On a sweltering July morning in Los Angeles, the LA 2028 flags flew as “Mayor” Eric Garcetti stood on the steps of City Hall and cancelled The LA 2028 Olympic games. The games that he had insisted on were being called off, citing the absurd costs, impossibility of staging outdoor events due to climate change, and Garcetti’s own colossal failures on everything from housing, homelessness, transit, education, immigration, labor, and generally making LA a habitable space for anyone but rich old money slumlords and YouTube millionaires.
After the Olympics were cancelled, a flag unfurled to reveal that this was a stunt by NOlympics LA, the counter-Olympics coalition that I am an original member of. NOlympics LA staged the Olympics cancellation at the same time members of the group were in Tokyo, meeting with activists from equivalent anti-Olympics movements from Japan, Paris, Korea, Jakarta, London, and Rio. “Garcetti” was actually NOlympics activist Steve Ducey in a suit, skillfully mocking the real Mayor’s way of saying seemingly well-intentioned things that are actually meaningless, and then immediately contradicted through his actions.
The real Garcetti played this game a week later, when he staged a photo op with a homeless woman named Kryshelle in the valley. He shook his head and told KPCC, “One of the things that’s kind of magical as Mayor is that sometimes I can make the difference of whether somebody will say, ‘Today is the day I’ll actually come off the streets.” Immediately afterwards, Kryshelle’s possessions were trashed and her encampment swept, a direct result of a call made by someone with the mayor’s team. Unfortunately, these are the soulless goons currently running Los Angeles as an aristocracy for profit, and who better to team up with than the International Olympic Committee?
The rising anti-Olympics sentiment that’s made such domestic and international organizing possible is a direct result of each Olympic cycle bringing increased clarity to what the Olympics are and always have been: A scheme routinely carried out by a consortium of grotesquely wealthy oligarchs and war criminals (like Henry Kissinger), who use sports as a pretext to extract capital from poor communities around the world. They promise cities greatness and abundance, only to abscond, leaving behind a wake of irreversible damage to lower income populations. The damage wrought by the scheme during some cycles is easier to spot than it is during others—Rio and Sochi come to mind as obvious shit shows—but even cities like London and Atlanta suffered intense spurts of Olympics-driven gentrification. Every Olympics leaves behind a legacy of destruction that takes decades to fully manifest itself.
And yet, rich idiots still bid on the Olympics. LA made a bid for the last 11 Summer Olympics, only winning after literally every other city in the world decided that they were no longer stupid enough to buy what the IOC was selling. Aside from the IOC, the only people who benefit from the Olympics are rich guys who live in the pockets of big developers, private security firms, and media companies. LA found its version of this particular kind of rich guy in LA 2028 bid co-chairs Mayor Garcetti and Casey Wasserman. Garcetti’s been selling out the city for profit for the better part of the last decade, and Wasserman—the obscenely rich brand mogul, super agent, and grandson of famous Hollywood power player Lew Wasserman—recently made his Twitter account private after New York Magazine reminded everyone that he once flew on Jeffrey Epstein’s private plane.
As far as public perceptions go, now is a very bad time to have people know that you’ve ever been within 20 feet of Jeffrey Epstein, but why would the IOC care about that? After all, the Olympics are notorious for enabling abuse of underage athletes by adults. Larry Nassar, the monster who molested countless Olympic gymnasts, was enabled by the IOC and now-disgraced former USOC chief Scott Blackmun, who is of course an LA 2028 booster. Even after they were informed of the abuse, it festered for another year, because why stop the profit machine? Profiting off young athletes who are supposed to inspire the world while simultaneously exploiting and allowing for the abuse those athletes is at this point standard Olympic protocol.
Abuse scandals have rocked U.S. Olympic sports networks across gymnastics, swimming, equestrian, boxing, and ice skating. Examine the culture of the Olympics from any angle and you will see something as toxic as the pyramids of irradiated topsoil that have been stacked up in Fukushima, where the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are planning to hold swimming events.
It has always been this way. The 1932 LA Olympics took place during a historic homelessness crisis, when “Hoovervilles” lined the streets of the burgeoning metropolis. We call the sprawling encampments “Garcettivilles” now, but they are much the same. Promises of making the city denser with more public transportation, which it desperately needs, were leveraged into a way to push out lower income residents by raising rents everywhere the metro builds to. Cornerstone ethnic enclaves like Chinatown, Koreatown, Boyle Heights, and South LA are being gentrified by rich white people who feel like they deserve to own property even during this historic housing crisis. Groups like Chinatown Citizens For Equitable Development and Koreatown For All have formed to fight developers who are literally pushing out the populations for which these neighborhoods are named. LA is being whitewashed by developers, and LA 2028 is a scam to help speed up the rate of that whitewashing.
Elder and low-income people of color are the most affected by these violent displacements, and there is nowhere else for them to go. CCED LA is suing the city over the new development, “Chinatown Crossing,” which includes none of the mandated low income housing units (and what the city defines as low income is insanely high). Even though 2028 is a long way off, the Olympics are already displacing people of color near the LA Coliseum to make hotels in order to satisfy a manufactured “hotel shortage” crisis for Olympics tourists.
These problems all existed before LA won the bid for the 2028 Olympics, but the arrival of the games will be like a match to gasoline. It’s very fucking hot in LA right now and we have at least 60,000 people living on the street in a city where 600,000 people spend 90 percent of their income on housing. I have never known a time in LA when there wasn’t a homelessness crisis. I was born in the early ‘80s into an LA that had a huge homelessness population, terrible environmental issues, and was stratified between classes.
That was the LA in which the 1984 Olympic games took place. During the run-up to those games, the city was beset by Operation Hammer, which saw a militarized police force orchestrating sweeps throughout the city in order to sanitize the streets for the sake of the coming TV cameras. Unhoused people and anyone “suspected” of being in a gang were thrown in jail so the Olympics could show off LA as a shiny and clean metropolis. It’s no stretch to say that the 1992 LA Uprising and early ‘90s Rampart police corruption scandal were vastly accelerated by the police clampdown that began in the ‘80s.
We’ve already seen what the Olympics can do to LA, and to other cities throughout the world, which is why it was so infuriating when Garcetti and city council pushed LA 2028 through with no public referendum, public input, or independent media polling, knowing full well that most of them will not be holding local public office by the time the negative consequences from the games will be felt.
The original mission of NOlympics LA was to keep the Olympics out of LA, but our fight isn’t over just because Garcetti and Wasserman got the city council to do their bidding. What remains now is ensuring that the things the Olympics are doing and will still do to this city, to people like Kryshelle, don’t go unnoticed. If Garcetti wants his legacy to be bringing the Olympics back to LA, we’ll make sure he gets his wish.
Molly Lambert is a writer from Los Angeles.