Albion Monitor /Commentary

Corporate Olympics Gold

by John Catalinotto

The world's biggest corporations are making sure they're seen -- and the homeless aren't

For the world's giant corporations and Atlanta's big investors, the 2 million visitors coming to watch the 1996 Summer Olympics mean big bucks. For Atlanta's inner-city residents and homeless, it means police sweeps -- one on July 11 around Atlanta University Center resulted in 36 arrests -- and bus tickets to get out of town.

With the world's eyes on Atlanta, it's no surprise that some of the world's biggest corporations are making sure they're seen -- and the homeless aren't. Near downtown the city built a new Olympic Park where the sponsoring companies have put up elaborate tents for commercial pavilions.

In the center of the park is a large statue with the Olympic torch at the top -- and under it in a ring, in bold red and black, is a Coca Cola sign.

And Coke's not alone; no occasion is too solemn for selling TV commercial time. Each of the ubiquitous ringed Olympic symbols or torches carries the name of a corporate sponsor.

The New York Times said the Atlanta games are "the brassiest commercialism ever" in Olympics history. That didn't stop the Times from getting its own corporate name on one of those signs.

Pillaging the Black Community

Worse than this tackiness is the pillage of the Black community. Thousands of the most impoverished Atlantans have been pushed out of their homes -- losing them to the stadiums, Olympic villages and parking lots that have replaced low- cost housing.

With about $2 billion in contracts and $5.1 billion expected to be spent in Georgia because of the games, the ruling class insisted on control. By 1989 the state and city governments had created a super-governmental body with power to condemn land, sell bonds, borrow and lend money, create its own police force, and contract for work.

This body delegated most of the power to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games -- a private, non-profit corporation of unelected promoters that consults only with the heads of Coca Cola, the banks and the local ruling class. Its chief executive is real-estate operator Billy Payne, who presides over close to $2 billion in expenditures.

ACOG used a $5-per-hour "labor pool" for most of the work. Only 27 percent of all people hired were union labor. This work force has planted trees, bushes and grass, built, painted and repaired buildings, dug up parks, and designed new parks where warehouses and small businesses once stood.

A security force of 30,000, including federal troops, state and city police, FBI and hired guards

Under the cover of Olympic preparations, Atlanta business interests have pushed through actions it had wanted for years. Most of these involve moving African Americans out of areas of prime real estate.

At the top of the list was Techwood Homes, the oldest inner-city housing project in the country and the scene of many community struggles. It stands across the street from Coca Cola headquarters.

Some 114 units were bulldozed to make way for an Olympic dormitory for athletes. The rest of the 1,193 units were boarded up with vague promises from the Housing Authority to rebuild 900 units after the games.

Some tenants were relocated. The others were just moved out.

Much of the $550 million in Olympic construction was shoddy. The foundation of the dormitories built to house the athletes is already sinking into the ground.

ACOG also pushed to build a new stadium downtown, right beside the baseball stadium in the middle of the Peoplestown neighborhood. This community had already been devastated by construction of the baseball stadium with its huge parking lots.

Peoplestown residents fought the new stadium from the day it was proposed until the ground-breaking ceremony.

Meanwhile, ACOG has moved to rid the downtown area of homeless people. The city council has passed several laws over the last two years making loitering, "aggressive panhandling" and even "cutting through parking lots in a suspicious manner" crimes.

Enforcing these vague laws is left to the discretion of the cops. After enough harassment, some homeless people accepted the city's offer to buy them a bus ticket away from Atlanta.

Others were unceremoniously booted out. A small-business owner in the Atlanta area wrote Workers World about a homeless man who told her he had been ousted from the shelter where he slept, given a bus ticket -- and threatened with violence if he was seen in Atlanta anytime before the end of the Olympic games.

ACOG has gathered a security force of 30,000, including federal troops, state and city police, FBI and hired guards. The security chief is Bill Rathburn, a crony of former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates.

Some of these forces housed at Morehouse College have already clashed with residents of the surrounding neighborhood, according to a July 12 Atlanta Journal- Constitution report. Resident Wanda Arnold said, "It would be fine if they were just concerned with securing the campus, but there are all kinds of police now two or three blocks into the neighborhood."

The authorities are supposedly afraid of a so-called terrorist strike. Those in the know say the real threat to the games is from a less exotic source.

For many years, Atlanta's rich have lined their pockets while allowing the infrastructure of the mostly African American city to rot. During the games' peak the city's water and sewer system may get a test from that one flush too many that leaves an indelible mark on Olympics history.

This commentary first appeared in the July 25th Worker's World newspaper, and is © Workers World Service. It is based in part on reporting by Jimmy Raynor in Atlanta, and information from the July issue of Hospitality, a homeless- and prisoner-support newsletter in Atlanta.

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Albion Monitor July 28, 1996 (

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