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Get ready for Olympic-sized protests

Stuck in traffic on I-93 yesterday? Even a handful of protesters, it turns out, can make a big splash.

Now, is Boston ready for protests against the Olympics?

They’re coming, so get ready. That idea about what would happen if Boston won the US bid for the 2024 games — that once we got the nod, the juggernaut would be unstoppable — seems to be coming true. Leaders of Boston 2024, the private group that is assembling the bid, have indicated that, while they’re open to input about venues and details, they won’t withdraw because of anyone’s objections.

Which leaves some anti-Olympic activists with a different goal: To convince the International Olympic Committee, a group of 100-some Swiss-based dignitaries who get to choose the host city, that Boston isn’t for them.


And maybe not always through gentle persuasion.

“My goal is to make us as unfriendly and unpalatable to the IOC as possible,” said Robin Jacks, a leader of the group No Boston 2024. “I hate to do that; I’m a really friendly person. I like to meet new people. I genuinely like people. But I want the IOC to be like, ‘I hate those people.’ ”

No Boston 2024 is one of two separate groups that has organized to oppose the games. The first to emerge, No Boston Olympics, is led by a small group of politically-savvy players; co-chair Chris Dempsey used to run the MBTA’s open data initiative. That group has marshaled economists to wage an intellectual fight, on the ground that the Olympics are bad public policy. They’re working to lobby elected officials. They’ve gotten overtures from the Boston delegation.

And at an organizing meeting this week, they encouraged respectful visibility, and a positive spirit: Wear you Red Sox cap or your USA shirt while you’re holding up your “No Olympics” sign.

No Boston 2024 might have, um, a different approach. The group came together late last fall in response to a Jamaica Plain Gazette article about how Franklin Park might be used for horse dressage events. Some of them stood outside a Globe Opinion forum about the Olympics that I co-moderated last month, chanting, “Who gets the gold? CEOs.”


They have some overlap with the Occupy Boston movement. And they’re thematically aligned with the Black Lives Matter protesters who pulled those concrete barrels onto I-93. In a Twitter message on Thursday, Jacks told me: “I’d say displacement and oppression of marginalized communities is our #1 concern regarding the Olympics.’’

So, yeah, those protests are coming. The question is: What will civil leaders and Olympic organizers do about them?

Every Olympics sees its share of protests. (In Sydney in 2000, one group called itself People Ingeniously Subverting the Sydney Olympic Farce, which lends itself to a lovely acronym.) And it’s wise to be wary of overreach when it comes to controlling dissent. Bettina Scholz, a political science professor at Stonehill College who has studied the Olympic movement, said that in the run-up to the Sydney games, new legislation dictated how Olympics buildings would be built, limiting how close protesters could get.

That pleased the IOC, which always wants to keep protests as far as possible from the games, Scholz said. But once the Olympics moved out of town, the architecture remained, perhaps to the city’s detriment.

Before the London games in 2012, meanwhile, some worried that laws passed to limit the “overcommercialization” of the games were so broad that they could be used to suppress protests and free speech, limiting what people could put on anti-Olympic placards, even giving police the chance to search people’s homes.


So as the Olympics barrel forward — whether you hate the idea or love it — the protesters deserve appreciation. Dissenters who have the Legislature’s ear could become a good safeguard against ill-conceived laws and outlays, passed in Olympic zeal.

And we shouldn’t discount the value of street-level demonstrations, made up of people who are deeply engaged in civic life. Boston’s history is part of its appeal. Protests are one of our birthrights.

“I’m proud to be a Bostonian now, ”Jacks told me. If I were on the IOC, I might even think her movement was a selling point.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaWeiss.