Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On Your Marks, Set, Protest! - 100 Days to the Olympics

OMG! It’s only 100 days until the Olympics gets under way and everyone is, like, so totally excited! Move over PT Barnam, there’s a new greatest show on earth! And who wouldn’t want to go to a shindig organised by Colin Moynihan, Boris Johnson and Seb Coe? Wow, do those guys know how to par-tay! The athletes are gearing up while multinationals are hurriedly slapping five rings on every bit of tat they can think of. The politicians are so excited that they can’t stop picking up freebie tickets to the beach volleyball – or perhaps they’re excited because they have tickets to the beach volleyball, who knows? All we do know for sure is that everyone is excited about the Olympics.

Except of course they aren’t. Beyond the din of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and their corporate chums there are voices of opposition, dispelling the myth of universal popularity. YouGov polls have consistently shown that the majority of the people in the country just aren’t all that fussed by London 2012, indeed people are as sceptical now as they were four years ago.

And the figures get worse for LOCOG as soon as you start mentioning money. The latest poll results from the BBC – done to mark the 100 days to go mark – say that 64% of people think too much public money has been spent on the games, and the further you live from London the more likely you are to think that the benefits of the Olympics amount to absolutely diddly-squat. None of which is particularly surprising since the event is costing billions of pounds at a time when we’re constantly told that there is no money. Organisers are aware of this, hence the constant references to the last time London hosted the games in 1948 – commonly dubbed the ‘austerity Olympics’. The last refuge for every political scoundrel is an attempt to evoke memories of the Second World War and the spirit of the Blitz. 

However, what I think the figures underestimate is the level of opposition to the games in London itself. A month ago Metropolitan police assistant commissioner, and national Olympic security coordinator, Chris Allison claimed, “There doesn’t appear to be anyone who wants to protest against the Games”. A soundbite of such complacency was always going to come back and bite him on the arse. People in the capital are pissed off at the cost, the disruption, the lies and the bullying. Yesterday an anti-Olympics activist was given an asbo, preventing him from going anywhere near any 2012 venue, and last week Occupy London were evicted from their protest trying to stop the development of Leyton Marsh.

More than this, the opposition is becoming organised. From the outside it has seemed, at times, a painfully slow process but as the games get closer so the opposition becomes more vocal. RMT activists have organised a meeting on Resistance: The Best Olympic Spirit with 1968 legend John Carlos. Meredith Alexander resigned from the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 over the involvement of Dow Chemicals, and is now busy highlighting the woeful environmental records of the Olympic sponsors. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Counter Olympics Network – an umbrella group including many campaign groups – have begun to unite opposition to the games. They have called a day of action countering the games on Saturday 28th July. A brief report of their first organising meeting can be found on Dave Renton’s excellent blog.

Who knows if the opposition will reach the levels witnessed in Sydney 2000 or Vancouver 2010, but finally there really is a feeling of excitement as the Olympics approach. On the day that it was announced that the London games motto is “Inspire a Generation”, we now have 100 days to campaign, protest and demonstrate for a sustainable, democratic 2012, and against an event that prioritises the profits of big business and the vanity of government. LOCOG are getting their O’s confused. The real inspiration for a generation will not come from the Olympics, but from the resistance of Occupy.