In the run-up to next weeks G8 Summit, youve no doubt seen and read the overhyped and underinformed reports in the local media warning of impending violence in the streets.
The morning paper and the evening news alike seem intent on caricaturing all G8 protestors as an army of bomb-throwing communist hippies and the terrorist-loving ACLU lawyers that support them.
But some protestors Connect Savannah spoke to say theyre the ones worried about getting hurt.
With a state of emergency already declared in Georgia, vague terror alerts from Washington, a frightened citizenry and police on hair-trigger status, a climate of vigilantism and violence against protestors may make the local news reports a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We're afraid. I'm afraid, says Carol Bass, whose Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition is one of the main organizing groups for area G8 protests.
But somebody has to take that risk if things are going to change. And they have to change.
While the local media has certainly made a lot of hay scaring senior citizens nearly to death and persuading local business owners to board up their windows and leave town, we thought maybe it was time to actually talk to the passionate and grossly misunderstood people who oppose what the G8 Summit stands for.
Are the protestors really as frightening as the mainstream media wants you to think? Or is it just their message that is so threatening to the powers that be?
People always say were antiglobalization, says Bass. But theres maybe a tiny fraction of us that really thinks everything should be produced and consumed locally, she says. Most of us just want to see no globalization without representation.
For activists like Bass, the G8 Summit is the symbol of a global oligarchy that runs the world primarily for the benefit of multinational corporations -- an American and European elite for whom education, health care and the environment are far less important than collecting the interest on loans to less powerful countries.
Just look at the fact that its the G8 and not the G-6 Billion, Bass jokes. Why should the eight richest countries make all the decisions for all six billion people on the planet?
Robert Randall has worked closely with Bass in Brunswick, Ga., organizing protests near the G8 site of Sea Island.
He says despite the media caricatures, protestors come from all walks of life.
We cover such a broad political spectrum. You'll hear people coming at it from different viewpoints, he says.
Randall uses the example of the debate over the pending Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which would essentially extend the notorious North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the entire Western Hemisphere.
On the web if you go to stopftaa.org you'll get a leftist analysis of why FTAA is all wrong. But if you go to stoptheftaa.org you'll get a John Birch Society point of view. Thats coming from two completely polar-opposite places on the political spectrum, he says.
This happens from time to time around certain particular issues. It tells me that the stereotypical spectrum of left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative, is not an accurate way to perceive reality.
Bass says all citizens, no matter their politics, should be concerned about the inherent immorality of a system that gives corporations all the rights of individuals but none of the responsibilities. This is all about democracy and accountability. Thats what we teach our children, and thats what we want our governments and corporations to be.
Randall says the G8 is not an abstract concept, but a very real entity that has very real effects on our lives.
The G8 deals with almost every conceivable issue, and those issues affect each ordinary citizen in one way or another, he says. The entire global economy as its structured currently favors large corporations over individual workers. It favors corporatism over local community. It favors profits over the environment.
The G8 is no mere debating club -- the decisions it makes are later implemented through several interconnected entities, chiefly the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The G8 shapes the policies of the IMF and the World Bank, Bass says. These policies in turn cause military dictatorships and poverty and environmental degradation.
At the heart of the problem, activists say, is the use of what are euphemistically called structural adjustment policies.
In order to qualify for the loans the IMF and World Bank make, developing countries must first make some changes in order to guarantee that the loans can be paid back.
The first step involves the nations money supply.
When countries undergo structural adjustment, usually the first thing that happens is the currency is devalued, Bass says. Everyone is doing the same amount of work but it's worth less. Money is the representation of your labor and value to society. Someone else, like a foreign bank, now sets that value, comes to your country and tells you what your labor value is worth. These people no longer have control over their own money.
Next on the chopping block are that countrys various social safety nets.
The next thing that happens is that the minimum wage is cut, labor laws are cut, health care is cut, Bass says.
Local protest organizer Kellie Gasink was on the activist front lines in Savannah before the G8 was front page news, holding meetings and bringing in guest speakers to raise awareness of globalization issues.
Early this year Gasink brought in an Australian trade attorney, Anne O'Rourke, who spoke about a pending free trade agreement in that country.
They were told to take part in the agreement, they would first have to do away with their national health care system, Gasink recalls. The Australians said, Wait a minute -- we like our national health care system. Weve worked hard for it and we like it and we want to keep it.
Bass says when a government breaks its social contract with its people, you get a recipe for violence in the streets.
Now you have people who have less money than they already had, working harder for less of the money that's worth less. They're poor, their kids are not in school they're desperate and they rebel.
But the IMF and World Bank have an answer for that.
These nations then are told they will have to increase spending on military and police, Bass says. The IMF knows eventually the people will rise up against their own government. They know this and don't care. They actually tell governments to go ahead and prepare for civil unrest.
Randall echoes that.
You can only hold people down by use of force. If the wealthy few are going to continue to aggrandize wealth at the expense of many, many more poor, than they're going to have to have an enormous amount of force to continue that injustice.
The last step is the privatization of the debtor nations resources and the transfer of wealth out of that nation.
When the natural resources are privatized, all the profits go back out of the country. None of that money is getting reinvested in the country where the resources are taken out of, Bass explains.
People are forced to compete for less and less -- rights, money and everything. That's why in our work for peace it's important to join the struggle.
Ah, but you dont have to worry about any of that, right? You dont live in some Third World country, after all -- you live in the worlds last superpower, the good ol U.S. of A.
This country turns out to be largest debtor country, Randall says. Were not told point-blank by the IMF and World Bank to institute certain policies. But if you look at what structural adjustment really means, we're voluntarily embarking on all of that.
He points out a rollback of environmental regulations, limits to overtime pay, changes in Social Security and Medicare, limits to unionization, decreasing health care coverage, stagnant wages and increasing disparity between rich and poor in America to make his case.
As further proof, he points out the governments preparations for a paramilitary response to protestors at the G8.
Criminalization of dissent is one of the things that occurs in structural adjustment policies, Randall reminds us.
Activists are particularly shocked at the extraordinary sweeping state of emergency Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue called two weeks ago.
The broadness of this particular Executive Order is disturbing, given that it covers six counties, for 30 days, and is overly vague, an activist wrote in a recent e-mail to supporters.
The potential for abuse is too great, and the conditions of an emergency do not yet exist, so this executive order should be rescinded until such time as there is a real and tangible emergency.
Bass feels an obligation to follow in the footsteps of other activists who have fought for civil liberties in the past.
Someone stood up for me and I have a better life because of it, she says. Now I have a a 14-year-old daughter -- and I'm afraid of the United States. We haven't taken any IMF or World Bank money, but we're cutting social programs and health care and labor laws. And usually all that leads to military dictatorship.
Behind the protesters in spirit, if not in person, is a Nobel Prize winner, the World Banks own former chief economist and vice president, Joseph Stiglitz. He quit the body in 2000 in disgust over its increasing favoritism towards rich Western nations.
Stiglitz writes that meetings such as the one about to take place on Sea Island are secret negotiations, arm-twisting, and the display of brute economic power by the U.S. and Europe, aimed at ensuring that the interests of the rich are protected.
This is why Joseph Stiglitz became a dissenter, Bass says. He still argues for the capitalist side, but insiders don't usually quit like that unless theres a really compelling reason.
In his international bestseller Globalization and Its Discontents, Stiglitz makes an explicitly moral argument against current globalization policies:
The lack of concern about the poor was not just a matter of views of markets and government, views that said that markets would take care of everything and government would only make matters worse; it was also a matter of values.... While misguidedly working to preserve what it saw as the sanctity of the credit contract, the IMF was willing to tear apart the even more important social contract, he writes.
Stiglitz maintains that the IMF and World Bank are in such a hurry to privatize national resources so their loans can be serviced that nations are being rushed into economic policies they cant handle.
He points out the example of Russia, which was granted massive loans to help along privatization in the post-Soviet years.
Liberalizing their economy long before their society itself could be liberalized, Russians could only watch as their nation was bankrupted by a small number of Mafia-like oligarchs who now effectively rule the nation in an iron grip of gangsterism and corruption that has many Russians fondly recalling the days of communism.
The more developed countries and especially the multilateral institutions
should be in a better position to advise countries on what are prudent levels of debt, and on how to manage their risks, Stiglitz has written.
There is no way to know precisely how many protestors will come for the Summit.
We have heard estimates ranging from as low as 30,000 to as high as 100,000. Several thousand labor activists from various unions are also expected to arrive in force.
Waiting for them all will be at least 25,000 law enforcement personnel in the Savannah and Brunswick areas.
Carol Bass says she is also getting mixed indications of how many protestors will appear next week.
We've talked to lots of organizations, and honestly we have no idea whos going to come. The summit is in the middle of week. Contrary to popular opinion, most protestors have jobs, she laughs.
Plus, a lot of people are afraid of the police, to be honest.
The website for Savannah area activists is at www.freesavannah.com/g8/
The website for Sea Island/Brunswick area activists is at www.g8carnival.org
The City of Savannahs G8 website is at www.savannahg8summit.org