It’s heartening to see the growing grassroots opposition to the proposed Boston 2024 Olympics. People are recognizing the games for the cronyist scheme they’ve become, a way to make money not by offering what people want, but by having government connections. I’d like to focus here, though, on the effect a Boston Olympics would have on personal liberties.
We can look at a couple of past Boston events for an idea of what can happen. The 2004 Democratic Convention was a disaster that turned Boston into a ghost town for a week. Commuter rail service from North Station was completely shut down. Southbound access to Boston by I-93 was closed. Military police questioned people carrying shopping bags in T stations. An ugly, small “free speech zone” was set up to restrict protest. Meanwhile, convention delegates got their own special subway cars. Economic activity ground to a halt as people just gave up on going to Boston.
Even the Boston Marathon has become an occasion for stepping on people’s ordinary activities. The police conducted warrantless bag searches on public streets.
On March 30 Obama visited UMass Boston, and the entire campus was shut down for a day to Make Way for His Majesty.
Aside from the general tendency of Boston officials to turn any big event into a chance to flex their muscles, we know what previous Olympics have been like and what’s planned should they be inflicted on Boston.
Mayor Walsh agreed in writing to ban criticism of the Olympics by city employees, though he later reversed this position after public outrage. Over 55 kilometers of roadway lanes, both primary and secondary, will be handed over to the Olympics’ exclusive use.
More clues come from past Olympic games. In 2012 the UK’s Ministry of Defence turned residential buildings into missile bases near the Olympic site. Outrageous restrictions were placed on the words advertisers with no connection to the Olympics could use. Prohibitions on words like “games,” “2012,” “gold,” or “London” were enforced not by the normal legal process but by Olympic security personnel.
The Guardian described the condition of London:
In addition to the concentration of sporting talent and global media, the London Olympics will host the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces seen in the UK since the second world war. More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.
During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence.
In Rio de Janeiro, the city government has broken its promise not to use eminent domain for next year’s Olympics. Boston’s government has made a similar promise and is facing opposition by people who don’t want to relocate; how much would you want to bet that Boston politicians will stand by their word?
It wouldn’t be fair to put too much emphasis on Sochi; that’s Putin’s Russia, after all. The Olympics belongs there. But David Zirin writes in The Nation:
I have covered every Summer Olympics since 2004 in Athens, Greece. In other words, every Olympics since 9/11, when security concerns morphed into turning Olympic sites into police states. At each site I’ve seen debt, displacement and the militarization of space, alongside spikes in police harassment of the most vulnerable citizens. The 2004 games in Greece brought 50,000 paramilitary troops into the streets and arrived at 200 percent over budget, the precursor to a debt crisis that plagues the country today.
It’s been harder than I expected to research this piece. People have gotten so used to being shoved around by the government that it’s not even news. I probably would never have heard of the UMB closing if it weren’t for Twitter. Search results show just how heavy the propaganda efforts for the Olympics have been. This makes it all the more impressive that so many people are having none of it.