- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 9, 2004

SAVANNAH, Ga. — Organizers of the protests of the Group of Eight summit, as well as local law enforcement, had planned for 5,000 sign-waving and shouting opponents of globalization and the war in Iraq to pack this quaint and historic Southern city’s public squares.

But the demonstrations have been nothing short of a dud, and the 20 or so protesters who quietly rallied yesterday were unable to hide their disappointment at the meager turnout.

“I think we overestimated ourselves,” Sandra Kwak, 22, said with a laugh in a light drizzle in expansive Forsyth Park. “But even if the few people who are here learn something, it’s not a total loss.”

Denied access to Sea Island for security reasons, two groups of around 150 people each gathered in the cities of Savannah and Brunswick on Tuesday to kick off three days of planned protests. But by the second day of the summit, only a fraction remained out in force.

“It’s a victory just to have this event,” protest organizer Kellie Gaznik said Tuesday. “If we didn’t have a place for people to do their art and make their statements, they would just walk around and maybe break things, which doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Such behavior, however, did accomplish something in 1999, when thousands of anarchists and left-wing activists rioted in Seattle in protest of a World Trade Organization meeting.

That event shocked an unprepared Seattle police department. Ever since, organizers of global events have beefed up security whenever significant numbers of world leaders gather.

Savannah’s police department — heavily reinforced this week by Secret Service agents, National Guard troops, the Coast Guard and police forces from around the area — has easily and peacefully handled the demonstrations on its own.

Police officers, reporters and gawking tourists outnumbered the protesters by a ratio of at least 7-1 yesterday.

At the corner of Bull and East Broughton streets, a phalanx of police, clad in riot gear, formed a defensive line to protect a Starbucks being patronized by the few tourists who have endured the hassles of visiting a city that has been virtually locked down.

Soon, the distant beating of drums became louder as a group of 15 protesters — escorted by police on bicycles and horses — walked calmly down the sidewalk.

“This is what democracy looks like. That is what a police state looks like,” shouted a few individuals waving black-and-red flags representing anarchy.

One older man holding a drum shouted to police, “we don’t want to hurt you,” as a younger man wearing a green bandana on his face danced to the beat.

After letting news photographers and tourists snap pictures for a few minutes, the small contingent turned west toward a series of public squares named for heroes of the American Revolution and the Civil War.

Israel Tarann, who owns and operates an ice cream truck in Savannah, seranaded the group as it passed.

“All we are saying, is give ice cream a chance,” he sang.

Though the song attracted a few protesters to his truck, Mr. Tarann did not make a sale.

“I had to tell them I was capitalist, and I sell ice cream for profit,” he said. “The guy who came up to me said, ‘Oh, we thought you were a collective.’ Then they left.”

Back in Forsyth Park after a 10-block march, the protesters joined a group of about 15 who stayed behind. The 30 mostly college-aged adults sat down in the grass for cigarettes and snacks near a display of 100 opened black umbrellas symbolizing those killed in the Iraq war.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide