Good People of Boston,
We’ve had our issues in the past, mainly over the way Larry Bird repeatedly ripped out my heart as a small child. But there are bigger issues at stake that will determine the future of who gets to live in your city and who gets further pushed to the margins.
Many are saying “Congratulations” to you right now over being chosen as the US Olympic Committee’s city of choice to land the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Don’t be grateful. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Then take that fear and channel it into raising hell. Hosting the Olympics is a bit like getting hit by a car. The question is not whether the experience was positive or negative. It is only about assessing the scale of the damage.
Please understand: the sports of the Olympics are beautiful. The commitment of the athletes involved is a constant inspiration. The rare highlighting of women athletes is the definition for many family of “must-see television.” But the sports do not come à la carte. They’re a shell game, a Trojan Horse for a neoliberal monstrosity. I have covered every Summer Olympics since 2004 in Athens, Greece. In other words, every Olympics since 9/11, when security concerns morphed into turning Olympic sites into police states. At each site I’ve seen debt, displacement and the militarization of space, alongside spikes in police harassment of the most vulnerable citizens. The 2004 games in Greece brought 50,000 paramilitary troops into the streets and arrived at 200 percent over budget, the precursor to a debt crisis that plagues the country today. Olympic structures are now used as dilapidated makeshift shelters for the homeless. The Olympic area was described by The Guardian as Abandoned Athens. The 2008 Olympics in China displaced 1.5 million people and cost $30 billion. The famed Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing is now a literal bird’s nest, and good for little else. The 2012 Summer Games in London extended a surveillance state, sent drones into the skies and put surface-to-air missiles atop residential apartment buildings.
Think about this debt, displacement and the militarization of public space. Now think about Boston: a beautiful city that for one summer I called home. Think about the gentrification, making the city unaffordable. Think about the pressing needs for investment in education and healthcare. Think about your unprecedented recent protests by the thousands against police violence. Now think about the insanely expensive military occupation that will come with the Olympics, who will be targeted and why. Also please consider exactly why you were chosen. You take a great deal of understandable pride in being “Boston Strong” after the marathon bombing. But what you remember as a moment of fear was for the United States Olympic Committee a point of attraction. As I wrote in November:
I spoke with someone connected to the International Olympic Committee who told me that Boston has rocketed to the top of their consideration list because of how the city was able to shut itself down after the Boston Marathon bombing. Few things expose the disturbing thought processes of the IOC quite like this logic. The post-marathon paralysis of police and surveillance and the frightening exercise of total power that was whipped out as quickly and lethally as a switchblade would become the Olympic-norm for three weeks. Anyone who felt a particularly neon-bright target on their back in those chilling days, because of their religion, their dress or the color of their skin, would have that affixed to them like a semi-permanent tattoo for a full year in the lead-up to the lighting of the Olympic torch.
The attraction of hosting the games in the city where there was an attack drips from the lips of the USOC. In the Associated Press article about the selection of Boston, they write that “chances are there will be subtle references to the 2013 bombings near the finish line that killed three people.”
It is not too late for you to keep the Olympic golem at bay. You have a responsibility now to do what the people of Istanbul, Chicago, Krakow and Oslo have done in recent years, and that is make the collection of aristocrats in the International Olympic Committee drop their monocles, reach for their smelling salts and find their fainting couches, at the mere thought of being subjected to the unruly Bostonian mob. Protest the offices of construction magnate John Fish, who is leading the way. Involve yourself with the group No Boston Olympics. Start your own neighborhood protest organizations. The only way the Olympics will stop acting like a sporting shock doctrine will be if cities keep saying no. This is not a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) movement. It is an international push from below to tell the IOC that our cities will not become expensive security state laboratories crushed by debt in the name of profits for real estate barons and military contractors.
Right now, the USOC is sticking a thumb in the eye of the No Boston Olympics movement, well aware that there is resistance and saying they do not care. As USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny said, “Any time you’re going to do something this big, there’s going to be pockets of resistance.” Show them what “pockets of resistance” actually look like. Our Olympic athletes deserve better. Our cities deserve better. Our world deserves better. Please resist hosting the Olympic Games. Please show that Boston Strong means standing up to the Olympic propaganda and fighting for the soul of your city.