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Got Free Speech?
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In A microcosm of their ongoing struggle to give a voice to the voiceless, G8 Summit protest organizers from the Brunswick and St. Simon’s area spoke to largely deaf ears last week during a meeting at the Governor’s office in Atlanta.

While Gov. Perdue’s representatives listened patiently, they “didn’t seem overly sympathetic,”according to Carol Bass, Globalization Education Coordinator for the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition.

Protest organizers say they’re simply asking for the same consideration that official attendees at the Summit have been extended.

“The governor has been very hospitable to summit leaders and to dignitaries,” Bass says. “I have faith that he’ll do the right thing and extend some hospitality to us as well.”

Specifically, the coalition’s primary goals are to get the governor’s support for permits to meet on public property in Brunswick -- a city near the G8 site on St. Simon’s Island -- and support in striking down recent local ordinances passed specifically to quell protests at the June event.

The governor’s representatives told Bass and other members of the Coalition that “they would review things and get back to us. They didn’t indicate to me that they would or wouldn’t act on anything we’d brought before them,”she says.

A Savannah demonstration in Forsyth Park has already been granted a permit. However, as we go to press no permits have been granted in Brunswick. A “Fair World Fair”is planned for Brunswick, though as of yet no site has been decided on, largely due to the permit issue.

“We have applied for permits for public venues so that we can hold peaceful, free, open to the public events‚” says Zack Lyde, a local minister and organizer for the Fair World Fair. “If the government doesn’t approve our permits, and work with us for a public venue, then they aren’t helping to plan for peaceful events. They are setting the stage for potential violence against citizens.”

Protest organizers would also like to be able to gather in public spaces in Brunswick, such as Neptune Park and Howard Coffin Park.

“Coffin Park has bleachers and lights, so older people who will come for the interfaith service and the prayer vigil will have a place close to downtown, so they can go to a restaurant and get something to eat,” Bass says.

“We want to interact with the community. We don’t want to be separated. It’s a nice town -- we don’t want to be shuffled off in the middle of nowhere like lepers,”she says.

Bass says the governor’s representatives kept bringing up the local stadium, “but the school board has already told us no,”she reports. “They kept suggesting venues other than the ones we applied for.”

The Sea Island Company -- which owns much of St. Simon’s and is the host entity for the G8 Summit -- has offered protestors the use of a parcel of their privately owned land, near the main highway to St. Simon’s.

Protest organizers disagree on whether the site is appropriate.

“I think that would be a very good site because it’s close to the causeway to St. Simon’s Island,” says Robert Randall, one of the protest organizers.

“Psychologically it’s a nice site looking across to the islands. You get a connection to where the summit is taking place,”he says. “It’s as close as anybody’s going to get.”

Carol Bass, however, is worried that protests on private property wouldn’t have the same level of First Amendment protection, and speculates that it may in fact be a kind of set-up to make it easier for police to arrest protestors.

Also, she says the very notion that taxpaying citizens would have to be granted use of private land to protest is almost medieval.

“The influence of the Sea Island Company in St. Simon’s is the same undue influence that money has all over the world,”she says. “It’s completely undemocratic for the leaders of ten percent of the world’s population to decide the fate of the other 90 percent over rounds of golf on a private island, surrounded by armed security to keep the other six billion of us out of the process.”

Also at issue are local ordinances specifically “designed to inhibit free speech,”Bass says.

For example, Robert Randall says the new Brunswick ordinance -- challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union -- wouldn’t allow American flags in an Independence Day parade.

“If these ordinances were followed to letter you can’t have a color guard in front of the Fourth of July parade. Carrying the flag would be illegal.”

For example, Randall explains that one section of the ordinance limits the size of anything a marcher or protestor carries to 2-3 feet.

“It specifies what they’re allowed to be made of, and cloth is not one of the allowable materials. Also, it can’t be fixed to a pole,” Randall says. “These ordinances are draconian. They’re unbelievable. They’re based on fear.”

Randall says the local government has already had to go back and change the ordinance “to allow for multi-day art events we’ve traditionally had for decades in Neptune Park.”

Randall maintains that some local politicians are in a state of denial about the unconstitutionality of the anti-protest laws they’re passing before the Summit.

“On an individual level, certain of our community leaders recognize that the ordinances they pass are going to have to be at least changed or modified,” he says. “The reality is that they were based on the Augusta ordinance, and the 11th Circuit Court has struck that as unconstitutional. But I don’t think they grasp that they really just need to rescind these things and start over.”

Randall’s remark has proven prescient; late last week the Glynn County Commission Council did amend one of the ordinances significantly, dropping the requirement for a pre-permit deposit and allowing a gathering of 100 people without the need of a permit. The Brunswick City Council is expected to similarly amend its legislation on the issue.

The irony of the whole process is not lost on Bass.

“The G8 represents the very issues in my neighborhood and in the state of Georgia we’re concerned about -- in other words, the disproportional representation of power,”she says. “Things won’t get better for anyone until they’re better for everyone.”

Another concern for activists is the possible use of the so-called “Miami Model” for local law enforcement during the G8 Summit.

The Miami Model -- so named because Miami Mayor Manny Diaz called police response during last year’s Fair Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meeting “a model for homeland security” -- involved police physically assaulting peaceful protestors and “pre-emptively” arresting people gathered on public property.

Organized by controversial Miami Police Chief John Timoney, law enforcement utilized armored personnel carriers, riot shields and full body armor. Carrying the paramilitary theme even further, police had journalists “embedded” within their ranks.

The event culminated with Miami police using concussion grenades, rubber bullets and batons to break up the protestors, the majority of whom were causing no violence at all.

One journalist who was not “embedded,” Ana Nogueira, was gassed with pepper spray. Later in custody, Nogueira says police forced her to strip naked in front of male officers because her clothes were soaked with pepper spray.

Bass says there is an alternative to the Miami Model that works.

“For several months we’ve proposed the ‘Calgary model.’”

The Calgary model is based on measures that Canadian city took when it hosted the G8 in 2002.

“There was not one broken window,” Bass says of that event.

The Calgary model involved the use of representatives from the demonstrators who were allowed to directly observe the actual talks in progress.

“Police officers welcomed demonstrators and gave out water bottles,”Bass says. “They made sure there were venues to have events in.”

While Savannah preparations have not yet reached the level of paramilitary response that happened in Miami, Bass sees some disturbing similarities.

“The progression of events here are are same as when the police prepared for Miami,”Bass says. “Preparing for violence can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

For more info on the Fair World Fair, go to

The Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition’s website is