Groups seek to sway International Olympic Committee

Nicole Hong

In 150 days in Copenhagen, Denmark, the International Olympic Committee will announce the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics. As the time until the announcement diminishes, volunteer support and opposition to Chicago’s bid is intensifying.

“For this movement, the volunteers are at the core of it,” said Communication freshman Paula Acuna, a volunteer for Chicago 2016. “Obviously, it’s donations too, but for anything to get done, people from the community need to help.”

Acuna is one of 139 registered Northwestern student volunteers, led by Weinberg senior Jake Wilson. With 2,500 college student volunteers nationwide, Wilson said efforts to recruit students on campus have been successful. Chicago 2016 declined to release more volunteer statistics until May 11, when the IOC finishes visiting all candidate cities.

“Hosting the Olympics would be a privilege, and I tell volunteers that they really do have an impact on the bid because each person that volunteers and spreads the word is making a difference,” Wilson said.

Chicago 2016 has been recruiting college students using grassroots efforts similar to tactics used in President Barack Obama’s campaign, said a regional leader for Students Support Chicago 2016, who could not give his name due to Chicago 2016 policy.

“It was the youth that made Obama’s ‘change’ factor so vocal,” the regional leader said. “They connect well to so many demographics, and that was really the backbone for us targeting college students.”

Chicago 2016 plans to set up tables at NU and recruit volunteers at big summer events, such as the Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza, but Wilson said volunteers can take action simply by supporting the bid via word of mouth.

Acuna, who officially signed up to be a volunteer last month, attended the city-wide pep rally April 5 during the committee’s visit to Chicago. She has tried to recruit more NU students by sending out e-mails over her dorm’s e-mail list but said she hasn’t received many responses.

“Everyone’s busy, and there’s so many people who aren’t from Chicago that they could care less because they’ll be watching the Olympics on TV anyway,” Acuna said. “But by 2016, many of us will be professionals staying in the city, so I think we can all benefit from the boost to the economy.”

No Games Chicago, a group opposing Chicago’s Olympic bid, has also been growing, but the organization faces budget constraints, volunteer Tom Tresser said.

“We have no money,” Tresser said, citing the multi-million dollar budget of Chicago 2016. “We don’t really have the muscle to target anything. We sent e-mails to every social justice organization we could think of, and no recognized civic organization has taken us on.”

The lack of funding has forced No Games Chicago to recruit heavily through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. The group had 1,900 followers on Twitter and 1,049 members in its official Facebook group as of Sunday.

“What I want to say to young people is, ‘What kind of future are you building for your city?'” Tresser said. “Are we going to spend billions and billions of dollars on a three-week party, or are we going to spend it on mass transit, fixing potholes and hiring more teachers? It’s kind of one or the other.”

No Games has about 2,000 registered volunteers, who have been flyering in areas such as Pilsen and Washington Park. The group doesn’t have the resources yet to specifically target college students, but they hope to start individual chapters at universities nationwide, Tresser said.

One thing both Chicago 2016 and No Games Chicago agree on is the heavy significance of the Games for Chicago’s future.

“Even though the Olympics is years and years away, the decision’s made this year,” Tresser said. “The time to speak out is now. This is possibly the biggest decision and the biggest project that will impact Chicago in our lifetime.”

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Related: Olympic bid supporters rally Sunday in Chicago 4/06/09