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Unwelcoming the G8

As leaders of the world convene at the G8 summit to discuss the global situation as they see it, protesters outside the summit present the world as they'd like to see it.
 
 
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When the leaders of the world's eight most powerful countries arrive in Sea Island, Georgia for the Group of Eight (G8) Summit from June 8-10, activists from around the globe will be there to unwelcome them. With the Democratic and Republican National Conventions right around the corner, many protesters are converging at the G8 Summit to kick off what will be a summer of dissent.

The G8 Summits began in 1975 and currently include leaders from the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Russia and this year's president of the European Union (a rotating position currently assigned to the Prime Minister of Ireland). Leaders from each country meet at the Summits annually to coordinate efforts around such issues as international trade, the war on drugs and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This year's meeting will be dominated by talks regarding the conflicts in the Middle East, global economic growth and the war on terror.

To protest the centralization of power that the G8 represent, and to create an alternative gathering of the minds, activist groups in Georgia have planned parallel events, forums and film screenings on topics ranging from biodiesel to human rights. The scheduled marches will focus on environmental issues, ending the occupation of Iraq and dropping IMF/World Bank debt for impoverished countries. In addition to daily demonstrations, a Fair World Fair and People's Summit are scheduled to take place in Brunswick, a city near Sea Island.

Isabelle Myles, a pastor and long-time resident of Brunswick, Ga. said one of the major topics among speakers at the People's Summit will be the environment. Toxic waste from the Hercules and the Georgia Pacific plants, which manufacture wood pulp and products extracted from pine stumps, have been contaminating the area for years. As a result, Brunswick has one of the highest cancer rates in the country.

Myles said the People's Summit will be a forum for citizens to congregate and voice their concerns about issues they feel will be under represented at the G8 Summit. "I am not against the G8 meetings," Myles explained, "but behind closed doors, President Bush needs to think of the implications before he signs on the dotted line. People work each day without benefits and don't earn enough to pay rent. The job market is kaput and minimum wage is about 5-6 dollars an hour. That's ludicrous. The president couldn't live on that paycheck, but he expects us to."

Naomi Archer, an organizer with the Save Our Civil Liberties Campaign, said activists will converge in Georgia for a variety of reasons, but that "what is an affront to almost everyone is the fact that eight white men will be meeting in private on a lavish island behind army lines, while the rest of the six billion have to "await" their decisions about world policies."

Though the G8 is in many ways an elite club, Bush has invited leaders from Middle Eastern and African countries to the Summit. In a press conference, Condoleezza Rice said the presence of Arab leaders at the meeting will offer an "opportunity for the G8 to discuss how it can support freedom and political, economic and social progress in the Middle East, and to hear from these leaders about their efforts to pursue democracy and reform in their countries..."

Lisa Fithian, the National Co-Chair of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 750 local and national groups, said "the Arab leaders aren't going to have any influence; they can choose to participate by not coming, and they'll be given only two hours to cover nine major issues. That says it all." When asked about the possible effects anti-Iraq War leaders from Russia, France and Germany could have on conversations at the summit, Fithian said, "My hope is that they convince Bush and others to withdraw troops. There is no way to have sovereignty when you have a foreign country occupying your land."

Pepper Spray and Rubber Bullets

Fithian expects police strategies at the G8 to be similar to those used at the November 2003 FTAA protests in Miami, Fla. where excessive use of force by police resulted in 283 arrests. Pepper spray and rubber bullets were commonly used by police in Miami and in one case, an officer shot pepper spray into a building used as a clinic for injured activists.

Brunswick is already beginning to look like an occupied city. Chito Lapena, a member of Savannah for Peace and an organizer for the Fair World Fair, said, "I was born in the Philippines at times when Marcos instituted martial law. The biggest difference right now between Brunswick and a country under martial law is that thankfully, these guys are not holding their rifles in the open." Lapena spoke of tanks blocking the causeway to Sea Island, convoys of state patrol cars shuttling all over town, buses filled with law enforcement and humvees flown in on a fleet of cargo planes. "Locals," he said, "Don't know what to think."

Tensions between protesters and police at G8 Summits are nothing new. At the 2001 Summit in Genoa, Italy one protester was killed by a policeman and at the meetings in Canada in 2002 there were countless incidents of police brutality. Many activists planning to attend this year's events in Georgia fear that excessive use of force by the police will be the rule rather than the exception.

The State of Georgia has received $25 million in federal funding for G8 security efforts and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has declared a State of Emergency for areas near the Summit. Perdue cited "potential danger...for unlawful assemblages, threats of violence" as reasons for the declaration, which allows over 25,000 police to institute an extensive crackdown on the right to dissent.

Aside from the expected conflicts between police and protesters, the gathering of world leaders at the G8 Summit could produce some positive results. Those from countries against the Iraq War could help convince the Bush administration to establish better policies in Iraq, or pull troops out entirely. Leaders from African and Arab nations attending the meeting could work with the G8 to alleviate poverty and unrest in their countries.

"Miracles can happen," said Chito Lapena. "But some G8 Summits have proven to be no more than expensive photo ops." However, the activist events and forums will bring people together to exchange ideas and promote alternatives to G8 policies. "It is an excellent opportunity to educate the people ... about globalization and how their actions or inaction impact the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Bush's only policy is -- Me cowboy, you lose. And the American people need to learn that America and democracy should be above that."

Benjamin Dangl is the editor of UpsideDownWorld.org.