When Muriel Bowser was sworn in last Friday as the new mayor of Washington, DC, she made clear in her inaugural address outlining her vision for the future of the city that a major goal of hers was “winning the Olympics for Washington, DC, in 2024.” This reveals a set of priorities that is deeply disturbing.
The Olympic Games—time and again, according to a slew of academic research—have revealed themselves to be defined by debt, displacement and the militarization of public space alongside attendant spikes in police brutality.
In the Washington, DC, area, debt, displacement, the militarization of public space and police brutality are otherwise known as “a Wednesday.” But with the Olympics these processes are always accelerated and intensified, making this a proposal from Mayor Bowser that’ll careen the city toward a precarious future for its most vulnerable residents. The Olympic Games inevitably induce a state of exception where the normal rules of politics do not apply.
For a city already experiencing gentrification at gunpoint, with a conspicuously parked police van for every new bistro in town, the prospect of hosting the Olympics should be terrifying. As Daniel del Pielago who is an organizer with a leading, deeply rooted community organization called Empower DC said to us, “We know that hosting the Olympics is yet another tool to push out black and low-income residents from DC. We continue to see our so called leaders prioritizing events and stadiums over the lives of the city’s most vulnerable residents.”
Washington, DC, sits on the United States Olympic Committee’s shortlist of candidates to host the 2024 Summer Games, along with Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Last month the cities’ bid committees convened in Redwood City, California, where they pitched their shiniest presentations to the USOC. DC’s five-person contingent included high-powered banker Russ Ramsey and billionaire Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis—as well as Mayor-Elect Bowser, Olympic gold medal–winning swimmer Katie Ledecky and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
The USOC, which is allowed to put only one city forward to the International Olympic Committee, will make its decision perhaps as early as this week. The IOC, in turn, will pick the host city for the 2024 Summer Games in 2017, giving the “winner” seven years to prepare. Along with Los Angeles, Washington, DC has emerged as a leading contender. Meanwhile in Boston and San Francisco, activists have spoken loudly and clearly that the USOC can take their Games and shove them. Activist action absolutely matters as the IOC always factors in local support when selecting the Olympic host city.