Different Strategies, Same Goal: How Boston’s Olympic Opponents Work Together

Activists rallied outside a forum on the Olympics in December.
Activists rallied outside a forum on the Olympics in December. –The Boston Globe

As the city’s debate about hosting the 2024 Olympics hit a fever pitch, the nonprofit No Boston Olympics forced its way toward center stage. But it’s not the only organized effort opposed to Boston’s bid.

“Personally, I couldn’t sit down at a table with those people [at Olympic organizing committee Boston 2024],’’ said Robin Jacks, one of the people behind No Boston 2024. “I’d get too angry.’’

No Boston 2024 has a similar name to No Boston Olympics, and the two groups work together. But they are separate. While No Boston Olympics got together in late 2013, Jacks helped organize No Boston 2024 late last fall, days before the bid was submitted to the United States Olympic Committee. Her big complaint at the time was that Franklin Park—for Jacks, a Jamaica Plain resident, it is a part of her neighborhood—would be included in Boston 2024’s Olympic plans.


“I didn’t want to learn that in a newspaper,’’ she said.

Today, No Boston 2024’s sympathizers come from across the city and its issues with the Olympic bid have grown. The sudden discovery that a neighborhood park was put up for grabs was emblematic of its broader issue: that the bidding process did not involve the public. They aren’t pleased that Boston 2024 submitted the bid without first gauging the public’s support in advance of bidding to the USOC, and have taken issue with several elements of the plan since it was submitted—ranging from potential costs to security plans to housing and displacement issues. And they don’t think there’s anything that can be done to change their minds.

“It’s too late. They waited too long,’’ Jacks said. “They submitted a bid without our consent. It makes [Boston 2024] inherently untrustworthy.’’

Unlike No Boston Olympics, No Boston 2024 is not a registered nonprofit. In fact, it’s less a group and more a slogan (or a hashtag—they’re very active on social media) for a number of veteran activists who have coalesced around the issue.

Jules Boykoff, a professor at Pacific University who has studied activism and the Olympics, said these sorts of efforts tend to pull together groups with an array of interests and, in some cases, politics. In Vancouver, he said, groups opposed to holding the 2010 Winter Games ranged from civil liberty lawyers to anarchists to environmental activists.


Boykoff said it’s not uncommon to see a dichotomy in anti-Olympics efforts. First, there’s a contingent that is comprised of politically experienced operators, such as No Boston Olympics co-chairs Chris Dempsey, Kelley Gossett, and Liam Kerr. These kinds of efforts are supplemented by other interest groups which he described as “more grassroots’’ like No Boston 2024—the types of people you see mobilizing for other activist efforts, and who are more likely to be seen rallying in the streets rather than meeting with their opposition for a beer, as No Boston Olympics has done.

Jacks said No Boston 2024 “really likes’’ the No Boston Olympics folks and hopes to challenge them to a softball game over the summer. The two groups consider themselves allied, and Dempsey attended No Boston 2024’s November organizing meeting. But, she said: “We don’t work with them in any sort of way. We chat with them from time to time.’’

Jacks, who helped organize the Occupy Boston protests, said No Boston Olympics has a different skill set from her group. “We can go up and agitate and say all the reasons this is a bad idea,’’ she said. “But No Boston Olympics will be asked to speak to the City Council. They have stats, they have charts.’’

She said this has given No Boston Olympics something of an educating role for others who are opposed to the bid. “They’re really, really knowledgable about the topic in a way Boston activists don’t always have access to,’’ she said.


Boykoff said there is a term in activist studies for this kind of dynamic. No Boston 2024, he said, could be considered a “radical flank’’ for No Boston Olympics. “If you have activism in the streets,’’ he said, “it makes the people who negotiate in the corridors of power look more reasonable.’’

Jacks doesn’t quite see it that way. “There’s this thought that they’re really well dressed and that they’re too establishment for us,’’ she said. “I don’t think that’s really true. We’re just different groups with different ways of getting to a goal.’’

No Boston Olympics agreed. Dempsey said No Boston 2024 has different areas of expertise, not just in terms of activism tactics but also in terms of its criticisms. His group has spent most of its energy criticizing the Olympics on economic or financial lines. “Some of the core issues around the Olympics, they are far more eloquent than we are,’’ Dempsey said. “Things like displacement, things like equality, things like fairness—[No Boston 2024 is] better, I think,’’ he said.

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