Meet Los Angeles's New Anti-Olympics Movement

"We're not measuring success in terms of how rich anybody is getting. We're measuring success in terms of whether people's lives are better, whether there's a greater degree of equality and democracy in our city."

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May 9 2017, 2:46pm

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Insofar as such a thing exists, Los Angeles seems like an ideal city for the 2024 Olympics. The venues already exist in relatively close proximity, the host committee projects to break even without taxpayer assistance, the city has a proven track record as host, the weather is perfect, and the local government and business communities are supportive. LA2024 promises to be environmentally friendly, human-rights conscious, and socially responsible.

That is what makes the newest entrant to the global anti-Olympics movement, NOlympics LA, so unique. Unlike, for example, the Boston or Budapest anti-Olympic movements, NOlympics LA is not focused on the finances of playing host. Instead, they reject the very premises on which the Games are evaluated, where "success" means the transportation runs on schedule, the hotels are nice, the media is happy, and, above all, the IOC makes money.

Instead, NOlympics LA, spearheaded by the Democratic Socialists of America's Los Angeles chapter, takes the anti-Olympics movement to its logical conclusion: there is no such thing as a good Olympics.

In the face of a housing crisis, widespread homelessness, and police violence, they argue hosting the Games would further exacerbate those issues for the benefit of the already wealthy and elite. And that's the best case scenario.

I spoke to Anne Orchier and Jonny Coleman, two of the organizers for the NOlympics LA working group, about their mission and what, aside from not hosting the Olympics, they hope to accomplish. This conversation was lightly edited for clarity.

VICE Sports: When did you start to put this group together and how did it materialize?

Coleman: Well I don't actually know exactly when it started. I'm also a writer. Some of what I do as a day job I had been thinking about it too from that angle. I was kind of researching it because there was a possibility I would be writing on it. The more I learned about it, the more I had discussions with the DSA, members within our group, and specifically with regards to displacement and militarization of police, homelessness, immigration, it kind of dawned on me and all of us—I don't know who said what when—but over a period of time we're talking about it and we realized it was really important. The fact that no one had done anything made it even more important. Then, extremely recently, we really started meeting on it.

Orchier: Yeah, definitely. I would also add that seeing the success of the campaigns in so many other cities further galvanized us. So we have this one process that Jonny described of coming to the realization of why this mattered and why this felt important and then seeing that happen created additional incentive that it was also possible to succeed.

VICE Sports: The Los Angeles bid is perceived as such a safe and guaranteed bid with so little downside. At least that's how it's marketed. Why do you think this is worth doing given that LA is basically as close to an ideal Olympics host as exists in the world.

Orchier: That's absolutely been one of our main goals as well, to really puncture that myth and really critique and interrogate those claims. Like, as you're saying, Los Angeles is the safest bet and we've pulled it off before. And really what people are talking about when they say that and make those claims is that the Games were profitable for a small number of people. And that's really it. Going beyond that, really drawing out more of the connection between the 1984 Olympics and the era of police oppression and brutality that kicked off with those games and that we're seeing the impact of to this day, but that also more famously erupted in the 1992 uprising.

So we really want to, again, challenge and puncture this idea that Los Angeles is a safe bet and is the ideal place to host the Olympics. Because really what's that saying is it's ideal for people who are already rich, already in power, they don't stand to lose money from it, they stand to gain money from it. That's what we're talking about when we say the Los Angeles Olympics will be good or will be profitable.

VICE Sports: It sounds like you guys want to raise the bar on what a successful Olympics means, because right now success just means it's not a total disaster.

Orchier: Totally, we still want to take all those concerns into consideration. People say, "What if there's an earthquake? What if it causes all these traffic issues?" And those are definitely worth taking into consideration. But, we really want to bring to the forefront that even if everything goes on schedule and on budget—there's not a single drop of rain or an earthquake or anything like that—we still think measuring the success of any local program or project in terms of how rich a few people get off of it is a failure.

Coleman: Right. The IOC is based in Switzerland right? It scores high on all these metrics of life like crime and poverty and wealth distribution and social services. They don't have a homeless problem in Zurich that they have here for example [editor's note: the IOC is based in Lausanne, Switzerland]. That's why I think LA is not a good candidate in general, or ever has been, because there are so many people living in precarious situations. We lead the country in all these different crime statistics and homeless statistics. We're in a housing crisis right now for example. We just think it's fundamentally inappropriate to talk about having this big party, festival, at everyone else's expense.

VICE Sports: More recently, we've seen a bit more involvement in political parties driving the anti-Olympics movement. How much are you tying it to the DSA platform in general?

Coleman: I just want to say for the record that the DSA is not a political party per se. Obviously it's a political organization.

Orchier: They're really intricately linked. We've talked a lot about how we as a Democratic Socialist organization are really equipped to take on this charge in LA. Because the way this question has come up in a lot of other cities has been around the question of what happens if the Olympics goes over budget, and really looking at things from a local economic and tax standpoint. How much pressure will this put on city coffers, essentially. What we're able to do, we're able to come up against this specter of the 1984 Olympics where the focus has been on profit and staying under budget because as democratic socialists inherently that's not how we measure success. We're not measuring success in terms of how rich anybody is getting. We're measuring success in terms of whether people's lives are better, whether there's a greater degree of equality and democracy in our city.

The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles were widely considered a success. Photo via WikiMedia Commons

VICE Sports: What are your goals for this NOlympics movement? I mean, obviously not having the Olympics, but I'm curious how realistic you think that is given all the momentum the bid currently has and the way it's perceived within the IOC. Also, aside from not hosting the Olympics, do you have any other goals?

Coleman: We would love to sit down with representatives of a lot of the groups that aren't commonly having sit-downs with the Mayor, to have some form of communication.

Orchier: Absolutely. And that's another thing, you know, the claim that the bid committee has made about having solicited community feedback, our impression is, even if it happened in name, it didn't really happen in spirit. So creating a context for that would be another goal of ours. Again, in addition to stopping the bid. Also, creating a platform for international solidarity for other cities and communities.

VICE Sports: To what extent would you say your goals are to signal to the world that the LA bid does not have the overwhelming support the organizers have previously claimed?

Orchier: Yeah, I think that's a big part of it too.

VICE Sports: Is there any scenario in which you could envision being okay with LA hosting the Olympics? Or do you think the Olympics are fundamentally at odds with your goals?

Orchier: We're pretty militant. We think the Olympics as they have existed for the last however many decades—

Coleman: since the late 1800s. It's been a long time. It's based on the World's Fair, on that model, which is a very different model.

Orchier: —and basically how the Olympics have been operating since their instantiation, we're not interested in that. We're not interested in reforms and nominal guarantees from anybody that things will stay on budget. We're basically not having it at this point.

To that end, though, we would say we're not against athletics or sports or celebrations in general. Just ones of this particular nature, that are really only designed to benefit such a small number of people.