Local and international activists mark one year until Tokyo 2020 Olympics with week-long protests

To protest the Olympic Games is to protest a global system of corporate sponsorship and capital that takes precedence over the needs of the locals who actually pay in the end for the bonanza. As such, anti-Olympics groups are increasingly transnational, whereby protest movements in host cities join up with peers and allies around the world to work together.

Tokyo is no exception and the main grassroots groups leading the anti-2020 campaign — Hangorin no Kai and Okotowa Link — are enthusiastically partnering with a wide range of activists scattered all over the planet: the NOlympics Anywhere movement.

Marking one year to go until the 2020 Games kick off, this transnational grassroots movement is descending on the Japanese capital for an unprecedented one-week series of events from 20 July to 27 July, attended by organisers from eight recent and future Olympic cities.

tokyo 2020 olympics protests transnational events

The first day will see locals guide visitors around the immensely controversial New National Stadium site, whose construction resulted in expulsions of a homeless community from Meiji Park and residents from Kasumigaoka Apartments. (And this is putting aside the not insignificant matter of the stadium itself, whose original design by the late Zaha Hadid was famously detested by many Japanese architects and was eventually scrapped in favour of a native-born designer’s effort when the construction costs soared.) The tour will then continue around the bay area, which is transforming courtesy of a raft of taxpayer-funded buildings that will host the Olympic Village, accompanied, of course, by a clutch of condos so that the private sector can cash in on the boost to the real estate value of the area. (Something similar is happening around the stadium, too, where an expensive apartment block and hotel are appearing in a district formerly noted, and protected, for its scenic beauty.)

This inaugural fieldwork event is followed by another tour — outside “dystopia Tokyo” this time, to Fukushima on 22 July. Local activists have organised various such tours in the past, most strikingly last year when the Anti-Olympic Torch arrived from South Korea for the handover to Japanese campaigner.

On 21 July, a major symposium will be held at Waseda University with the prominent anti-Olympics scholar Jules Boykoff as the keynote speaker. His lecture will focus on his frequently cited framing of the Olympics as “celebration capitalism” (itself an extension of Naomi Klein’s idea of “disaster capitalism”), whereby usually unacceptable levels of state intervention into civil society and the militarisation of the city are permitted for the sake of the Olympics spectacle, or where the public purse is raided to allow the private sector to profit from the Games.

jules boykoff symposium tokyo 2020 olympics

A press conference will be held (tentatively) at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on 23 July, followed by a solidarity action on the evening of 24 July that is being billed as the Hottest Shinjuku Street Protest. This is a provocative reference to the very real danger that athletes, staff, volunteers, and spectators will face at Tokyo 2020: the Games are being held at the peak of the city’s hot and humid summer, which may well result in fatalities if recent summers are anything to go by. (The 1964 Summer Olympics, to which the forthcoming Games almost obsessively looks back, actually took place in the cooler, autumnal month of October.)

shinjuku protest tokyo 2020 olympics

Other events during the week include an evening “picnic” for activists held in a park in Tokyo — a type of public space increasingly under threat as 2020 looms — as well as a teach-in for invited academics and a seminar on housing and environmental issues. The week culminates in a panel discussion at Sophia University called “Make Olympic History” where grassroots groups Comitê Popular Rio Copa e Olimpíadas, Anti-PyeongChang Olympics Alliance Action, NON aux JO 2024 à Paris, NOlympics LA, and Hangorin no Kai will share their know-how and resources to build strategies for protesting the upcoming iterations of the Olympics.


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