FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Redeeming the Olympic Martyrs of 1968

by DAVE ZIRIN

1968. There was never a year when the worlds of sports and politics collided so breathlessly, without mercy or respite. It was the year Muhammad Ali, stripped of his heavyweight title for resisting the draft, spoke on 200 college campuses and askedthe question, “Can they take my title without me being whupped?” It was the year Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics became champions once again, yet the player-coach saw his house vandalized by bigots. This led Russell to call the city of Boston a “flea market of racism,” and say “I am a Celtic, not a BOSTON Celtic.” It was the year the Detroit Tigers won the World Series, playing in a city that carried the specter of insurrection with riots in the hood, snipers on the roofs, wildcat strikes in the auto plants, and Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets” ringing throughout the projects.

And most famously, it was the year that Tommie Smith and John Carlos took the 200-meter medal stand at the Mexico City Olympics to raise their black gloved fists in a demonstration of pride, power, and politics. Smith and Carlos were part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) and they made their stand because of what was happening outside the stadium: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King; the growth of the Black Panthers, the May strikes in France, and most recently in their thoughts, the slaughter of hundreds in the country where they were being feted with gold.

On October 2, 1968, right before the start of the games, Mexican Security police murdered as many as 400 students and workers at La Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City. Today we remember that violent echo of 1968. We remember those put down like dogs for the crime of peaceful assembly. We can remember at long last, without tears, because of news Monday that a measure of closure may finally be coming for the families that have waged a 37-year quest for truth, justice, and a pound of flesh. Mexican prosecutors announced that they were finally acceding to a four-decades-long campaign, and filed long-awaited charges against former President Luis Echeverria for ordering the Tlatelolco bloodbath. Echeverria was interior minister and head of national security at the time of the massacre. “It has been almost 37 years of impunity and justice denied,” prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo told Reuters. “Now for the first time it is possible that the justice system may perform its duty.” The Tlatelolco killings were fatally intertwined with the oncoming Olympics. Student strikes had rocked Mexico throughout the year. This was a time of mass struggle from the Yucatan to Tijuana. But the students and their supporters, despite previous clashes with the state police, could not have foreseen the fanatical desire of Mexico to “make their country secure” for the coming Olympic games.

Echeverria’s Olympic clean-up, not the actions of panicked police, rogue officers, or indiscriminate trigger happy shooters, were respnsible for the deaths. Recently declassified documents paint a picture of a massacre as cold and methodical as Echeverria’s instructions, and the blood in his veins. As Kate Doyle, director of the Mexico Documentation Project describes, “When the shooting stopped, hundreds of people lay dead or wounded, as Army and police forces seized surviving protesters and dragged them away. Although months of nationwide student strikes had prompted an increasingly hard-line response,no one was prepared for the bloodbath that Tlatelolco became. More shocking still was the cover-up that kicked in as soon as the smoke cleared. Eye-witnesses to the killings pointed to the President’s ‘security’ forces, who entered the plaza bristling with weapons, backed by armored vehicles. But the government pointed back, claiming that extremists and communist agitators had initiated the violence. Who was responsible for Tlatelolco? The Mexican people have been demanding an answer ever since.”

Thousands of people have marched in the streets every year demanding justice for what is seen as Mexico’s Tiananmen Square. And while it is certainly welcome to see Echeverria doddering in cuffs, this arrest should not be seen only as an epilogue of the past but a warning for the future. The Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the British Olympics of 2012 both hold the potential for crackdowns that could make Tlatelolco seem mild in comparison. At the very least in China, where human rights and trade union organizing are a daily battle in normal times, the Olympics will hit those struggles with the force of a hurricane (a metaphor I don’t use lightly.) We need today to organize a new Olympic Project for Human Rights so people in China who want to resist the corporate monolith and state repression which trail after the Olympics like so much detritus, have the political space to do so. It would be a true, living justice, if the martyrs of 1968 can be resurrected to haunt a new generation of Echeverrias already planning security operations in Beijing.

DAVE ZIRIN’s new book “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States” is published by Haymarket Books. Check out his revamped website edgeofsports.com. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing edgeofsports-subscribe@zirin.com. Contact him at whatsmynamefool2005@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005

 

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail