L.A.'s Looming Olympic Disaster

The Olympics are coming back to Los Angeles. Like most attempts to repackage and sell ephemera from the 80’s, their return can be thought of as a cynical cash grab — one that will ultimately leave L.A. a less livable city.


In 2017, after several competing cities dropped their bids to serve as host to the 2028 Summer Olympic Games, Los Angeles was selected to fill the role. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who’s been not-so-subtle about his desire to project himself into higher political office, has also lorded over a concerted effort to secure L.A. as host for the 2028 Games. In light of L.A.’s selection as host, Garcetti has been on a recent victory lap, claiming that the city and its residents will see an influx of beneficial capital.

But recent history has demonstrated that it’s high powered politicians and capitalists who most benefit from a city serving as host to a major event, while simultaneously, the poorest and most marginalized communities of that city are subjected to criminalization and displacement.

We’ve watched this trend play out most recently in 2012 host city London and 2014 host city Rio. Promises of increased investment in infrastructure, construction jobs, and tourist dollars are dangled like candy to entice a city’s populace — the results however, are often nothing short of a disaster for working people.

At the same time, we’ve also seen social movements rise to challenge the specter of unfettered profiteering, displacement, development, and over policing that the Olympic Games bring along. Here in Los Angeles, there is already a sustained and growing movement to oppose the arrival of the 2028 games.

We caught up with members of NOlympicsLA, a group leading that fight.

Can you tell us about the origins of NOlympics?

This project was born out of the Housing & Homelessness Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America Los Angeles in early 2017, after it became more and more apparent that L.A. would be saddled with this bid. Intersectional work rooted in housing justice, police abolition, and immigration justice is the backbone of what we do. Early on, we also spoke with anti-Olympics organizers from Chicago, Boston, Rio, and beyond and started to build a local coalition in the first sort of overture in this fairly long term campaign. Everyone involved in NOlympics is a volunteer, which allows us to settle for nothing less than what our collective politics demand: running this bid out of town and fighting for a Los Angeles free of rampant displacement and police militarization.

Can you explain, simply, why Angelenos should oppose the Olympics returning to the city?

It’s in very few people’s material interest to support this Olympic bid - or any Olympic bid, really. Instead, we will see heightened exploitation of renters (the majority of the population in L.A. rents rather than owns their home), the unhoused, immigrants, street vendors, people of color, and working class people. Even if you own a home or have a lot of money, this will make the city less livable for all, and if you care about helping, say, homeless people, the Olympics will further criminalize being poor or homeless and drive more evictions, displacement, and general unaffordability. 

What sort of impact did the ‘84 Olympics have on Los Angeles? What impact have recent Olympics and other major international sports events had on host cities?

The Olympics are always a land-grab. And they always heighten police militarization and surveillance. We saw this play out dramatically here in 1984 where Daryl Gates used the ‘84 games as a pretext to add all sorts of elements of militarization to a police department that was already one of the worst - if not the worst in the country. We saw the effects of a heightened and emboldened LAPD play out for the rest of the ‘80s and culminate in the ‘92 uprising, and well through today to Chief Moore’s data-driven eugenics-based form of policing. LAPD is still the most murderous police force in America, and the ‘84 Olympics helped give them a lot of that extra juice, in the form of increased funding, personnel, and weaponry, not to mention the normalization of racial profiling and surveillance. 

What are the major interests behind bringing the Olympics to the city?

Casey Wasserman and Mayor Eric Garcetti are the two most obvious benefactors and drivers of this bid. Eric Garcetti, once upon a time, had notions of being a viable presidential candidate in this election cycle. While his political capital has essentially evaporated over the last 6 months, he’s desperate for any win, and the Olympics give him the excuse to go out of town to work on building his war chest. Garcetti is still gunning for higher office, and, like it did for Mitt Romney (whose politics Garcetti’s mirrors), the Olympics can give politicians political capital and help them grease up potential campaign donors (by helping them secure lucrative Olympic contracts).

Wasserman, who runs a sports marketing firm, stands to financially benefit whether the Games are profitable or not. He has the most expensive house in L.A. history; it’s on the market for $125M. The fact that there can be a house worth $125M is directly related to why we have ~100K Angelenos experiencing homelessness in a given year. Wasserman has never worked to earn a dollar in his life, and he’s promoting L.A. as a host city so he and his wealthy buddies (media magnates, real estate and finance ghouls, the LAPD brass) will all get what they want. He’s one of L.A.’s most influential oligarchs, and most regular people have never heard of him. We’re trying to change that. 

How do these interests benefit from L.A. becoming the host city for 2028?

So, the people behind the bid represent media, real estate and Wall Street interests and *surprise* that’s who sees all of the financial upside with none of the risk. Bob Iger, Rick Caruso, Goldman Sachs execs. We’re talking about some of the richest people in human history. They will control the media and sponsorship deals, and they’ll use the Olympics as a pretext to bulldoze low income apartments to make way for luxury hotels, like they’re doing for the Fig, down by the Coliseum. (can give you more details on this if you’d like?)

Where is Mayor Garcetti? What can you tell us about the aspect of your campaign drawing attention to his absence?

Who knows! [laughs]. Eric Garcetti has spent A LOT of time out of town during the past four years of L.A. Olympic business. We made a “Missing” flier for him and started messaging about how often he was out of town. The L.A. Times picked up on it and did some digging and found out he was out of town roughly one out of every three days in 2017, which to anyone remotely paying attention is absurd. L.A. has the most unhoused people in the country, has the most murderous police department, the most incarcerated people, and the most undocumented people in America. Not to mention we’re the least affordable city in the country. Wages are negative. L.A., especially, is in a bad way, and he’s too busy trying to get on TV in New York or go to Peru to hang out with the financial criminals at the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

The Olympic Games tend to be looked upon as a sort of a-political, or even intra-national community building event. Given what you’ve already pointed out about its wide range of problems, what do you envision them being replaced with? Could we have a similar global competition without the detrimental effects of the Olympics?

Like other aspects of society that many Americans can’t imagine alternatives to, alternatives to the Olympics have already happened. They’ve just sort of been scrubbed from history. We made a short film about this called Swolecialism which addresses this history and the concept of having a worker-run (i.e. athlete-run) transnational sporting event. It’s absolutely possible. Most people get caught up in imagining an alternative to the Olympics by focusing on the WHERE instead of the HOW and by WHO. 

Here’s one place you could start: fully dismantle and dissolve the IOC. Start a worker-run network of organizers that focuses on athletic competitions which are actually developed with communities most at risk of being affected. That’s one possible way of going about it. Either way, the conversation is happening around the world, and we’re getting closer to having to build that vision out in more detail.

Who is part of the NOlympics coalition?

We have many partners locally and throughout CA across the left spectrum, but mostly oriented around tenants rights, homelessness, and criminalization. You can view them here: nolympicsla.com/partners

There are many other groups we work with locally that might not be officially a part of our coalition but who are also a part of the work or are general allies and supporters.

We’re also in the midst of working with many anti-Olympic groups around the world.

What strategy do you propose to defeat the Olympics in L.A.? What activity is the coalition currently engaging in?

L.A. is the least democratic city in America, and probably one of the least democratic major cities in the world where its leaders and residents still consider it democratic. We still have a good amount of work to do before we’re ready to fully overthrow this bid, but we believe we’ve already had a considerable effect on the ground feelings on the Olympics. If L.A. actually had a functioning fourth estate, we might be able to measure how much public interest in this bid has been deflated and the fact that most of the support has been astro-turfed from the get-go.

We’re building power across a very, very large physical area and across various communities and organizations. We’ve been doing outreach all around the region, mounting canvassing efforts to talk about Olympic hotel development via our new Homes Not Hotels campaign. We’re in schools of all sorts, talking to students of all levels, educators, and parents, and having them think about the issues we’re organizing around. We’re at City Hall whenever the bid comes up to raise our concerns, which they summarily ignore. We send letters. We try to find ways to engage in this unrepresentative farce of a local democracy. We stage actions. We make propaganda. We’re not averse to playing the inside or outside game, and we’re definitely not afraid to experiment and confront centers of power in L.A. We do research, records requests, and collaborate on projects with our coalition partners. We’re planning the first transnational summit of anti-Olympics organizers in Tokyo this summer, in collaboration with organizers in Japan fighting the upcoming 2020 Games. At this point we know way more about this specific bid and its true risks than anyone at City Hall or L.A. 2028, and we’re going to get the message across. Our goal is to force their corny Olympic PR to a death by a thousand cuts.

Can you talk about the survey you’ve conducted and its results?

There was no independent polling regarding either the L.A. 2024 or L.A. 2028 bids. The extremely minimal polling that took place was commissioned by the IOC and the bid committee themselves. We didn’t believe that enough polling was done to make any reasonable conclusions, so we raised money and ran three of our own in 2018. We released the results, and the press picked up on them. The media has said it won’t do any additional polling on public support, and so have academic institutions in the area (even though one professor admitted that there “should” be more polling done). It’s pretty pathetic. We’ve worked with grad students around the world to help program other surveys about what people know about the Olympic bid and its risks. Whenever we have those results back, you’ll hear about them. 

More detailed analysis and full results here: nolympicsla.com

Where can people plug in to NOlympics, learn more about it, and support it?

NOlympicsLA.com, @nolympics on socials, email us if you want to organize or collaborate: no@nolympicsla.com

We’re always welcoming new organizers to our group. Drop us a line. And let’s build the future L.A. that is impervious to bullshit like the Olympics.

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Ericco Malatesta