We don’t want the Games

September 29, 2009

Bob Quellos, a founding member of No Games Chicago, explains why Barack Obama would best serve the interests of working people in his hometown by not going to Copenhagen to lobby for the 2016 Olympics.

Dear President Obama:

This summer has not been easy for many people who reside in Chicago. As the city entered into the final leg of competition for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Chicago citizens witnessed cuts in services, and city employees were forced to take furlough days to balance the budget. At the same time, many state programs and jobs were slashed.

While funds were nowhere to be found for basic services, the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois lined up nearly $2 billion in taxpayer funds for the 2016 Olympics.

A recent WGN/Chicago Tribune poll found that less than half of Chicagoans support the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, and that 84 percent were opposed to using tax revenue to cover any losses incurred. Only recently did the Chicago 2016 bid committee make any effort to engage the community in citywide meetings where it was evident that many in Chicago had deep concerns about hosting the Olympics, including the potential for cost overruns and resident displacement.

Chicago residents are overwhelmingly opposed to the use of tax revenues for the 2016 Games
Chicago residents are overwhelmingly opposed to the use of tax revenues for the 2016 Games (Matthew Cassel | JustImage.org)

As a longtime resident of Chicago, you are well aware that in this city, cost overruns and delays of large civic construction projects go hand in hand.

Millennium Park came in four years behind schedule and three times over budget. The recent construction on the Dan Ryan Expressway came in at twice its original budget. And last summer, construction was halted on a "super-station" for express trains between Chicago-area airports and the Loop business district--$213 million has been spent on the project, and today, there isn't much more than a concrete hole in the ground to show for it.

Costs overruns and the Olympics also go hand in hand. The city of Vancouver, which will host the 2010 Winter Olympics, is $6 billion in debt, a tab that will be picked up by taxpayers. And the 2012 Summer Olympics in London are four times more expensive than the initial budgeted figure--with a total cost running currently at $20 billion, nearly three years ahead of the opening ceremonies.

AS YOU well know from your days as a community organizer, displacement and gentrification are issues of great importance to many poor and working class neighborhoods of Chicago. This is especially true in Chicago's mostly African American South Side neighborhoods, where a majority of the Olympic venues and the Olympic Village will be located.

What you can do

Readers in the Chicago area can go to a protest of the Olympic bid sponsored by No Games Chicago--it will take place Tuesday, September 29, at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall (121 N. LaSalle St.).

Facebook members can RSVP for the protest and find out more about No Games. For regular updates on the fight and all the facts about Chicago's bid, go to the No Games Chicago Web site.

Over the last 20 years, the Olympics have been increasingly associated with the displacement of local residents in host cities. The Chicago 2016 bid committee has been touting the success of the Atlanta games in 1996. However, it continually fails to mention that the Atlanta Olympics displaced 30,000 residents and over 800 units of public housing were demolished.

If Chicago is awarded the 2016 Olympic Games, corruption, cronyism, cost overruns and displacement are guaranteed. The Olympic tab for which taxpayers will be responsible will add up, and the historic and much-cherished public parks where Olympic venues are slated to be located will be closed and demolished.

At the same time, the city of Chicago's financial problems will only get worse. The mayor's office is already predicting that the budget crisis in 2010 will be worse than 2009. Basic services will continue to be cut. City workers will continue to be laid off. Schools will continue to be closed. And the politicians at City Hall will continue to tell the city's residents that we all have to share the burden, like they did this past summer.

The mayor and Chicago 2016 may not yet realize it, but they will be unlocking a hornet's nest of resident discontent.

We know that Mayor Daley and the Chicago 2016 committee are pinning their hopes on your presence in Copenhagen for the final decision on October 2. But we are asking that you reconsider your decision to go.

Stay home and represent the will of Chicagoans who are tired of the corruption that plagues politics in this city, tired of watching their tax dollars funneled elsewhere while their neighborhoods crumble, and tired of being lied to and ignored by elected officials.

The people of Chicago who packed Grant Park on Election Night to listen to your victory speech joined you in hopes of change. Change in Chicago would mean a direct investment in hospitals, housing, schools, trains and other services that would improve the quality of life in our city.

Chicago's Olympic bid isn't a promise of change--it's just more politics as usual.

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