Bread-a Claus, a sensationally bearded college art major from northern Georgia, thought hard about his game plan for protesting the Group of Eight summit. With his trusty pal Cue Ball by his side, he would plumb the depths of supermarket Dumpsters across Georgia, salvaging piles of day-old bagels and sourdough loaves, bundles of yellow crookneck squash and scads of cabbage. He would feed the poor with his "Dumpster diving." He would make a statement about corporate waste. He would make the world a better place.
And, most definitely, he would try like heck not to get arrested.
"It puts drains on the community," said Bread-a Claus, whose actual name is Matt Jones. "It costs a lot of money to get out. We can do a lot of other things with that money."
The roughest time-honored rites of American protest -- break some stuff, burn some stuff, duke it out with the cops -- feel a little dated, a little passe to Bread-a Claus's amiable circle of Dumpster-diving friends from the group Food Not Bombs. The few protesters who have come to this frayed industrial city, across the marshes from the G-8 meeting on swanky Sea Island, which ends Thursday, have talked of building a new -- decidedly tamer -- protest ethos focused on community projects, rather than insurrection. While reserving "revolutionary vandalism" as an option, many protesters are saying their anti-globalization, anti-capitalism arguments get lost when demonstrations turn violent.
So instead, demonstrators are collecting samples of contaminated soil, hoping to draw attention to the Brunswick area's 16 toxic sites. Others are distributing clothes. Anarchists are fixing up an abandoned house for use by needy, young mothers. The Pagan Cluster is calling on witches to cast spells that drive out toxic waste.
The Southeast Anarchist Network's "call to action" reads a bit like a new-era manifesto, an antidote to the explosive clashes between demonstrators and police at previous gatherings of international leaders in Seattle; Genoa, Italy; and, most recently, at the Free Trade Area of the Americas conference last year in Miami: "To arm ourselves with hammers instead of bricks. To count our victories in the relationships we build, rather than what we tear down."
Embracing this approach has taken a bit of an adjustment in Brunswick, where locals have listened for months to dire predictions about hordes of violent protesters. Congress approved $25 million to reimburse Georgia law enforcement agencies for summit security, and federal agencies are spending millions more. The streets are lined with police, National Guard members, state troopers, Secret Service agents -- most of whom appear to have little to do. More than 10,000 law enforcement officers have blanketed the region, but the biggest events they have encountered have drawn only a couple hundred protesters. The rest of the time, small bands of protesters have fanned out in poor neighborhoods.
It all seemed so curious, so hard to comprehend to the crowd outside the Family Grocery, across from the McIntyre public housing development, where a sign declares: "Now Accepting Food Stamps." Jonathon Ramsey pedaled up on his bicycle and breathlessly announced, "The protesters are coming!"
Everyone leaned forward, and there, coming into view and coming right for them, were about a dozen young men and women with bandannas on their faces.
"Don't be coming down here and blowing up nothing," Jamal Griffin called out, sticking out his chest. "You know, Bush ain't coming through here, boy."
Griffin had no idea that the anarchists would drop off a few leaflets and sweep right past him on their way to a scruffy house on Martin Luther King Boulevard. As the G-8 meeting has progressed, the pile of garbage outside the house, with its big wraparound porch and its sloping tin roof, has grown. Teenagers from Massachusetts and out-of-work teachers from Atlanta hauled rotting carpeting, burned-up toasters and unimaginably awful mattresses out of the old house. Neighbors have known about the place for years; it was a house where drunks would crash for a few nights before moving on. It was a mess.
Jamie, a 19-year-old from Marietta, Ga., who like many demonstrators would not give his full name, dragged debris past a sign that read "Resistance through Constructive Action."
"Most people's view of me is the bomb-throwing anarchist -- the terrorist," he said matter-of-factly. "We want to show people that we want to help people out."
There is a "time and a place to break store windows," he said, but there was no point in cracking glass on this day. Unlike some previous summits, when demonstrators squeezed within blocks of the meetings, the Sea Island event is geographically isolated. Summit protesters are separated from the leaders they hope to influence by impassable marshes, a heavily patrolled river and the ocean; even the media, except for a few pool reporters, have been kept at a distance -- a considerable distance -- with official briefings in Savannah, 90 miles away.
In Brunswick, there have been scenes of dueling cameras throughout the G-8. Police videotape the protesters; the protesters videotape the police videotaping protesters.
Down the street, at the main demonstration site on a swath of ant-infested lawn at Coastal Georgia Community College, a hip-hop band plays to an audience of two sunburned girls and a dozen or so vendors at the "Fair World Fair" tent. Nathaniel Wood, a 19-year-old primatology student from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, has surveyed the paltry turnout and is feeling deflated.
"It makes me not want to come to these things," he says.
He sighs and sets off for a place in the shade. For now, fantasy sounds better than reality, and he pulls out his copy of a "Harry Potter" book.