it was unconstitutional on the grounds it violated free speech, but Georgia's office of Homeland Security claimed that with some changes, it would hold up if applied to the G8 situation.
The set of ordinances proffered by the legal subcommittee included provisions that limited the type of demonstrations allowed, restricted the size of, and materials used for, signs and banners, obliged groups of more than five demonstrators to have a permit, and required applicants to provide detailed personal information about themselves and their past protest experiences. Permits had to be obtained in advance by anyone planning to "circulate or distribute any leaflets, handbills…, or conduct any exhibit, music, or dramatic performance, [or] fair, …." Organizers were required to put up security deposits equal to the cost of "police protection" and cleanup based on the number of anticipated participants. Even at $1 per anticipated head, this was well beyond the means of virtually all of the organizations planning G8 related activities. Moreover, as Rev. Zack Lyde pointed out, "We pay taxes to cover the costs associated with the public spaces we want to use. Many of the corporations the G8 leaders represent don't pay taxes. What right do they have to tell us what to do and what not to do with the public spaces we've paid for?"
Glynn County Commission Chairman Mark Bedner told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his intent was not to prevent demonstrations, but to make sure local taxpayers would not have to bear the cost if demonstrators damaged property or clashed with police. But in practice, these ordinances meant that no permits would be issued for any public assembly, and constituted prior restraint of First Amendment rights. When the ordinances were made public, the ACLU declared them unconstitutional and initiated a complex process of contesting them in court. From April 30, 2004, until five days before the start of the G8 meeting, the ACLU, the National Lawyer's Guild, citizens' groups, and individuals such as the Reverend Zack L. Lyde, were in court almost daily fighting to get the ordinances rescinded.
Overkill: State of Emergency in Georgia
The $25 million worth of "security" - local police, state sheriffs, army national guard, CIA, FBI, Secret Service, etc. -- was a logistical problem for the State of Georgia, which had no legal right to oversee and coordinate all these anti-terrorism forces. To solve the problem, on May 7th Governor Perdue signed (but did not make public) a pre-emptive state of emergency for Georgia's six coastal counties which would was to remain in effect until June 20th. This allowed him to sidestep the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. By declaring a pre-emptive state of emergency, Gov. Perdue was able to place all the various arms of the law and the military under a single command, that of Brigadier General Terry Nesbitt of Georgia's Army National Guard.
The need to coordinate the multiple arms of the law was not the only rationale for declaring a pre-emptive state of emergency. Other reasons given include danger from "unlawful assemblages" and other threats to pubic safety. Recall that the local ordinances that were already enacted and being challenged in court made it virtually impossible to obtain a permit to assemble lawfully. According to Stephen Spruiell, "Security is high to prevent this year's protests from ending up like last year's in Evian, France, which were marked by millions of dollars in property damage -- or worse, like the 2001 summit in Genoa, Italy, where one protester was killed and over 100 injured during massive rioting."
The governor declared that homeland security required a state of emergency, which, among other provisions, allowed the commander of the policing forces to announce, in extreme cases, a "shoot to kill" order. Such an order could apply to any individual the police felt was threatening the lives of the G8 leaders -- or their own -- at any gathering that took place during the state of emergency.
On May 24th, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a press release regarding the 'National Security Special Events' (NSSE), for terrorist attacks in the summer of 2004. He stated that such attacks were highly likely, and that three highly visible events would be likely targets. These were the G8 Summit, the Democratic National Convention in Boston, and the Republican National Convention in New York City.
By identifying the G8 Summit as a possible Al Qaeda target, Ashcroft provided the opportunity for Gov. Perdue to make public the state of emergency he had signed on May 7th. The "Miami model" of law enforcement was being applied in Georgia with a new twist - the declaration of a pre-emptive state of emergency.
Attorney General Ashcroft and Georgia's Republicans were imposing a new system of laws that was fundamentally incompatible with the rule of law established by the Constitution of the United States.
Applying the Miami Model of 'Protest Management' to Georgia
Bill Hitchens, director of Georgia's Department of Homeland Security, was in Miami to observe the police response to the FTAA protests, and upon his return he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I certainly think this is a precursor for what we could see" at the G-8 summit. "We need to do much the same as they did."
In "The 'Miami Model' of Protest Coming to a Town Near You," Christopher Getzan reduced the Miami Model to three basic elements:
- Gathering intelligence
- Pre-emptive arrests
- Massive costly security presence
As for gathering intelligence, it was clear that the security forces had been asking questions about who was coming to events and where they going to stay. TOES was able to obtain neither conference facilities nor dormitory housing for participants at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), even though school was not in session, and the facilities were not in use, and the government had not reserved all of them for its own use. When Margie Betz, a professor of art history at SCAD, was able to secure TOES a venue at the Progressive Community Center on the edge of Savannah, the FBI investigated both her and the owners of the Progressive Center - not directly, but by going to their employers without their knowledge and asking questions about them. The Rev. Zack Lyde in Brunswick said that police repeatedly entered his church saying they wanted to worship there, but after "gathering intelligence" and intimidating the congregation, they always left before it came time to pray.
Dr. Michael Bruner of Georgia State University received a grant to film a documentary for PBS entitled "America at the Cross Roads" about the alternative events being organized in response to the G8 Summit. As part of this work, he interviewed the head of Georgia's Office of Homeland Security. "Upon our arrival (after going through the roadblock), Director Hitchens said that 'of course he knew who I was.'" Gathering intelligence was a constant.
The display of force was so great that it was essentially social control by fear. Conversations with local residents revealed that they were as afraid of getting caught in the middle of a Miami Model response to an invading army of protesters as they were of becoming collateral damage in a terrorist attack on the G8. The highly visible massing of troops in Georgia clearly fostered deep anxiety and uncertainty. The media reported that approximately 20,000 law enforcement officers were posted to Georgia's coastal counties and took up residence in every available hotel, motel, and dormitory room. They conspicuously patrolled communities all along the coast from Savannah to the Florida border. Scores of armed troops and their vehicles crowded around community churches and schools they had appropriated for use as staging areas.
According to Michelle Goldberg in a June 12 Newswire release, "The police felt compelled to swarm over Brunswick, a largely poor, black community surrounded by long stretches of strip-malled American nowhere and the place where the few anti-G-8 protesters who showed up gathered. Every few minutes, a police car would drive slowly by St. John's Missionary Baptist Church, which the local Indymedia crew had turned into a headquarters. Others drove in and out of the parking lot at the community college where activists converged." She didn't mention that some of the vehicles driving by the church had machine guns mounted on them, which the gunners sometimes trained on the Indymedia crew.
A "massive costly security presence" was evident all up and down the Georgia coast. Military encampments were located in places where they couldn't be missed. Humvees fitted with stinger missile launchers were parked near the checkpoint on the causeway that connects St. Simons Island and Sea Island to the mainland where commuters could look them over as they waited in line. Trucks and vans were required to pass through a separate checkpoint on the mainland before they crossed the causeway. There was talk of nineteen flat bed trucks loaded with missiles traveling down I-95. Susan Hunt saw a mobile decontamination unit traveling north on I-95 after the Summit. Zack and Harry Lyde, two brothers who served in the Vietnam war, said they had never seen such a massing of military capability.
The police periodically strutted their stuff through the streets, driving in long motorcades for no apparent reason, lights flashing, sometimes followed by vans of heavily equipped troops. Helicopters and fighter jets conspicuously patrolled the sky. Dirt access roads along the coast were blocked off by concrete barriers with military vehicles parked in front in front of them. Georgia's coastal waters were declared off-limits to fishing boats and pleasure craft for weeks surrounding the Summit dates, and boat owners were told that the military had orders to shoot first and ask questions later. Those familiar with St. Simon's Island were unnerved by the unnatural absence of shrimp boats and pleasure craft during the height of the fishing and tourist seasons. Sea Island was surrounded by Coast Guard gunboats and Navy seal units.
The message communicated by the theater on the streets was reinforced by media reports about the violence that had occurred at past G8 Summits, including the death of a protester in Genoa, Italy. Newscasts were spiced with stories about the arrival of 2,000 body bags and reserved refrigeration capacity to hold them when necessary. In the days leading up to the G8 Summit, broadcasters alluded to martial law and the possibility of a curfew, which the governor could order under the state of emergency.
Local residents were obviously intimidated by the ubiquitous military presence in the streets and the media's incessant campaign to inspire fear. It was estimated that over half of those living on St. Simon's Island and Jekyll Island, the islands adjacent to Sea Island where the G8 Summit took place, took the government's suggestion to heart and left town during the Summit. The fact that all the schools had been closed early "for security purposes" made it possible for families with school-aged children to act on the government's suggestion that they take their vacations during the week of the Summit. Residents said Brunswick felt like a ghost town.
The Kafkaesque ethos convinced potential participants in the TOES conference and locally organized G8-related activities that personal safety was primary. This effectively ruled out participating in any discourse that would question the legitimacy of a secretive, undemocratic meeting of leaders from rich countries who presume to manage the world economy in their own interest, a meeting where the countries and people damaged by their policies were excluded.
Actual protesters (as opposed to those who attended the Fair World Fair and the TOES conference) numbered, at most, a few hundred, rather than the 5,000 originally expected. The police and military pitifully outnumbered those with enough fortitude to show up. We were informed that the 'Homeland Security' people had advised local police to say nothing about behind-the-scenes strategies, but it was not hard to see that they were delighted that they had, for the most part, held the rational impetus toward critical dissent in check. The infamous pre-emptive arrests in Miami were not necessary in Georgia - due in part to successful intimidation by the police state.
According to Michael Bruner, the professor from Georgia State University making the documentary for PBS, Georgia's director of Homeland Security, Hitchins, "granted us a very frank and open one hour interview in which he confirmed that his office did indeed advise local officials on the ordinances, that they indeed wanted to show 'overwhelming force' at the G8 events, etc. He also, however, made several interesting and relatively compelling arguments that showed he indeed has some very serious issues to deal with. Of course, he argued that he is all for free speech, but stated that it becomes increasingly difficult every day to balance free speech and security. He was especially suspicious of the anarchists and was therefore pleased that the small turn out allowed him to keep those folks in full view."
But in so doing, they severely limited the number of local residents willing to appear in public at a TOES conference. The people who called themselves anarchists, by the way, were about twenty from Atlanta who had attended all the statewide planning meetings. Since the government expected them to destroy property, they decided they would "fix shit up". For example, they asked the local organizers to identify poor people, who needed their houses painted.
Super Security in Brunswick
St. John's Missionary Baptist Church is activist minister Zack Lyde's church. Rev. Zack Lyde played a leading role in the effort to organize a local response to the G8 Summit. He applied for permits on behalf of local organizers a march and rally and a prayer vigil, and when the Brunswick City government "lost" his applications, he went to court to obtain venues for these activities as well as for the TOES conference.
Rev. Lyde is a descendant of the Gullah Geechee people, formerly enslaved people who were given title to islands off the Georgia Coast, including Sea Island, by General Sherman at the end of the Civil War. The Gullah Geechee people where pushed off this land as it was privatized and turned into valuable real estate. The re-enslavement process began with debt, indentured servitude, and finally a diaspora, as many Gullah Geechee became economic and environmental refugees. This pattern is precisely how economic policies promoted by the G8 play out in coastal Georgia, and in the third world in general. The Gullah Geechee have no difficulty recognizing the G8 for what they are, and call them "the Greedy 8". But the irony of Bush hosting the G8 Summit in Gullah Geechee land would never occur to the G8 leaders. They seem oblivious to the impact of their policies on the ground, no matter where that ground is.
The irony of their excessive domination was evident in Brunswick at a rally and march demanding environmental justice on June 9, the second day of the G8 Summit. Environmental Justice speakers called the Brunswick area the "most polluted zip code in the country". In his "Notes on the G8", Jeffrey Keating writes, "We met at an elementary school which had been built without windows to protect the kids from emissions coming from the nearby Hercules chemical plant, a plant which had already contaminated the land the school was built upon. The pollution in Brunswick is so bad the average IQ of the kids entering school is about 89 instead of 100 as in other places." But that was not all. "Not satisfied with keeping the African-American community poor and dependent on the factories, the factory owners recently brought in low wage immigrant workers and put a large part of the African-American community out of work. Empty and abandoned houses were everywhere. Near the Arco plant, the empty houses out numbered the occupied ones."
With four federal Superfund Sites and eighteen state toxic sites, Brunswick GA is the most polluted zip code in the United States. According to the Glynn County Environmental Coalition, "It is the circumventing of environmental laws, that continues to this day, that has allowed this to happen. Over the years, large amounts of the pesticide Toxaphene have been released in the air, surface water, ground water and soil throughout Brunswick. Instead of cleaning up this contamination, the polluters and government regulators sought to redefine what contamination was. The irony of Glynn County being selected by the White House as the location of the June 2004 G8 Summit to "showcase the complementary benefits of environmental stewardship and a strong economy" is staggering.
The real debt owed to these suffering people, who have kept their ties to West Africa strong, can never be repaid. The realities of their situations are stark and the ongoing racism in their situation is beyond belief. As Rev. Zack Lyde told the story of a local effort to prevent the construction of a six-lane highway through middle of the black community. White people who sympathized with their effort suggested they insist on an environmental impact study. Evidently a similar study had been done in the area that involved digging a four-foot-deep hole in the ground. The amounts of lethal gases coming from that hole were such that it and the study were immediately covered up. The Black community in Brunswick lives four feet above a toxic stew.
Just as TOES conducts reality tours to South India, Rev. Lyde conducts Gullah Geechee tours of the Brunswick area to document the persistence of the Gullah Geechee people their culture, and to highlight the difficulties they still have to endure. Future TOES tours will participant in these Gullah Geechee tours.
TOES 2004 PERSISTED DESPITE EVERYTHING
TOES organizers were unable to find housing in Savannah where most of the reporters and police covering the event were based. Chito Lepena eventually found housing for TOES speakers in Brunswick, in a dilapidated motel that was in the process of renovation. Virtually all lodging in coastal Georgia had been reserved by the government for a year, and even if they were not going to use all the rooms they reserved, they did not release them until the Summit had actually started.
After weeks in court, permits for locally organized events were eventually issued one by one during the week before the Summit. On June 2, TOES and the locally organized Fair World Fair were finally able to announce a venue at Coastal Georgia Community College. Every educational institution on the Georgia Coast had been ordered closed "for security reasons", but in a cynical face-saving 'concession' that came too late to allow effective publicity. Gov. Sonny Perdue "intervened" to allow us to use five rooms in this otherwise vacant facility. A sign at the main entrance announced that the college would be closed June 8-10, and government officials kept removing our conference signs- without asking. They just drove up in their pickup trucks and loaded the signs in the back even though they conformed to the ordinance that regulated signs carried at marches or protests.
The absence of a venue until the last minute caused several high profile Fair World Fair events to be cancelled because bands and organizations such as Net Aid needed a definite venue months in advance. TOES speakers were heroically patient. Not a one cancelled because of the uncertainty.
While TOES 2004 had an outstanding intellectual lineup, the audience numbered, at most, seventy-five people for each of the 24 sessions that took place over three days. The real tragedy is that world-class speakers rarely come to a small rural town like Brunswick, so the government's campaign of terror convinced local residents to forego a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Our speakers had come from many places at their own expense in order to discuss issues related to the G8 Summit and the repression surrounding the event itself. Many of these presentations deserved reportage in the national and international press as they were at TOES conferences in Houston  and Denver . The press was so preoccupied with reporting on First Amendment issues -- the repression of freedom of speech and assembly -- that the content of the TOES conference got short shrift.
Dr. Michael Bruner of Georgia State University, who was filming the documentary about the whole process, told us that police captains were snickering about their success in frustrating any concrete plans for our conference and other Summit related events.
The Bush Jr. gang has learned how to smother critical public discourse with a minimum of bloodshed -- but at great expense. They are attempting to use the same strategy to stifle dissent at the Democratic and Republican conventions, as well as at lower profile events. We will take part in the Boston Social Forum in order to document their efforts to restrain First Amendment Rights and aid in the resistance.
We will also publish the contents of our first-class program in a small book that exposes and documents this ugly moment in American history.
Homeland Security in Georgia, under the aegis of the "war on terrorism", exhibited all the secrecy, disinformation and simulations of pseudo virtue that have characterized the Bush regime's "style". America has entered a new stage of "control by propaganda techniques" and Georgia revealed itself as a police state that uses fear as a method of social control.
The $25 million worth of Homeland Security spent on the G8 Summit effectively reduced the expected thousands of protestors to a few hundred. Down the road, a cost benefit analysis by some Ministry of Fear will no doubt justify the "rationality" of this strategy in economic terms.
Unfortunately, Georgia will never know that another way was possible.
©2004 The Other Economic Summit