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Lousy Town, Lousy Protests

President had help from G-8 protesters in scuttling the Constitution

It's hot this time of year in Brunswick, GA, if you live in the poor parts of the town, which is to say most of the burg. Too warm to stand in an outdoor line at Willie's Wee-Nee Wagon. Too hot to shoot hoops on the street and too hot to stay inside if you live in a hardscrabble neighborhood where air-conditioning is often more rumor than reality.

Which is why Ronald Dixon on June 8 was sitting on the gate of his beat-up pickup truck, hoping to grab a little breeze while socializing with friends. His home on Gordon Street is, politely speaking, modest. This is a neighborhood where the only thing that's abundant is poverty.

It's also a neighborhood where fear is as palpable as the heat echoing off the cracked asphalt streets. Normally it's fear of the police. Last week, it was fear of the US Army, with its squadrons of humvees cruising slowly up and down streets. The message was clear: Big Brother is in town. We'll crush you if you get out of line.

Dixon tapped his prosthetic left leg as he tried to remember the date the flesh-and-blood limb was lost while he was a soldier -- it was 1977, he finally concluded. Despite the disability, he works hard hauling junk to keep up his just-one-step-from-a-shack home. And Dixon was not pleased with what the G-8 summit of world leaders on Sea Island meant to his livelihood.

"I do most of my work out there," Dixon said of Georgia's tony island enclaves of aristocrats, where he toils as one of the invisible (to the residents) army of little people whose barely compensated work helps keep things spiffy around the mansions.

Dixon continues, "I've had a week of no work. If you live on St. Simon (Island), you're rich and that's no big deal. For me, it's a big deal."

That's one lesson about G-8. For the residents of Sea Island and neighboring St. Simon's, oceanside redoubts where "cottages" sell for $2 million, G-8 was an inconvenience. For regular folks like Dixon, and for the shop owners along Georgia's coast who boarded up and grumpily stayed home, the summit was an unmitigated financial calamity.

Not that anyone much cared. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's office coyly avoids saying exactly how much the summit cost the state's taxpayers. Reasonable estimates are $35 million or $40 million, most of it for "security" (heck, didn't the Gestapo bring a similar "security" to Europe?) provided by more than 20,000 cops and soldiers.

In other words, somewhere around five bucks was lifted from the wallet of each man, woman and child in Georgia (a state that has been slashing funds to schools, the disabled, children, healthcare for the neediest and other frivolities) so that a collection of "leaders" (at least some of whom are considered war criminals by much of the world) could frolic and, oh yes, issue a few policy statements that will accomplish absolutely nothing. After all, they don't really run the New (Corporatized) World Order. They're just front men.

Half the 3,000 journalists who signed up to attend stayed home. Many of the rest never left the media center in Savannah -- 75 miles from the summit. The reporters were based at the Westin hotel, which could be reached only by ferry, so it was such a chore to go do reporting. And with all of the free food and booze at the hotel, why bother doing real work? Heck, the Bushies handed out tons of press releases, which is all the scribes needed to pen their pabulum.

I'm here at the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse, and the organizers are so infuriating, I'm ready to blow a 50 amp fuse (pardon me, Mick). There are many things you can say about what happened in Brunswick and Savannah. The simplest: It foreshadowed the police state George Bush craves. That isn't news, of course. We've had the open-the-door-to-totalitarianism PATRIOT Act. We've long had "free speech" zones designed to deny free speech so that all the media and public see is support for Bush. We've had a thousand other attacks on our freedom, but the disdain for the Constitution was nowhere more evident than in Brunswick's poor neighborhoods. My new friend Ronald Dixon commented that in a way, it was business as usual -- only that the US military had replaced the usual army of repression, the Brunswick cops.

"People around here are afraid to breathe too hard or they'll go to jail," Dixon says of Brunswick's black neighborhoods. It's been that way since the days when cops kept their cross-emblazoned sheets in the trunks of the cruisers.

But the slaying of the First Amendment didn't exactly happen in Georgia. No, the gruesome evisceration occurred last November at the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) gathering in Miami. That city's police chief, John Timoney, has pioneered what has become known as the "Miami plan." By the numbers, it goes: In the months preceding an event during which the elite don't want to be bothered by free speech, the authorities bombard the media with scary tales that all demonstrators are terrorists, that planning for major terror strikes has been detected, and only a major show of force can prevent the end of civilization as we know it. That's followed by passage of anti-First Amendment laws that seek to insure that demonstrators can't protest without violating some draconian edict, thereby providing cover for a police riot -- such as occurred when Timoney unleashed his thugs with their rubber bullets, mega-paintball guns and that old-fashioned standby, the club.

Georgia's governor wasn't content to just ape Miami authorities. No, Perdue had a novel idea (arguably his first) and declared a "state of emergency," which didn't exist in even the most delusional mind. That permitted the fielding of the Army -- on the streets of America! We have a federal law against occupying American cities with the Army, but these people don't let silly things like that interfere with their war against the Bill of Rights.

It worked. Totally. People were scared and stayed home. True, G-8 wasn't really a compelling event to demonstrate against -- not like, say, the upcoming national political conventions.

But those who wanted to protest are equally to blame for their own failure. They never sought to enlist local allies, such as Brunswick's poor and minorities -- and there are legions of them. The only visible local "activists" were supporters of the much-indicted Nuwabian cult leader Malachi York, hardly a group likely to cross over into America's mainstream.

The demonstrators also acted their assigned roles, playing to the reporters who were assigned to cover the quaint, funky, amateurishly staged protests.

The press read its lines: You don't have to take these people seriously.

The message of the demonstrations -- that corporatism has usurped the rights that should belong to people and their governments; that the Iraq war is a crime; that the Bush vision for America is an abomination -- never made it to the mainstream newspapers and certainly not to the dumber-than-dumb tube.

The protesters staged little media soirees and pathetic demonstrations that provided a few seconds on the 6 o'clock news and allowed the journalists to say that they had "covered" the other side.

The one good line I heard in Brunswick came from Laura Johnston, a very savvy 19-year-old student from Cave Spring, GA, who joked about the "domesticated press."

"It's absolutely irrelevant what the media are doing," she said. "They keep coming up and asking "Why are you here?' and all they want to hear is that we're here to act crazy. That's not why I'm here. I abhor Bush and all of his policies, but that's not what the media want to talk about."

When the Democrats gather in Boston and the Republicans assault New York in a few months, the "Miami plan" will be in place, insuring that any protest, however peaceful, will break some hastily enacted new law. That will be the justification to take the muzzles off the police and (with the new "Georgia addendum to the Miami plan") the Army.

I was thinking of that when it became very personal in Brunswick. At a demonstration on the street near a little park, I stepped backwards from the sidewalk onto some grass. A lady cop grabbed my arms from behind and said, "You people aren't allowed on the grass." Part of the strategy was to ensure that demonstrators had no venues -- public facilities were booked by the cops and private ones, such as churches, were warned not to cooperate with potential "terrorists."

I turned to the cop, flashed my press credentials and then thought better of being from the awful, besotted media. "With or without these," I told the officer, "my First Amendment rights trump anything you have." We stared at each other, and she blinked first. That wasn't bravery or foolhardiness. Just a recognition that, as the cop called us, "you people" have to stand our ground. Peacefully. Or kiss goodbye to freedom.

John Sugg is Senior Editor for Atlanta's Creative Loafing.

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