A little more than one year after the October 2 decision to award the 2016 Olympic games to Rio, organizers of No Games Chicago will discuss what happened behind the scenes at a public forum on Tuesday, October 12. "The Battle for the Bid - One Year Later. What Happened & What's Next?" will be held at the Experimental Station, at 6100 S. Blackstone Avenue, from 7pm to 8:30pm. (I was one of the organizers for No Games Chicago and will be one of the presenters.)
On October 2, 2009, Chicago lost its bid to produce and host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. For some, the decision was a shattering blow to the ego of the city and a monumental defeat for the city's powerful, led by Mayor Daley. To others it was a triumph of grassroots community organizing in face of the most powerful people on the planet. On one side there was the 2016 Committee led by Pat Ryan, the founder of AON Insurance and Lori Healey, the former Chief of Staff to Mayor Daley and behind them stood the entire Chicago business, media, academic, philanthropic and nonprofit communities. The 2016 Committee had access to almost unlimited resources, raised $90 million and had the support of all elected officials in Illinois and the President of the United States.
On the other side stood an organized group of concerned citizens called No Games Chicago who had virtually no resources, no office and less than a handful of allies. The "battle for the bid" has never been told publicly. It represents a major teaching moment in the life of the city. Even more so as Mayor Daley has announced his retirement.
Some say the loss of the Olympics was a factor in his decision. If this is the case, it's very fitting to take some time at the one year anniversary of the decision by the International Olympic Committee to ask what happened, why and what does it portend for Chicago's future?
The battle for the bid offers telling lessons on a number of fronts. This was a clash of two fundamentally different views of how to make a city prosperous. It was about local politics and who gets to decide the fate of neighborhoods. It was about Big Contracts and inside players. It was about privatization of public assets with no public debate. It was about wrestling with the question of "What is a city for?" and "How do we use the resources of a city to make opportunity happen?" It was about democracy, dissent and fear. It was about old school organizing and new school technologies. It was about nose counting and strategic messaging. Happening, ironically, during the 100th anniversary of the Burnham Plan, the battle for the bid engendered virtually no such discussion while it was in full swing.
Now, one year later, an examination of the battle will help set up just about every relevant issue that the city will be facing as it picks its next mayor.
The event organizers hope that the story of the battle for the bid will help frame and inform the civic work that will be unfolding in Chicago.
The event will take place at the Experimental Station in the form of a narrative. Three of the lead organizers for No Games Chicago will tell their stories of what happened and will reflect on the lessons they learned. The audience will be invited to comment and ask questions. The intent is to engage in a conversation about what larger lessons we can take from this battle for the bid and how that might inform the activist and political landscapes. The three storytellers are Tom Tresser, Bob Quellos and Martin Macias, Jr.
The Olympic hype continues undiminished as NBC Chicago aired a half-hour documentary, "Making Big Plans: The Story of Chicago's Olympic Dream." The piece was paid for by the Friends of 2016 and written by Jim Schmidt and Mark Mitten. Mitten was the chief branding officer for the 2016 Committee and Schmidt is creative director for an agency that did significant work for the Committee. The piece charted the bid process and started with the short film of kids working out and talking about their Olympic dreams. The half hour was studded with 2016 contractors, consultants, leaders and Olympic athletes and officials. Lori Healy, the bid's president, spoke six separate times. Pat Ryan, the bid chairman, spoke five.
The films ends with a chorus of these people calling for Chicago to bid again! The reasons fly by very quickly - mainly that it takes multiple bids to win, that the heavy lifting has already been done and so future bids will be less costly and that some day the Olympic wheel will spin around towards North America and we must be ready to go,
The last word in the piece, before the credits, belongs to Pat Ryan: "Some day Chicago will host the Olympics."