No Games, Chicago
by Peter Zelchenko April 3, 2009
"For the masses who do the city's labor also keep the city's heart." --Nelson Algren
Well, all of the homeless have been swept off the streets, and the International Olympic Committee is in Chicago and being wined and dined on $200-a-plate banquets, with our money, as we speak -- while we struggle with a recession that has caused further cuts in health care, transit, schools, and housing in our city for families making less than $100,000 a year.
They can say they had the requisite meetings, and that there are now over 1,000,000 Chicagoans on the Olympic bandwagon. Even if that figure isn't doctored, it's still not true. Since at the meetings, they never asked the premise: whether the Olympics were a good idea or not. They never had us in the room for that discussion, and that's a very important question. Once they sidestepped that bombshell, they never asked us just how they should go about trampling the city. They simply went to the City Council, and to the Pritzkers, and to the planners, and started devising how to divide and conquer. I paid a little attention in sixth-grade civics, and that doesn't resemble democracy to me.
Yes, some people hear the stories and they still think Mayor Daley is a decent guy with just a minor flaw or two. And that may yet be true in some twisted way; I have only met him briefly a small handful of times and he doesn't seem like a bad guy. I do, however, know his operators, and although they're fun over lunch, they are ruthless marauders who are licensed to do almost anything for success.
At the same time, there are many sick people in this city -- actually, probably a large chunk of the population -- who, when they smell money and opportunity, they will ignore the absence of democracy here and claw their way through to grab their share. Today it's Olympic fool's gold.
Even those you would think should be openly opposed to the idea are on the bandwagon -- or at least standing there at the station with their baggage, waiting to board -- because the mayor has spent millions brokering deals. Institutional organizers, responding to Daley's political corporatization of Chicago, have evolved into equally capitalistic machines that negotiate ruthlessly for their interest group and say screw the rest of them. The toughest holdouts are the police union and Action Now!, a coalition of South Side organizations. But you can be sure they're ready to start waving the flag. They just need to cut the deal.
No Games Chicago staged the only actual protest to having the Games here. The chief argument? The risky expenditure of millions, the privatization of our parks and other resources, on a historically very speculative and usually tragic venture -- in the face of a failure of housing, transit, health and education for all but the wealthiest.
A lot of anti-Daley people were out there. In fact, if Daley had torpedoed Federal Plaza at about 5:30pm yesterday, he would have wiped out the movement and could probably have begun openly shooting brown people in the streets, using the homeless for landfill, and shutting down all public schools except those in the wealthy neighborhoods. And nobody would ever bat an eyelash again in Chicago.
My personal protest, shared by several No Games members, is that when you don't approach the people with the premise, ask permission before even entering on such a risky venture, then you can't proceed. You can't have the fancy little PowerPoint things and charettes and -- good grief -- "listening tours." You can't even do that. My mantra is, "Ask first, then shoot questions later."
I say, we should not reward a mayor who has made it his trademark to squelch open debate and buy off pockets of dissent with our money. We should not reward a mayor who pleads poverty for the people's needs -- shortchanging public transit, teachers, labor, housing and health care -- while spending lavishly on pet projects that reward his thousands of campaign contributors with lucrative no-bid contracts. If we cannot find a way to punish him for these atrocities, then we at least should not reward him, standing silently by while his people continue to trample Chicago in this way.
But city planners are very, very good at co-opting opposition. That is the real olympian work: listening carefully for anyone who complains, then grabbing them and asking what they would need to stop complaining. You think I'm making this up? It's been offered to me at least three times on three different issues, and I simply have not taken the bait. It's called a bribe. The Daley administration has had almost 20 years to practice its skills at bribery. And so we have only the police union and Action Now!, who I expect will have their deals pretty soon. I'm not saying their causes are not legitimate. They do what they have to do to squeeze anything out of this mayor. But this negotiating with small groups leaves the other 3 million Chicagoans out on a limb and the city further in the red.
There's also blackmail. Gapers Block's own Ramsin Canon helped found No Games Chicago, and I was told by a reliable source (not him) that he was forced to leave the project because someone got to his boss and his boss told him he could not continue with No Games Chicago. Nice.
Well, that's about all of the groups in the city that have either sold out, been forced out, or are scheduled to be bought out and are protesting this week until they see the gravy. And of course they will.
That leaves just you, me, and No Games Chicago.
Maintain your integrity. Don't sell out to the lie.
To register your opposition to the Olympics, you should go to the No Games Chicago Web site at nogameschicago.org. But keep in mind that if you want to have any effect at all, you will need to commit to doing something, small or large. The best way to be in a position to do that is either to join the No Games Chicago alert crew by texting NO2016 to 66937 (you'll get a message back asking to confirm with a "Y"), or getting on their e-mail list.
(c) 2003-2009, Peter Zelchenko and Gapers Block