Countering the Olympics: Reflections from Saturday’s meeting.

One of the winner’s from the Anti-Olympics Poster Competition

Preamble: Before I begin, I’ve written quite a lot about the use of citizen media as a activism tool around the Games – and published a paper on alternatives (including critiques of those alternatives) to the mainstream media for the International Olympic Academy – this is essence of my PhD thesis, that I’m hoping to ‘give back’ to those communities that I’ve taken from over the past 2.5 years through active participation towards facilitating an ‘recognised’ national citizen media network during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. My role as an early-career academic who needs to complete such a project in line with the current rhetoric of higher education and research is in tension between my role as somebody who who has personally become quite outspoken and publically critical of the Olympic movement in a personal capacity. How these roles fit together, I don’t know, but I feel that it is worth declaring agendas before I offer suggestions for potential mobilisation is important for me and allows for others to decide on my position. Regardless, if I say I love or hate the Olympic Games, I can’t help but feel as if I am somewhat moving into a space where I know too much about it to ignore it in an objective, non-political way that some instances of PhD research encourages.

With 6 months to go until the London 2012 Olympic Games begin, Saturday spelled a crucial stage in organising a coherent resistance towards the forthcoming Olympiad. With over 100 people present, ranging from local communities who have been devastated by the impact of the Games on their doorstep over the last 6.5 years to professional NGOs who’s stance is not to be ‘anti-olympic’ but instead using the media awareness and role of the corporate sponsors to draw attention to wider issues at stake. For some, this was the first time that they had met others who were critiquing the games as well. For me, it was a case of putting names to faces of those who I have been following on twitter, or engaging with via email or networked sites. It was clear to me, that through the presentation of ideas and themes, as well as individual campaigns directly or indirectly associated with the Olympic industry, that this was a useful and targeted space to understand what has been done already and what still needs to be achieved in the next 200 days.

Having spent time in Vancouver in 2010, this meeting brought back a lot of memories. Albeit, I wasn’t there in the planning stages – when those who put together the plans for alternative and independent media spaces originally had the idea to work in the realms of citizen journalism to cover alternative narratives of the games. However, it can be tracked in some cases through documentaries such as With Glowing Hearts, blog posts and youtube videos on the run up to 2010. Vancouver was the first Olympic Games to have pre-arranged independent media space(s) ahead of the games beginning – and was situated right in the blip where the IOC weren’t au fait with the notion of widely adopted social media platforms such as twitter and facebook, because up until that point, they felt as if they possessed the control to internet monitor and squash any radical intervention at play. The official twwitter facebook and flickr page was set up DURING the Vancouver Games – now you couldn’t imagine a brand such as the 5 rings ever not having a social media presence.

With 2012, the IOC and LOCOG are all over it. There has been heavy investment to make sure that they at least try to ‘get’ social media, which is evident with their social media for games maker policy (lulz.) But, seriously, the online media will play a big part in the narrative of the games – especially when you have accredited media such as the BBC encouraging recruitment for their own ‘community reporter‘ programs, corporate sponsors such as BT supporting their own team of ‘storytellers‘ and many cultural olympiad programs (including partly #media2012 the project I’m coordinating, in a way) rolling with the citizen journalism angle. There is a reason why citizen media will be ‘sexy’ during the Olympics, as we’ve now reached the point where the act of using social media is far from radical, can be coerced back into the system and radical media alternatives will remain radical and therefore unattractive to the mainstream media.

Kevin Blowe’s account of this weekend hit this concern and theme right on the head, and emphasises the importance of working with and as media in order to try and not only to use the Olympics as a tool to raise awareness of causes, but also to prevent and fight for causes and against the effects of the Olympic shock doctrine on how it transforms bylaws, public space and the rhetoric and acceptance of private security which coming thick and fast in the aftermath of the shock eviction of critical spaces such as the Bank of Ideas early this morning.

So what do we do?

Well, in my capacity of #media2012 coordinator, I know that we are working hard to find and secure a physical space to host an independent media centre during the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games. It will probably be in partnership with somebody else already doing something in this area – as it will take more than providing a space to get it up and running. We are trying to do this across the country, across the ‘official’ 13 olympic region (according to LOCOG) such as in spaces like Weymouth which is a venue city and suffering from the same privatisation as London – but also in arts and cultural spaces who tend to be a good space to provide facilities such as power, computer access and food/drink. I would hope that such spaces could provide a facility to cover, report and engage with activists and ‘mainstream media’ a like.

I’m also aware that there are other politics involved, it is partly an academic project (hence my involvement), some spaces are funded directly by cultural olympiad, the arts council, legacy trusts, NGOs etc. This will not be ideal for some, many, but I’m all for the principle of in, against and beyond and ensuring that as many voices are heard, not sanitized, accepted approaches. In my personal capacity, I want to help and actively seek out a space where these stories of resistance have a chance to be heard by others, that we can help other cities who might be in discussion about hosting the games to reject them, or to pass on the legacy of protest to the next Olympic site – or even other mega event sites such as the Commonwealth Games, happening back home for me.

This is going to be an ongoing discussion for me – but if you are interested in a critique of the Olympic Games and not aware of sites such as GamesMonitor, then that is the first place I would recommend as not only a resource but a place to contribute and add to as a ongoing documentation of the next 6 months and beyond.

Importantly, we should be capturing as much of these conversations as we can. Below is a playlist of videos that I recorded during Saturday’s event (apology for the bad sound, mobile phone quality) and follow this link for a