By Lauren Cameron
There I sat, in the summer of 2008, glued to the TV screen for the last two weeks of the summer.
The nine year old girl who typically couldn’t be pulled out of the ocean was now being begged to turn off the TV. I watched the blue glow of the screen day after day, mesmerized by the whole world coming together to celebrate my second favorite thing after the ocean: sports.
I thought the Olympics were just about the most magnificent event that our world had to offer. And part of me still wishes I could go back to those guarded beliefs and continue to enjoy the games without reservations. I’ve now come to realize that believing the Olympics are the ultimate expression of world unity and peace is about as naive as believing in Santa Claus. That little girl who was once mesmerized by the TV is now a grown college student with a NOlympics sticker on her laptop.
Unwrapping the Olympics was a painful process for me. I wanted to leave on the glittery wrapping paper coated in unity through athleticism, but once I gained the courage to unwrap it, there was no turning back. The Olympics are getting picked up from the backburners once again as Los Angeles has accepted a bid to host the 2028 Summer Olympics.
To put it frankly, Los Angeles is in no place to accept this bid, and the decision to host the Olympics here was made undemocratically by an elite few who will directly reap the games’ benefits. Los Angeles is currently facing the worst affordable housing and homelessness crisis that it has ever encountered, and the Olympics have been proven to exacerbate the already rising rates of homelessness.
In the past six years, homelessness in Los Angeles has surged by 75%. The Olympics are an agent of gentrification, as can be seen through the construction of the new Rams stadium in Inglewood. The Rams stadium will also be used as an Olympic arena, and within the first year of this announcement, median housing prices in Inglewood rose by $50,000. Increased housing costs displaced thousands who could no longer afford their rent, leading to evictions and ultimately, more homelessness. While supporters of the Olympics, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, argue that few new structures are being built for the 2028 Olympics, construction is just a single factor in the gentrification that the Olympics will spark.
The acceptance of an Olympic bid comes with the widespread notion that the city must be “cleaned up” before it can be put under global spotlight. The notion of a social cleansing leads to the displacement of people in poverty, which can be seen in nearly every Olympics in the past, particularly in Rio. A village on the outskirts of Rio, Vila Autródomo, was home to over 600 families before Rio accepted the Olympic bid. By the time the Olympics were over, only 20 of the original families in Vila Autródomo remained, thanks to rising housing costs due to the gentrification of their village. The trendy coffee shops, revitalized apartment buildings, and infrastructure that the Olympics brought with them left thousands of families in Rio on the streets.
“This is not a byproduct of the games, this is the product of the games,” said Christopher Gaffney, an urban geographer researcher. The games took over Rio for one summer: the athletes competed, the photographers snapped, the tourists basked under the tropical sun. And just like that, the games were over, and the rest of the world turned off their TVs and went back to their daily lives. And those displaced by the games remained in limbo, struggling to get back on their feet after the games kicked them out of their very homes.
The Olympics also brings startling increase in policing. In the five years following the 1984 LA Olympics, there was a 33% increase in citizen complaints against police brutality. Los Angeles, which already holds the largest jail system of any county in America, has continued to increase policing measures through major campaigns such as the Safer Cities Initiative (SCI). Since its birth in 2005, the SCI has allocated an additional $6 million each year for policing on Skid Row alone, a 50 block area of downtown Los Angeles that is the homeless capital of America. Even more appalling is the fact that African Americans make up a mere 8% of LA’s population, but are incarcerated at a rate 13 times higher than the white population of our city.
Despite its intentions to “correct the poor,” zero-tolerance policing acts as an aid of gentrification since it moves people from the streets to jail cells for minor offenses. In Los Angeles, where sitting on the sidewalk is an arrestable offense, there is an intense movement for the criminalization of poverty. In anticipation of the global spotlight brought by the Olympics, there is a social push to present the city as an epicenter of economic and social success. This vision insinuates the removal or invisibility of impoverished communities.
The budget for the LA Olympics is currently sitting at $5.3 billion. While this is considered a “bargain” compared to most Olympic games, the money and resources being directed towards these games are desperately needed in the arena of affordable housing and solutions to the rising rates incarceration. With a homeless population hovering at 58,000, Los Angeles has an exceptional need for funding allocated towards this crisis.
When it comes to the Olympics, ignorance is bliss. It can become almost too easy to enjoy the sports on TV, blind to the destructive impact they bring to the host city. More frightening to me though is how easy it is to continue to support the Olympics when aware of their catastrophic effects. Organizations such as NOlympics LA are fighting everyday to stop the Olympics from coming to Los Angeles, and providing a voice for the communities that would be most profoundly affected.
At the moment, a harmless Olympics in the near future seems entirely unfeasible. Someday, if host cities find a way to prevent the games from acting as a catalyst for widespread gentrification, I will once again be that wide-eyed little girl glued to the TV screen, watching the games without any reservations. Until then, I will continue to raise my voice for the communities facing imminent displacement and erasure, confident in my belief that two weeks of athletic entertainment will never be worth the cost of leaving thousands of families without a home.