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G8 2004:War in Savannah?

by NCRPA Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003 at 10:19 AM

.6 million for police overtime and ominous equipment like crowd-control fences, water cannons, bean-bag rifles and riot shields.

G8 2004:War in Savan...
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From the Savannah Morning News

"G-8 protesters mobilize"

Georgia activist groups unite, attempt to organize summit events

By Bret Bell

Savannah Morning News


Opposing sides preparing for the Group of Eight summit have each been busy with their Christmas wish lists. And it's clear that these are much different children, preparing for much different Junes.

On the city of Savannah's list: .6 million for police overtime and ominous equipment like crowd-control fences, water cannons, bean-bag rifles and riot shields.

On the list for a coalition of protest groups called G-8 Carnival: singers Willie Nelson and James Brown, a venue where they can perform and a permit for a parade.

Six months before the June 8-10 summit of the world's eight most powerful leaders, the disparate and sometimes contradicting voice of protest is organizing. But with potentially thousands of activists expected, many of whom by definition don't like organization, will it make any difference?

On Saturday, between 50 and 100 Georgia protest leaders met for the first time in Macon to give it a try.

[If You Go

Anne O'Rourke, an Australian human rights activist and research fellow who specializes in international trade issues, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at First African Baptist Church, 23 Montgomery St. The public is invited. ]

On Wednesday, Anne O'Rourke, an international trade expert from Australia, will prep local activists on some of the global issues that will likely take center stage during the summit.

"The protesters are emerging into a group that wants to make it clear that they don't agree with the way the (Group of Eight) makes rules," O'Rourke said.

Kellie Gasink, head of the Savannah branch of the Green Party and a former City Council candidate, is heading up local efforts.

She and her husband, William Pleasant, have a G-8 protest Web site up,, and have enlisted the help of Savannah College of Art and Design professor Margy Betz to serve as spokesperson.

But they have run into roadblocks.

After the Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education pulled its graduation ceremony from the Civic Center this month because of G-8 fears, Gasink attempted to book the arena for the concert. She said organizers have been in contact with promoters for Nelson and Brown, as well as other acts like jazz/funk artist Maceo Parker.

Savannah police, however, called first dibs, saying they want the arena to serve as a G-8 law-enforcement staging area.

That leaves Gasink with few options for the event. There are virtually no other indoor venues in the city to handle something of this size, and an outdoor show would present huge logistical problems.

"With all that is going on, police have told us they can't handle this event," city Leisure Services Bureau Chief Joe Shearouse said.

Gasink wants to meet with officials - this week she will send out letters seeking an audience with the city manager, mayor and others.

She wants to organize a protest parade that would stretch from the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum down Broughton Street and up to Forsyth Park. In the park, the Carnival organizers want a "First Amendment Wall," which protesters would be allowed to express themselves on, whether with spray paint, writings or flyers.

"We want to express the fact that we are not violent and enjoy the presence of people from around the world while giving everybody something to do," Betz said. "We don't want this to be another Seattle."

Savannah Assistant City Manager Chris Morrill said he would have to wait and see the request, then talk with the city manager and police chief about meeting with the group. There are liability concerns at play if the city cooperates, plus the fact that there is no way of knowing if the mass of protesters will play along.

"It's always the 3 percent who don't want to be organized who cause the problems," he said. "Taking on something like that is a whole lot of organizing."

The G-8 Carnival Web site is mixed.

In one section, it urges peaceful protest - no graffiti on the buildings or tromping around the salt-water marsh: "Please respect our cultural and ecological heritage," the site reads.

In another, it fuels a certain amount of paranoia: "Savannah is ringed with military installations and always infested with federal agents," reads the "About Savannah" section.

Gasink said a "huge number" of protesters will come regardless of what happens. The city now has a choice - control the protests through cooperation, or let them spiral out of control. If that happens, the city will be forced to actually use the riot gear and water cannons it is requesting.

"We can have this be planned or not be planned," she said. "And if it is not planned, that is when it is not good."



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