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What Happened in Copenhagen (When We Went to Influence the IOC -- Again)

Tom Tresser - (Tom is an educator, organizer and consultant in Chicago's creative community.)

[ Note -- I was one of the three No Games Chicago delegates who travelled to Copenhagen last week to deliver materials and messages to the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)]

We left Chicago late Monday night, Sept. 28. All that day the news was all about how President Obama was going to Copenhagen Friday morning to address the IOC as part of the Chicago 2016 presentation. We were surprised and disappointed. Just a few days earlier, the President had announced that he was not going and was sending his wife instead. We were determined to do our best to carry the message of “no games” to the IOC despite the overwhelming odds against us.

At the airport we ran into reporters from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. We spoke on the record about what we were hoping to accomplish. This was carried in the next morning’s editions. That was, I believe, the only print coverage of No Games Chicago’s trips to Switzerland and Denmark in our two major dailies. No one from either paper interviewed us in Lausanne or Copenhagen to ask us why we were doing what we were doing, who we were, how hard it was for us to do what we were doing -- or anything of depth. After the decision was announced later that week we were asked for comments.

[I’m writing this on Oct. 9 and the only in-depth interview in either daily appeared in the Sun-Times on Oct. 7 -- after we had returned -- and was by sports columnist Rick Telander].

We arrived in Copenhagen on Sept. 29. The three delegates were Martin Macias Jr., Rhoda Whitehorse and Tom Tresser. This was the same team that had traveled to Lausanne, Switzerland, in June. Our goal for this trip, nicknamed “Operation Mermaid” by the circumspect No Games Chicago leadership, was the same as our June “Operation Cheese” to Lausanne -- to directly influence the members of the IOC and convince them that Chicago was not the appropriate site for the 2016 Olympics.

We stayed at the Hotel 27 in the old part of town and near the plaza where the host city announcement celebration would take place Friday evening. The guys filled up one room and Rhoda took another. Our room quickly became a clutter of papers, press releases, supplies, signs, computers, gear and clothes. We were able to set up shop in the hotel’s lounge area because of free wireless service. The routine for the next five days became established -- talking to the media, answering emails, Skyping to the Chicago team, visiting IOC-related sites and staying up till 4 a.m. or later updating the web site, answering more emails and coordinating with Chicago (seven hours behind local time).

At about 4 p.m., I sent out a press release announcing our presence. I also sent an email just to the IOC members announcing our presence and saying that we were available and eager to meet with them. We had secured two local phone numbers and included these numbers in our media materials and business cards.

In Chicago at the same time, No Games was launching a protest rally in front of City Hall. Our delegation would be announced at the rally. That afternoon a blizzard of media requests hit the Chicago team of No Games Chicago co-founder Bob Quellos and organizers Francesca Rodriguez, Rachel Goodstein and Lawndale colleague Valerie Leonard. Several stations wanted a prolonged No Games presence in their studios on Decision Day, Oct. 2. The Chicago team fielded over 30 media requests and appearances in 48 hours.

In Denmark during the first day, I spoke to WBEZ, WVON, WTTW, WLS, NBC Chicago, the AP, the Washington Post, a Swedish news magazine and French television. Dizzying. But this has become No Games Chicago’s main tactic of influencing the game -- by getting our position out to the public (and to the IOC). No Games Chicago had become the go-to source for creditable and organized opposition to the bid.

This is one of the most sobering aspects of the entire 2016 project. A few weeks before this I was being interviewed by a reporter for a local Chicago news program, I asked the reporter if there was anyone else to go to for criticisms or refutations of 2016 spin, or reactions to the total lack of oversight for taxpayer’s interests. “Is it just us?” I asked. The reporter thought for a moment and said “Yep, just you.” “Isn’t that sad?” I said. “I mean, No Games has become a reliable source but why aren’t there any other groups willing to speak on the record on this?” “Because they’ve all been intimidated.” “So why don’t you do a story on that?” I asked. The reporter made a face -- as if just stepping in something unpleasant -- “Oh, well, I guess you want to keep your job.” I joked (no, really).

This seems to me to be the most under-reported and most corrosive aspect of the 2016 saga. Namely, the complete emasculation of Chicago’s entire civic and academic infrastructure around compliance with 2016 dogma. No arms-length critical studies were done by any good government group. No cautions from groups who are supposed to be protecting the common good, protecting our parks, protecting the taxpayers. No calls to action from grassroots groups who usually can be counted on to defend neighborhoods against exploitation or neglectful politicians. Aside from one report from DePaul’s Egan Center, which raised a number of important questions, there was no arms-length review or study of the project or scan of the vast Olympic research done by the groups who have staff and who should’ve been critical of the bid from the get go.

Our goal in coming to Copenhagen was to influence the outcome of an election. The election would take place under tight security at the Bella Center on Friday early afternoon on Oct. 2. The voters would be assembling from the far reaches of the globe. The composition of this tiny electorate is highly unusual.

VOTING MEMBER HONORARY MEMBER

Kings 0 1
Princes & Princesses 12 2
Titled persons 2 1
Generals 3 1

There were 97 votes up for grabs in the first round, but seven members were excluded from voting because they represent candidate cities and the president, Jacques Rogge, would not be voting. So 18% of the voters who will be deciding the fate of our city were nobility or generals. Great!

No Games Chicago had already been to the IOC’s world headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, in June. At that time we delivered 100 copies of the No Games Chicago “Book of Evidence” (which you can download from our web site as a PDF) -- 160 pages of reprints from local papers over the past four years documenting our claims that Chicago is broke, corrupt, incompetent, crumbling, has an out-dated mass transit system and citizens who oppose the bid. This time we were bringing a cover letter plus article from the papers which added to and reinforced our message. We brought along the results of the Chicago Tribune poll published on September 3 showing that 84% of the people don’t want to pay for the games. We also gave IOC members a copy of a Chicago Tribune article from Feb. 15 -- "State of Corruption - A history of insatiable greed.” You can download these materials from our web site.

When we got up on Wednesday we heard that the rally in Chicago had gone extremely well with over 250 attending. The coverage was fair and showed a diverse crowd moving in a circle in front of City Hall. The CBS coverage actually included a profile of No Games and interviews with Francesca and Bob -- the first time any local reporter had actually spent time describing the organization and its organizers.

On Wednesday we visited some of the hotels where IOC members, staff, Chicago media and other city delegations were staying. Chicago media, IOC staff and the 2016 delegation were at the Island Hotel. We went there and were stopped by hotel security along with a private guard from Monterrey Security. This firm was hired by Chicago 2016 for security when the IOC Evaluation Commission visited Chicago in April and their agents were flown to Copenhagen. This is the same firm that has been accused of harassing and intimidating Latino fans at Chicago Fire soccer matches

We told the manager that we have information for the press. The manager said that the information was not approved by one of their guests and was not in that guest’s best interests and so we had to leave. We were escorted out the door and to cab stand (the hotel was about 15 minutes ride from our hotel) and the Monterrey guard stood a few feet away from us to make sure we got in the cab and left.

We then went to the Marriott Hotel where the IOC had staff and communications crew and where Michelle Obama was staying. This place was surrounded by Danish army and you could not drive up to the front door. A special enclosed walkway had been constructed from the side and it contained scanning and x-ray equipment. No one without a credential was going to get into the lobby, let alone deliver materials to IOC staff.

Martin and I then dropped Rhoda off at our hotel and we went on to the Admiral Hotel where Mayor Daley, Oprah and Michelle Obama were throwing a lavish dinner. There the security for the dining area was airtight but the bar was open and we walked in and distributed press materials to reporters who had covered the arrival of the stars earlier. We ran into Kathy Bergen from the Chicago Tribune, did a video interview with Jeff Goldblatt of FOX News Chicago and found Ben Bradley of ABC News Chicago having a burger. We sat and chatted with Ben for a while. He wasn’t too interested, frankly, in us or our message but told us to contact him if we did anything in the next day or two.

On the way out we had one of the most jarring conversations of the whole trip. A man and a woman were heading out the door and, as they both had press credentials, we offered them our press release plus the color post card. The man took it and said “If they see me talking to you. I’m dead.” The woman had a British accent and refused to take any of our materials. “I think what you’re doing is wholly inappropriate,” she said. “There’s a time and place for protest. The time for you to make your statement was before Chicago became a finalist. This is disruptive. This is inappropriate.” But, I asked, isn’t London’s 2012 games $9 billion over budget? Yes, she replied, but our being in Copenhagen was still not proper and she tugged on the man’s sleeve to move toward the exit. But the man -- we think he works for NBC -- was curious and asked a few questions. She said “I’m leaving” and succeeded in urging the man out of the hotel. Wow! Talk about the local media being cheerleaders, apologists and shills for the mayor and the 2016 bid -- this was a reporter from another country who didn’t want to talk to us or pass on our story to her readers.

On Thursday we were visited at our hotel by the four person delegation from No Games Tokyo. All in their early 50’s, two men and two women, the delegation brought along a copy of their own “anti-bid” book. One woman is a member of the Tokyo Assembly (like our City Council) and is alone among local politicians opposing the games. One was a man who owns a small business and he gave us a gift of a bag of his confectionary product, wasabi-covered pistachios! The other man is a father and activist who worked against the Nagano Winter Olympics of 1998.

We shared stories and tactics and decided to do our own work separately. They had brought along fliers and a banner and were heading for the public plaza where live music is playing and where the winning city would be announced on Friday evening. Follow this link to watch a short video of our meeting.

The news over the past two days has been full of reports of Michelle Obama having lunch with the Queen, with Oprah coming and going and with the details of the impending visit of the president. We weren’t the only delegation with celebrities in town. Brazil sent along soccer (or, should I say, football) superstar Pele who created a festival-like sensation wherever he went.

I emailed Mark Adams, the Director of Communications for the IOC, and requested a time to meet him. We wanted to give him our materials for the IOC and avoid the legions of security. We also wanted to request a meeting with the IOC President, Jacques Rogge and time to address the full IOC after the four cities made their final presentations. He replied on Wednesday that no meeting would be possible.

I the emailed a number of IOC members who had consistently opened our daily IOC email newsletters over the past two months and asked them to intercede on our behalf. No replies. We would have to find another way to deliver our materials.

On Thursday afternoon we went over to the Marriott Hotel in a taxi. I had all the No Games materials for the IOC members in banker’s boxes with the No Games logo on the sides. This visual had proved amazingly effective in Switzerland. But as we got near the hotel we saw that the security had increased. Rhoda urged me to shed all No Games buttons and logos and just walk in with the papers.

So Martin and I left the No Games branded boxes in the cab, took off our buttons and approached the bright red suited doorman in front of the hotel -- flanked by two flak-jacketed members of the Danish army. “We’ve got materials for some of your guests. Will you walk us to the front desk?” He obliged and took us in past all the security to the front desk. I explained to the manager that we were from Chicago and had important documents for the IOC. The manager summoned a woman from the IOC. Martin was standing next to me with a camera to document the hand off of the letters and support materials. The woman told us that nothing could be left for any guest at the hotel unless it was cleared by the IOC Ethics Commission.

“These are not gold watches.” I said, “but important information for the IOC members and they are to be given to Mark Adams, the Director of Communication for the IOC. It’s his job and responsibility to receive these documents and deliver them to IOC members before they vote.” Another woman approached us and told us that she would take the materials for Mark. “What’s your name?” I asked. She would not reply. “Take her picture, Martin.” She turned away and made a call on her cell. Then the IOC person who wouldn’t tell us her name returned. “I’ve just spoken to Mark Adams and I’m instructed to take your materials to him.” I looked at her credential to make sure she worked for the IOC. Anna Zampieri is the Director of Events for the IOC and formally worked for the Turin Olympic Organizing Committee. She refused to let Martin take her picture, “I’m not your friend. You may not take my picture.” Martin got a shot of her back, though. With the hand off of the documents from No Games Chicago to Zampieri to Adams to the IOC, our mission to Copenhagen was accomplished.

We had penetrated the multiple rings of security, bypassed the private Monterrey rent-a-cops, outfaced the bureaucracy of the International Olympic Committee and stood our ground to deliver information that the mayor, Pat Ryan, the 2016 Committee, the entire business elite of Chicago and most of the media in Chicago didn’t want to see and didn’t want to acknowledge.

From there we took the waiting cab back to the city plaza. Across the street a media lounge had been established for members of the press. We went there and befriended the guard who told us that the press would be returning after covering the gala at the opera house. Buses full of media folk would be pulling up in front of the lounge space at about 7:30 p.m. We returned at about 7:15 p.m and the friendly guard had no new information. Martin and Rhoda went across the street where live music was playing in the plaza. I sat at a table at an outdoor café next to the media lounge. A few minutes later the young guard came out onto to the street to tell me that the buses would be here in five minutes. I frantically called our team members and hoped that they would hear the cell ring over the noise of the music.

I had brought with me press releases, the color post cards and a large sign that said “Chicago: 85% say NO!” Just before the first bus pulled up, the team members came back and we positioned ourselves on either side of the door to the lounge space. Two buses unloaded journalists and we gave out dozens of press releases. We even did an impromptu TV interview with a Brazilian crew. After we were done we asked the manager of the lounge if we could go in and have something to eat. “OK, but please don’t bother the journalists.” We agreed and left our materials at the security desk. Inside there were complimentary beer, cocktails, Danish hotdogs, sandwiches, fruit and chocolate. A large monitor was showing the performances on stage at the opera house. We sat and relaxed and caught our breath.

What a day!

I stayed up till about 6 a.m. answering emails, doing radio interviews using Skype and checking in with the Chicago team. Bob and Francesca had been going nonstop for more than a day since the rally and were doing media appearances non-stop. Their media schedule for Friday was booked solid for both, starting at 5 a.m. and going all day. Several other team members were called in to speak to the media. Friday would be Decision Day. All we had worked for the past year would now come to a conclusion.

Friday was cold, dreary and light rain was falling on the old city of Copenhagen. The early news showed Air Force One landing and disgorging dozens of military personnel, staff and media. A 20 car caravan then snaked slowly through the old streets taking the President to the Bella Center.

I was going to get up at 7:00 a.m. and go the U.S. embassy with a letter to the president. But I was feeling depressed, depleted and unhealthy after days of little sleep and high anxiety. What’s the point of taxiing out to the embassy and giving some functionary a letter that would never be delivered to the president while he was about to make his pitch to the IOC? So I had some breakfast and chatted with the team members. They decided to scope out the plaza and the media lounge. After all, it was a pre-ordained fact that the contest was between Rio and Chicago, and the winner would not be announced until about 6:00 p.m. local time. We wanted to position ourselves in the plaza with signs so as to be visible to media for comments, whichever way the decision would turn out.

I watched the Chicago presentation on the television in my room. Just as President Obama started to speak I got a call from Australian radio for a live interview and held the phone up to the set so the interviewer and her listeners could catch some of the president’s remarks. Martin filmed the speech using a hand-held video camera. After the interview was over I took notes on the president’s remarks and when the president was done Martin kept the camera running and I did a live response. This was put online but never promoted.

At the time, I was angered and surprised by both the first lady’s and the president’s remarks. As brilliant as they are, as charismatic and persuasive as they have been, both speeches struck me as pat and delivered without authenticity, as if they were stump speeches delivered in a primary state for the 50th time that week.

I watched the presentation of Rio but missed Tokyo’s and actually dozed off during Madrid’s presentation. It had been a very long week. After all the presentations were concluded the IOC took a break.

When they returned to commence the actual voting at around 5:00 p.m. local time I was wide awake. The team was on their way back to the hotel. No hurry, right -- Chicago was a lock for the finalist spot -- at least that was what Chicago’s media was trumpeting back home.

The electronic voting procedure was explained in dry detail by Director General Lacotte. The names of the IOC members who could not vote in the first round were announced. The voting was declared open. After a few tense minutes the voting was declared closed. The fixed position camera showed the panel of “scrutineers” tabulating the results in silence. The chairman of the ballot counters took a paper and walked it to President Rogge who announced in a somber voice, “…Valid ballots 94. The city of Chicago having obtained the least number of votes will not participate in the next round.”

What the #@$%?! That’s it? It’s over? No second round or final round of voting for Chicago? The phone had rung a few minutes before and Martin said they were in the elevator on the way up. I rushed out of the room, ran down the hall and got to the elevator just as it opened and our team members emerged. “It’s over! It’s over! We’re out!” There were gasps. There were shouts. There were hugs and there were tears.

Was it possible that No Games Chicago had helped derail the 2016 Olympic bid of the city of Chicago, even in the slightest way? Had we just coasted on the already building resentment from the parking meter debacle and the mayor's flip-flop on signing the blank check? There were certainly many, many people opposed to the bid but had we given them a place to park their energies and focus the city's collective attention? Had we taken on the most powerful people in our city, state and nation -- and won?

Questions for historians and political scientists - for now, the reality was setting in. There would be, indeed, no games in Chicago.

We were excited, overcome with emotion, jubilant that our cause was justified, and at the same time sad that our city had spent so much time and treasure and invested so much emotion on a wrong-headed project. The team decided to head over to the plaza to hear the announcement of the winning city.

But first I had to update our web site. I had to turn on one of two posts that were in “draft’ mode in the administrative control for the site. One was headlined “Chicago Awarded the 2016 Olympics -- What Now?” and asked people to take a brief survey to tell us what should be done to stop the games from coming to Chicago. The second draft was headlined “Chicago NOT Awarded the 2016 Olympics – What Now?” and asked people to take a brief survey to tell us what, if anything, No Games Chicago should do now and what ideas they have for moving the city forward. You can take this poll now

I clicked the “Publish” button and the second draft went live.

As we stood the plaza with thousands of people waiting for the announcement our phones starting ringing with requests for comments from newspapers and other media outlets. I don’t recall being contacted by the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times.

On the stage were dozens of children and dancers in national garb from the four candidate cities. Two giant video screens flanked the stage and broadcast the final ceremony from the Bella Center. The IOC anthem was played and all who were seated stood (yes, there is a “national” anthem for a private organization). Then at about 6:50 p.m. local time, President Rogge opened the over-size envelope with the Olympic rings and pulled out the card with the name of the winning city. “Rio de Janeiro” he announced. The crowd went wild.

We went over to the media lounge where we met the four delegates from No Games Tokyo. They were also pleased with the results of the voting. We went into the lounge where a jazz band started to play. Almost immediately the news reports started spinning Chicago’s stunning defeat. What happened? What went so terribly wrong?

The Chicago No Games crew and the Tokyo No Games team were joined by a scholar who had flown in from England to be with us. He specializes in the Olympics, international sports and political movements. We watched local and international coverage of the stunning events of the day on large monitors in the lounge as the jazz band played. We will be discussing and analyzing what happened in Copenhagen for years to come.

After dinner I went back to the hotel, set up my portable office in the lounge and made calls and answered emails until 7:00 a.m. Almost at once the messages poured into our general email address and on our web site. The first one came in at 10:33AM Chicago time:

“YOU GUYS ROCK!!!!!! NO CHICAGO OLYMPICS!!! Seriously, man, much love to you guys and all your hard work from us here in South Chicago. We know you guys had an influence and we applaud you for having the courage to stand up!”

What part did No Games Chicago ultimately play in the 2016 Olympic pageant?

One highly placed source in the proceedings -- someone who had worked for the IOC for 20 years in a very senior position -- told me two things. “When the public support for a bid drops below 50% you’re cooked,” he told me. “Your finances were not believable. They didn’t make sense to the members.”

We can’t take any credit for the lack of credibility of the patchwork of private funding assurances and financial guarantees and insurance policies the 2016 folks cobbled together. But we can take some credit for the lack of public support.

No Games Chicago was the only source of information to counter the public relations spin from the mayor, the 2016 Committee and the fawning Chicago media. We published and updated a Web site loaded with information on the bid and the impact on host cities. We went to over 50 community meetings and public forums. We staged two public protests that drew hundreds of people. We maintained communications networks using blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We became the only source for the media to go to for comments and rebuttal to the avalanche of publicity, mayoral pronouncements, scandals, conflicts of interest and aldermanic dereliction of duty. No one would speak on the record to oppose the bid. And we found the more people learned about the bud, the less they supported it. The mayor helped us here with his 180 degree reversal in June with his intention to sign the “blank check.” His credibility is at an all-time low; and as his declined, ours rose.

And the only way the IOC knew of the declining state of the 2016 bid in Chicago is because No Games told them. We took that message to Lausanne, Switzerland and hit it home in our daily email newsletters. We included this key fact in two hard copy mailings to IOC members. We highlighted it again in the materials we brought to Copenhagen. We stressed the lack of support for the bid by the citizens of Chicago in every media appearance or interview. So, if low public support cooked the bid, it is fair to day that No Games Chicago was one of the chefs.

So one frenzied chapter of Chicago politics closes. What happens now? In the days after we returned to Chicago the feckless city council awarded $35.4 million to United Airlines to move to the Sears Tower (I refuse to use its new name, as the city awarded almost $4 million in taxpayer funds to the billion dollar insurance conglomerate after they bought the building) and this is on top of $15.4 million already given to United for this purpose.

And then the mayor appointed a former alderman’s driver to replace him in City Council. What new concrete and contract laden project waits in the wings for the City Council to rubber stamp? What new scandal will erupt embarrassing the city far more than an ill-conceived Olympic pipe dream? What new public official will be caught breaking the law, lining his (or her) pockets and selling out the public interest? What new hare-brained, insider-driven project of the mayor will the media cheer-lead for and refuse to cover critically? What new issue will emerge demanding a grass roots effort like No Games Chicago to tackle because no one else will dare to speak out?

I fear we won’t have to wait very long to find out.

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