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Opposed to Olympics, grassroots groups aim to erect hurdles

Gold-medal horror stories from bygone Olympic games are easy to find: Beijing’s abandoned edifices; Sochi’s slaughter of stray dogs.

But opponents of Boston’s Olympic bid say three weeks of parties and prestige are not worth risking the opportunity to improve the city for the people who will live here long after the five-ring circus leaves town. And as groups aligned against the bid rush to galvanize and grow in the wake of Thursday’s announcement, their organizers say they are more concerned about what won’t happen in the decade before the torch ignites.

“We’re now going to be talking about the Olympics for the next year and a half or two years -- not focused on health care, education and infrastructure,” said Christopher Dempsey, one of co-chairs of No Boston Olympics, a volunteer organization formed to oppose the city’s bid for the 2024 Games.


Other groups opposing the games have formed in recent months. But No Boston Olympics, which Dempsey said has hundreds of volunteers but no full-time employees, has become the most visible face of the pushback against Boston’s games.

“We have day jobs,” said Dempsey, 32, a management consultant and former state assistant secretary of transportation. “When we started it was kind of a twitter account and a website ... This hasn’t been a 24/7 effort, but it may need to be now.”

Dempsey said his time in state government taught him how scarce resources for important public projects can be.

“We were so often forced to make really tough decisions about how to fund projects and which projects to fund,” he said, that he cannot support “putting taxpayer dollars at risk to fund stadiums.”

Friday morning, No Boston Olympics invited supporters to an organizational meeting on January 14. Thousands are on the group’s e-mail list, he said, either because they signed up or because they expressed support in other ways.


Fund-raising is under way, though Dempsey declined to discuss specifics of those efforts.

“It’s mostly grassroots, but supplemented by a few higher dollar donations,” Dempsey said. “We know we’re going to be outspent.”

Co-chair Liam Kerr said their opposition to the Olympic bid took shape during a discussion in Kerr’s living room, when he and Dempsey found that they shared a belief that the Olympics would be a bad investment. A third co-chair, nonprofit lawyer Kelley Gossett, joined later.

“I think all of us are pretty passionate about the future of the city,” said Kerr, who works for an education reform advocacy group. “If you’re flying to Geneva to pitch bureaucrats in other parts of the of the world, then you are not spending time to fix problems here.”

Kerr said the discussion surrounding the Olympics so far has been erroneously focused on the idea that “it’s Olympics or nothing.”

In fact, he said, the question before Bostonians is whether “a generation of philanthropic and political leadership should be focused on the Olympics” instead of on building a better city for those who live here.

In addition to the opportunity cost — the notion that attention and energy expended on the Olympics is necessarily taken from other projects — the more tangible costs have proven considerable in other cities.

Even setting aside the astronomical expense of games in countries whose political systems make comparisons tricky, the price of hosting the Olympics can get out of hand. London’s initial budget of less than $5 billion skyrocketed to nearly $15 billion in costs.


“The boosters are so talented, and care so much about this city,” Kerr said. “We just wish they were pushing for something else.”

Gossett said the process by which the bid got this far motivated her to sign on.

“This really huge entity and enterprise came together and flew through the process without anyone ever getting involved,” Gossett said. “That’s driven me to stay engaged.”

An allied group, NoBoston2024, formed more recently, said one of its organizers, Jonathan Cohn.

About 35 people came to the group’s initial meeting in November, Cohn said. Work has continued since then, and a sub-group is planning to host anti-Olympics activists from other cities.

The lasting effects of the games on other cities — “the issues of displacement and overpolicing that go hand-in-hand with the Olympics,” Cohn said — are the group’s primary focus.

But the notion that diverting attention to the Olympics foregoes work on other projects resonates with Cohn as well.

“I have heard many people argue that the Olympics will be a great opportunity to get more investment in infrastructure and transportation,” Cohn said. “However, the belief that the only way to get infrastructure spending is to dangle an international corporate spectacle in front of politicians’ faces is frankly just sad.”

Galvanizing like-minded opponents into a cohesive resistance movement is the most immediate challenge.

“We hope other people are going to step up now,” said Kerr, who has a three-month old son and a job.


The group is not optimistic about finding a notable champion to carry its torch -- at least not publicly.

“We’re hoping for quiet support,” Dempsey said, such as financial contributions and help with networking.

“I don’t think that we need a figurehead,” said Robin Jacks, who was among the first organizers of Occupy Boston and has been involved with NoBoston2024.

“For one thing, this is not how activism functions nowadays,” Jacks said. “For another, there’s no one person who has stepped up as a leader, and we are too far along in the organizing process for that.”

Kerr said No Boston Olympics has “created something that enables other activists to find each other,” but cannot predict what the opposition will look like in the years ahead.

“We can set a strategy and execute on a strategy, but we’re not an institutional player,” Kerr said. “We’re just private citizens.”

Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.