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In Opposition To Boston 2024's Olympics Bid, A Long History Of Patriotic Resistance

Janna Malamud Smith: "Bostonians are continuing in this city’s centuries-old practice of demonstrating their patriotism by thinking for themselves and resisting improper uses of power." Pictured: John Fish, Boston's bid chairman and now the head of Boston 2024, speaks during a news conference in Boston Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 after Boston was picked by the USOC as its bid city for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games. (Winslow Townson/AP)
Janna Malamud Smith: "Bostonians are continuing in this city’s centuries-old practice of demonstrating their patriotism by thinking for themselves and resisting improper uses of power." Pictured: John Fish, Boston's bid chairman and now the head of Boston 2024, speaks during a news conference in Boston Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 after Boston was picked by the USOC as its bid city for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games. (Winslow Townson/AP)
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Oh dear, John Fish used the “P” word. As in, “decline of Patriotism.” And as in, if you oppose my wish to make Boston the site of the 2024 Olympics, you are a member of that less-than-upright-group known as decliners. No, he did not say that. But yes, he did imply it. His exact words were: “Personally, what bothers me a lot is the decline of pride, of patriotism and love of our country.” He was referring to those people who oppose his plan to bring the Olympics to Boston.

...some of the finest moments of patriotism in Boston have been about resisting ideas and actions that heavy hands have attempted to impose.

His complaint is such a slippery platitude, such a greased hog of cliché, that it’s tough to grasp if it has any useful meaning. Truth be told, it’s not meant to “mean” in any conversational sense. It’s meant to convey a “they disagree with me, so they are very bad” kind of criticism. It can’t be parsed in the same way a toddler’s tantrum can’t be parsed. Fish is spewing. Maybe someone needs a time out?

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Patriotism is love for one’s country, or, in this case, one’s city. People can feel that hosting the Olympics manifests love for their city. Or they can feel that there are other ways to show amore.

But let’s remember, we are talking about Boston. And some of the finest moments of patriotism in Boston have been about resisting ideas and actions that heavy hands have attempted to impose. Think about the Boston Tea Party, the writing of the Suffolk Resolves, Paul Revere’s ride, William Lloyd Garrison’s publishing of the Liberator, Bostonians’ resistance in 1854 to turning Anthony Burns over to slave catchers – and on and on.

It’s also true that from the moment the Puritans settled in Boston, the New World has lived out a great tug of war between democracy and oligarchy. Without putting too fine a point on it, a democracy — if we still are one, if we’re not yet totally an oligarchy run on the q.t. by too many, too-rich CEOs – is supposed to be all about each citizen’s right to have an opinion, to have a say in his own life, and in her city, state and country’s decisions.

Suffolk Construction is Mr. Fish’s privately-owned company. He can set its vision, rules, finances and operations anyway he likes. What appears to have piqued him to sling the “P” word is that Boston is populated by citizens who do not work for him, who believe they still live in a democracy. They hold diverse opinions about whether or not hosting the Olympics is good for their city and state, and they want a real debate, honest numbers, accountability and a vote. By daring to challenge Mr. Fish’s haste, Bostonians are, in fact, continuing in this city’s centuries-old practice of demonstrating their patriotism by thinking for themselves and resisting improper uses of power.

Maybe, these same citizens are hoping for a public conversation about how to spend limited tax revenue in ways that might most effectively improve daily life for the greatest number of people. A better transit system? More affordable city housing? Of course, it might be possible to design the Boston Olympics plan so that, after the party ends, Bostonians will actually find themselves in a city that works better. But shut up, trust me and do my bidding – whether stated outright or implied — isn’t convincing.

[Bostonians] hold diverse opinions about whether or not hosting the Olympics is good for their city and state, and they want a real debate, honest numbers, accountability and a vote.

To his credit, Mr. Fish recused his company, Suffolk Construction, from doing Olympics business. Still, it is no secret that much of Mr. Fish’s extraordinary personal wealth was made from Boston tax dollars. For 20 years, he was Mayor Thomas Menino’s favorite contractor.

I’m not sure whether I think the revolving door relationship between the mayor’s office and Suffolk Construction was P or un-P. Perhaps neither, or a bit of both.

You might recall the Revolutionary-era Boston patriot James Otis’s succinct point, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” So if a majority of folks votes to host the games, it would likely be a win-win – John Fish would not be viewed as a tyrant, and citizens would not feel steamrolled if their tax bills go up to help pay for the games.

Here’s my thought: If Mr. Fish offers to use his great private wealth to cover the Olympics’ likely tax debt, that would be “P” enough to for me. Otherwise, hurrah for the upcoming public vote!

John Fish, chairman of Boston 2024, answers a councilman's question during the first meeting of the Boston City Council on the city's bid to be awarded the 2024 Summer Olympics, Friday March 6, 2015, at City Hall in Boston. Boston 2024's CEO Richard Davey, center, and chief architect David Manfredi, right, look on. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
John Fish, chairman of Boston 2024, answers a councilman's question during the first meeting of the Boston City Council on the city's bid to be awarded the 2024 Summer Olympics, Friday March 6, 2015, at City Hall in Boston. Boston 2024's CEO Richard Davey, center, and chief architect David Manfredi, right, look on. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

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Janna Malamud Smith Cognoscenti contributor
Janna Malamud Smith is a psychotherapist and writer.

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