If you haven’t heard, Amazon’s HQ2 satellite campus in Queens, New York is officially canceled. Much to the surprise of business-friendly elites everywhere, a combination of mixed expectations, disgruntled politicians, and sustained protests have prompted the company to pull out. A similar campaign of dissent is now brewing in Crystal City, Virginia (another intended campus of Amazon’s HQ2 headquarters). Will it be enough to kick the Relentless company out of Virginia as well?
Amazon blamed local officials for the exit from New York (The governor did as well). The company said in a press release:
“For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term.”
The keywords here are “state and local officials.”
Yet, officials were more than willing to get onboard with Amazon at the beginning of the HQ2 process. Amazon put the country through a Willy Wonka-esque gauntlet for 1 year and 2 months as the company took proposals from all across America searching for the ideal place to build its second headquarters (but really to wrangle tax breaks and other policy concessions). Local and state officials in New York were more than willing to give the company what it wanted, and that included $3.4 billion in tax incentives — but now, after only 4 months of protests, the company is calling it quits in New York.
Why? What changed?
Amazon is hated on the left for many valid reasons (e.g. tax avoidance, union busting, poor labor conditions, the inevitable creation of Skynet — take your pick), and if New York is one thing, it is a mecca for the Left. Hillary Clinton claimed the city by 79% in 2016. If anywhere is going to have a sizeable population pissed off by Amazon’s shitty business practices, it's New York City.
The company should have anticipated that resistance.
Yet, here we are.
Amazon has pulled out after a few solid months of active resistance, and it's hard not to see the anti-Amazon activism that has sprung in the last several months as the reason why.
It was one thing when Amazon was a vague existential threat possibly coming to a city near you. It’s hard to care about a disaster that might happen. When Amazon officially gave Long Island City, NY the honor of being gentrified by tech bros, however, local organizers sprung into action. That included door-to-door campaigning.
As Jacobin writer Liza Featherstone puts it:
“Activists went door-to-door in Long Island City, talking to residents about why the Amazon scheme was bad for the neighborhood, emphasizing Amazon’s anti-unionism, the planned billions in tax breaks, and gentrification…People were encouraged to contact their elected representatives, come to protests and town hall meetings on the issue, and get involved in the anti-Amazon fight. Many did. There were also a number of rallies, as well as disruptive protests of City Council hearings on the deal.”
It was more than canvassing, however, that kicked Amazon out of the Big Apple. The anti-real estate movement in the area has been growing for a long time, and not solely because of Amazon either. Like in many cities in the US, gentrification has been a huge issue in NYC, and it was an issue on the minds of voters going into the 2018 election.
In some cases, this concern led people with anti-gentrification stances — people like state senator Julia Salazar and representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — to get elected. These critical voices were not prominent in the initial HQ2 bid, but they are now, and they have very much made a stink. Julia Salazar, in particular, publically denounced Amazon at rallies and on social media. When Amazon alludes to unsupportive politicians, it's referring to them.
Virginia isn’t that much different from NYC. It is very liberal. Arlington County also went to Hillary Clinton by a large margin (75 percentage points).
The deal Arlington County made with Amazon is also quite terrible. Amazon will receive $23 million in tax incentives, including a direct share of Arlington County’s hotel tax revenue, and in exchange, the company just has to maintain a minimum amount of office space in the county per year. They don’t have to support affordable housing or set a minimum wage amount for construction workers. Residents pretty much get the privilege of having Amazon in Arlington County.
Simarily, like with the efforts in NYC, there is a growing grassroots campaign devoted to fighting Amazon. The group For Us, Not Amazon has nearly 500 members and is doing a lot of the same actions the New York City movement did. They are canvassing, attending meetings, and calling on their leaders for more transparency with the HQ2 bid.
There are also political leaders who have been outspoken over their distaste for the deal. One of them is state delegate Lee Carter who thinks Amazon will increase housing costs for his constituents.
People are resisting Amazon in Virginia, but as of right now, the question becomes whether or not that resistance will be enough. The majority of the $800 million incentive package used to attract Amazon to Virginia was already signed by Governor Ralph Northam on February 5th, 2019.
The next vote is by the Arlington County Board on March 16th for that $23 million in hotel taxes we were talking about earlier. Two out of five Arlington board members— Erik Gutshall and Matt de Ferranti — have expressed a hesitancy to vote on this package, unless Amazon plays more of a role with listening to the local community’s concerns (if you are in Virginia, they would be great people to reach out to).
The head of the Arlington County Board, however, has very vocally supported the HQ2 bid. The chair immediately assuaged the public that the deal was going forward in Crystal City after the one in NYC collapsed, and it seems unlikely that he will allow dissent from Gutshall and Ferranti to jeopardize the 25,000 jobs he’s trying to bring to Virginia. The only way those two would break rank is if they receive intense public pressure from their constituents to do so.
I have heard a lot of my friends in the Greater District of Columbia area bemoan the coming of Amazon and the change of culture that will inevitably come with it. Amazon will assert its influence, not only on Northern Virginia, but DC, Maryland, and the federal government as well. We only need to look at Seattle and San Francisco to know that such influence will lead to greater deregulation in tech, a lessening of labor laws, a rise in housing costs, and God knows what else.
This fate, though, is not an inevitability.
In fact, it’s something that New York City has proven can be resisted, but it requires that you put in some effort to do so. The policy window to stop Amazon is now, but it closes very soon.
Will you put in the time to say no: “I do not support taxpayer funds being given over to Amazon”?
The number to contact the Arlington County Board is 703–228–3130.
In order of flip-ability, the members to contact are:
- Erik Gutshall, Member
- Matt de Ferranti, Member
- Katie Cristol, Member
- Libby Garvey, Vice Chair
- Christian Dorsey, Chair
People are protesting Amazon in Virginia.
Will you join them?
Congratulations, you did it! Since you made it to the end of this article, you should follow me here on Medium. I write about pop culture, politics, and feelings. Who doesn’t love feelings? You can also find me on Instagram, and if you want to help me continue doing this, then consider supporting me over at Patreon. Hope to see you around!