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There are many reasons to protest the Olympic Games. It is a multi-billion dollar industry run by an elite clique that sells the five rings to the highest bidder, using sports as a commodity and a platform for corporate advertising. Their main goal is profit, in collaboration with their partners: government, local organizing committees, and corporations (construction, real estate, tourism, TV, and media, as well as sponsors).
The Olympics have a long history of association with fascists, colonialists, and authoritarian regimes (i.e., the 1936 Hitler Olympics, the 1968 Mexico City Olympic massacre, and the 2008 Beijing Summer Games). Since the 1980s, they have displaced over three million people and contributed to massive increases in homelessness (as we’ve seen in Vancouver).
Massive construction projects associated with the Olympics, from venues to infrastructure, result in both widespread environmental destruction and huge public debts. As part of security operations, police, military, and intelligence agencies receive millions of dollars for new personnel, equipment, and weapons — strengthening the creeping police states we see around the world and further eroding our alleged 'freedoms' and civil liberties.
Some naysayers ask: Why protest, since protests don’t change anything, and the Games are going to happen anyway? Their questions are based on the apparent futility of protest.
To begin with, protests are but one tactic used by social movements. They help raise awareness and mobilize people. The US black civil rights movement started out as small protests and grew into a mass campaign of civil disobedience. This forced the government to enact reforms and desegregate the South. Protests weren’t the only activities carried out by the civil-rights movement. They also organized forums, held workshops on legal rights, registered black voters, and printed newsletters.
Protests and civil disobedience were what made change both possible and necessary, because not only did they draw international attention to racism in the US, they also made it impossible for the apartheid system in the South to go on as it had before. By the 1970s and ’80s there were black mayors and chiefs of police; today, there is a black president.
People who say protests don’t change anything don’t know history. Those who say the Olympics can’t be fought don’t even know their own local history.
Over the last three years, the anti-Olympic movement has forced the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) off the streets, to the point where it no longer holds large, public ceremonies (as it did in 2007). Anytime the organizing committee does have events, it requires a large policing operation to secure them. This is because we have successfully used direct action to disrupt Olympic events.
The effectiveness of direct action and protest can be seen in the struggle for social housing in Vancouver. This campaign increased in 2006 when the growing ranks of homeless began to become a major political issue, linked to Olympic-related construction, gentrification, and tourism.
By the fall of 2006, housing and anti-poverty groups were having large, noisy protests and began occupying empty hotels. Over two dozen people were arrested, many of them members of the Anti-Poverty Committee. These actions raised the profile of homelessness and dislocation.
Since 2007, various levels of government, along with VANOC, have had to respond with measures to limit the loss of low-income housing units, and to appear as though they are addressing the issue. By 2008, the homelessness crisis, along with the Olympic Village fiasco, determined the outcome of the Vancouver civic election.
Homelessness became a public issue because people organized, educated, and agitated for change. Without the political pressure exerted by protest groups, without community resistance, the situation for the poor and the homeless would be far worse than it is today.
Why protest 2010? Because as history shows us, the limits of tyrants are set by those whom they attempt to tyrannize.
Gord Hill is a member of the Olympic Resistance Network and maintains No2010.com. He is also an artist and carver. A version of this article previously appeared in the Georgia Straight.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.