SAVANNAH AND BRUNSWICK, GA.–For a group so concerned with the economic consequences wrought by the Group of Eight, the protesters at this year’s summit seem not to worry much about the economic consequences their actions are having on coastal Georgia.
”Business has plummeted,” said Jillian Gregg, who works at a restaurant called “45 South” in Savannah. “People expected rioting and looting.” With business so slow, Gregg took off Tuesday to attend a protest march in Savannah, hoping to see something interesting. She was disappointed. “We thought we would at least see somebody with something to say.” Fears caused some businesses to close for the week. Ewell Gay, owner of Maggie’s Boutique in Brunswick, boarded up her windows and shut down. “I don’t trust the protesters,” she said. “So I’m closed.”
“They scared everybody off,” Chris Boaz of the Boar’s Head in Savannah said as he cleaned glasses behind the bar. “Today’s been slow, yesterday’s been slow. I needed to make $75 today and it ain’t happening.” Jack Flanigan, owner of Savannah’s Crab Shack, agreed that business was terrible. Flanigan emphasized that, to be fair, the 20,000 security personnel and a very visible military presence downtown also contributed to the slowdown in Savannah.
The high number of security personnel, however, stems from the reputation that precedes the protesters. Security is high to prevent this year’s protests from ending up like last year’s in Evian, France, which were marked by millions of dollars in property damage–or worse, like the 2001 summit in Genoa, Italy, where one protester was killed and over 100 injured during massive rioting.
This year, protesters tried to combat their dire reputation by putting a peaceful spin on things. One of them, wearing a ninja-mask and fatigues, claimed that “the mainstream media is calling us militants, and that’s just wrong.” His compatriot, identifying himself as “Nomad,” added, “Right now in Brunswick, we’ve got a team of anarchists fixing up poor people’s houses, and I bet that’s not getting any coverage at all.”
Actually, the effort by the Southeast Anarchist Network to repair four damaged houses in Brunswick was reported in the Wall Street Journal of June 2, 2004 on page A1–above the fold. The story did not report that the houses are owned by the families of Zack and Harry Lyde, two of the Brunswick protest organizers who say they will use the renovated houses for charitable causes.
Chito LaPena, organizer of the Fair World Fair in Brunswick, blamed the business slowdown on law-enforcement officers taking up hotel accommodation and scaring the community into staying home. As to the protesters’ reputation, LaPena said protesters had been the victims of violence at previous protests, not the perpetrators.
Yet, last March, the trial began of 26 anti-globalization protesters involved in the violence in Genoa on charges ranging from resisting arrest to possessing explosives. The protester fatally shot in Genoa was hurling a fire extinguisher at a police vehicle. Despite instances of police misconduct, the protesters have been partly if not solely to blame for much of the vandalism and violence that has come to characterize their movement.
Words and intentions notwithstanding, the anti-globalization protesters moved into coastal Georgia and created an overall negative effect on the local economy. The small businesses hit the hardest are exactly the kind of enterprises that the protesters accuse big multinational companies like Wal-Mart of undermining, but like so many of the anti-globalization movement’s intellectual inconsistencies, this one too was either lost or ignored amid the excitement of protesting.
–Stephen Spruiell is a Collegiate Network/NR intern.