Saturday, 14 July 2012

People-power and the Olympics

Photo by Rubbish Rider

There can have been few bigger lies uttered in recent history than the claim that the 2012 London Olympics would be the "Greenest Olympics ever". For "ever" is a long time, and must include the ancient Olympics, where the athletes wore no clothes, so that sounds pretty green. Even if you go back no further than the last Olympics held in London, the 1948 games at Wembley, you realise that it must have been a lot "greener" then. For nothing at all was built for the 1948 games. The stadium was already there, built for the British Empire Exhibition of 1924–5. There was no athletes' village; the athletes were put up in the homes of local people, as the Brent Magazine (p27) recently recalled. And I bet a heck of a lot more people cycled to Wembley to spectate at that games than will cycle to Stratford for this one.

I notice now a consensus emerging in the printed and on-line media across the political spectrum – an unusual phenomenon – not just the left-wing Twitterati – with articles in places as diverse as the Mail, the Spectator, and Guardian, all tending towards a distaste for what the London Olympics has been allowed to become in so many ways. An event in London where you can't buy chips or British beer. An even into which you are not allowed to bring your sandwiches. An even defended by rocket launchers sited on peoples' homes and unmanned drones flying overhead. Security paranoia, closure of rights of way. An event you can't cycle to. An event that grants a few bigwigs and lackeys and hangers-on exclusive rights to lanes on the road network, to the disadvantage of bus and taxi users and positive endangerment of cyclists. Lockdown London. Privatised London. A takeover by big business interests and the private security industry. All as far as you can possibly get from the supposed Olympic ideals.

Most disturbing of all: the breaches of British traditions of justice and free speech and overturning of basic human rights. The unique rights given to the IOC and sponsors to enforce against unauthorised use of not only symbols but common words in the English language. The fact that it has become illegal for people to put posters up in their own windows criticising the Olympics. (Where is that great defender of our civil liberties David Davis when you need him? Why hasn't he resigned and forced a by-election over this issue I wonder?) It's as if we have suddenly landed in a bizarre big-business ruled Stalinist state, the Olympic rings becoming a symbol of London not winning the Olympics, but sold to the IOC and the sponsors, chained to them, to McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Samsung and the rest. The Censorship Olympics, Corporate Lockdown London, to quote tags coined by writers other than myself.

Did London win the Olympics or the Olympics win London?
It's good to see that some ordinary people are standing up against this undemocratic, militaristic, corporatist machine that has sucked so much enthusiasm away from what could have been a great event for Britain and for London. It's only a small campaign, over an apparently minor issue, a towpath a couple of metres wide running alongside the Olympic Park, but it's worthwhile and it's important.

At the London Assembly debate on cycling on Thursday, on which I have already reported, one lady spoke from the floor about how the closure of the Lea Valley towpath had made the bike journey she used to regularly make with her kids impossible. How could she take them via the only alternative route, through the deadly Bow roundabout that claimed the lives of two cyclists last year? Did the powers who decided this have the slightest idea of how it would affect the lives of her and many other east Londoners? Do they not realise this is like closing the A12 for them? Why do walkers and cyclists have no rights to a safe place? She made a moving speech at the end of which she was almost in tears.

Enough people are angry about the towpath closure, two weeks before the games even begin (and it will still be closed long after they are ended) for there now to be a campaign to Open Our Towpath. Fifty people turned out to the first protest on 8 July, and far more are likely for the next one, which is tomorrow, Sunday 15 July at 11:30, starting from the car park of the Princess of Wales Pub in Lea Bridge Road E5. The message is getting spread widely via a Facebook group, Twitter, and blogs, and some politicians are starting to listen and make sympathetic noises. I don't give much for the chances of success against the insane Olympic security paranoia juggernaut, but I think it's good that people are protesting against it. If you can make it, do go along and add your voice.


  1. I'm not in the right place to write about it, but I feel strongly that people need to be getting a message across about the many injustices of the London Olympics.

    Good luck with the protest tour today.

  2. I'm probably confusing two films, but I think they both starred Sly Stallone, and he was certainly prophetic, in whichever one I mean. "Judge Dread - "I AM the law"" or "Robocop". Police state, summary "justice", "all restaurants are Taco Belle", basically one single monopolistic multinational corporation ruling everything.

    We may not be there quite yet, but we are only two steps away. Is it too late to stop?