Chicagoans can look forward to massive city debt, destruction of public parks, insider deals favoring real estate developers and a full frontal assault on civil liberties if we are awarded the 2016 Olympic Games, according to an expert anti-Olympic organizer in town to speak at a rally set for January 31.
A new grass roots group, "No Games Chicago," has brought Chris Shaw to Chicago to speak at a public forum on Saturday, January 31 at 6:00 p.m. at the University of Illinois Student Center at 750 S. Halsted (as a matter of full disclosure, I'm helping out in the production of this event).
Shaw is a professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia and is one of the organizers of and spokesperson for 2010 Watch and a member of the Olympics Resistance Network in Vancouver. He is the author of Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games.
I spoke to Shaw over the phone.
Tom: Why did you get involved in fighting the Olympic Games, which are scheduled to come to Vancouver in the Winter of 2010 .
Chris: "I saw what was happening in Vancouver, that the games would have a serious downside for our city. I'm a scientist. I can do the math and I saw that their economic impact study was a joke. It won't rain money. The Olympic Games always loose money for their host cities."
Tom: What, in your opinion is the real driver behind the effort to bring the games to Vancouver and to Chicago?
Chris: "The local real estate developers usually have their eyes on property they need for private development and use the games as a means to acquire property and subsidies to build on it. It's basically a money game."
Tom: So it's actually an effort to publicly subsidize private development?
Chris: "This is part of a larger privatization movement and a local version of a larger global trend - that is, the taking away of the commons and making the public pay for what was theirs. This is about putting the local community on the hook for private gain."
Tom: What about the verbiage about the games making Chicago a "world class city."
Chris: "Well, that's code for making the city over for rich tourists and average people having to move out. Olympic boosterism is like the Nigerian Bank Scam - where they try to hook you by first offering you the opportunity to make a lot of money, then they say you're doing someone a service so you'll feel real good and finally they ask you for your money and you get nothing. They're taking your stuff but they're throwing you a big party."
Tom: The officials of Chicago 2016 say that no public dollars will be spent and that the games will generate billions in economic returns.
Chris: "Mitt Romney, the CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, addressed the Vancouver Trade Council and told them something they didn't want to hear, namely that the Olympics generate no economic gains for a host city. He told them that there is no economic reason to hold the games - only patriotic reasons. He said that spikes in tourism are balanced by residents leaving the region for the duration of the games and a depression in tourism following the games."
Tom: So how have the games affected Vancouver so far?
Chris: "The costs have gone through the stratosphere. It's $7 billion so far - that we know about. The security costs alone will be $1 billion. We have taken on massive debt that will probably take 30 years to pay off. Montreal, which hosted the 1976 Summer Games, retired its debt in 2006. The environment has suffered - with over 100,000 tress cut down, mostly old growth and the games are estimated to pump out an overall increase in carbon dioxide of 5% over current levels. There will be 15,000 soldiers on our streets next year with massive surveillance programs already under way. There will be cameras on every street corner with face recognition software and voice recognition software for the phone lines. We are facing a freaking nightmare for civil rights." [Chris has written extensively about the criminalization of poverty and homelessness that has become a new policy for Vancouver]
Tom: So how would this play out for Chicago?
Chris: "The Winter games tend to come in at $10 billion and the Summer games should cost a total of $20 billion. I've heard laughable estimates of security for the Chicago bid at $45 million. Total security for the Vancouver games are at $1 billion, with the city's share at least $100 million. So look at the total costs you would be taking on. It took Montreal 30 years to pay off their Summer games. Can your city take on such a burden?" [Read the story in the Vancouver Sun: "Olympic bill tops $6 billion"]
Tom: So how can Chicagoans hope to stop this from happening to us?
Chris: "The only way to derail this freight train is to make the International Olympic Committee believe that it's a bad idea to give Chicago the games - that they're going to get more grief than joy if they come here. You have to show them that there is significant opposition to the games here. The IOC intensely dislikes this sort of controversy."
Chris Shaw will be the keynote speaker at a public forum, "Why We Should Say 'NO' to the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid" at the University of Chicago Center, 750 E. Halsted Street, Room 605, on Saturday, January 31, starting at 6:00 p.m.
The other speakers will be:
- Deborah Taylor of Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) and Lake Park East Tenants Association
- Karen Lewis of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE)
- Willie J.R. Fleming of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing and the Chicago Independent Human Rights Council.
Here is what Chris has to say to us regarding his overall experience in Vancouver.
Chicago Should Avoid Following in Vancouver's Olympic Missteps
I look back to 2003 and what is happening with Chicago's Olympic bid is eerily reminiscent of Vancouver's successful bid six years ago. Then, as now, bid boosters were promising local citizens the world: fame, wealth, and the host of goodies that would flow from a nod from the IOC. Vancouver's then mayor promised that the 2010 Games wouldn't cost the citizens 'one penny", that provincial and federal funds would be leveraged for local needs, and that the entire process would be completely transparent and accountable. Bid organizers promised a host of goodies including "the greenest Games ever", an arts legacy, and "social inclusivity" (short hand for social housing). It was a lovely dream and many Vancouverites bought into it. In a non-binding Vancouver plebiscite, some 64% of Vancouverites voted for the bid to go forward. The same question was not put to the rest of the province of British Columbia because the sitting Premier knew it would fail miserably.
Six years later, a majority of Vancouverites who supported Vancouver's bid are having serious second thoughts as the early predictions of the "nay sayers" and "party poopers" are turning out to be frighteningly accurate. Those who opposed bringing the Games to Vancouver, and I was one of them, noted that cost estimates for staging the Games were vastly underestimated while at the same time as the benefits were grotesquely overestimated.
We were right, and in spades. In the run up to the IOC's decision, Vancouver's mayor had said the Games wouldn't cost us one penny, but the reality was quite different: construction costs at city venues blossomed to finally approach a $100 million shortfall. Three hundred million dollars more were dumped into an ill-considered subway line that may have been influential for the bid but was not a solution for local transportation. Security costs to be born by Vancouver are still unknown, but could easily be $100 million for the city alone. Endless 'hidden" costs have also accumulated. Finally, as the final blow, Vancouver's choice of the developer for the Athletes' Village went insolvent forcing the city to take over the project and putting it on the hook for nearly $1 billion.
Taken all together, the city with an operating budget of under $900 million and a property endowment fund of about $1.4 billion found itself facing a nearly $2 billion dollar Olympic debt. In brief, with a combination of bad planning and an utter lack of due diligence, Olympic boosters had brought Vancouver to the brink of bankruptcy. The overall cost to all levels of government for the 2010 Games will likely come out at about $10 billion. London's 2012 Games, a likely harbinger for Chicago, is now, five years in advance, already at nearly $20 billion in projected costs.
The financial headaches are only part of the overall meltdown. Building the various venues and roads had not given us the greenest Games ever, but the opposite: over 100,000 trees cut down (much of it old growth), endangered species habitat destroyed or threatened, wetlands bulldozed, and a massive
3.5 megatons of carbon dioxide released before the Games are over.
Poverty continues to climb in Vancouver with an estimated 3,000 homeless on our streets. The best the city and provincial government can come up with so far is a plan to move these "eyesores" away from the city before the Olympics start in February 2010.
Civil liberties? Forget them. The security services have now concluded that the potential for domestic protests against the Games is a greater threat than Al Qaeda and legislation at all levels of government is aimed at suppressing legitimate dissent. Since those opposed to the 2010 Games don't plan to simply give up and lie down, we now face the prospects of preventative arrests and the widespread suppression of civil liberties. If the current trends continue, February 2010 will see massive clashes between protesters and police.
So if this is Vancouver's past, present, and future experience with the Olympics, what should Chicagoans think and do?
First, look at all the facts and the real history of the modern Games. Evaluate the bid organizers' claims with the greatest skepticism since just like those of the Vancouver boosters, they will turn out to be illusions if not complete lies. Determine what real estate projects the boosters want you, the taxpayer, to fund for their benefit using Olympic dollars. Consider the impact on the environment, the poor, and the democratic process. Consider the overall cost and don't be swayed by arguments that claim that hosting the Games will bring economic benefits. The latter is an utter falsehood at the best of times. In the current economic circumstances, it is criminally irresponsible. Finally, think what the billions of dollars wasted on a three week circus could actually do for your community.
For Vancouver, it's too late. The circus is coming to town, the money largely spend, the damage done. And the best we can do is to limit the fallout. Chicagoans still have a choice in the matter and have to show the IOC that the Games are not right for Chicago. The time to stop the bid is now, not after it has won. Look to Vancouver's experience and you will see your future. If you stop the Games from coming to Chicago now, those of us in Vancouver will know that we have saved at least one future city from the