How do you block a deal with a $1 trillion corporation, majority owned by the world’s richest man, when political leaders have cut off almost every formal avenue for public input?
You mobilize the community in every way possible, searching for the right pressure points.
DSA and our community allies have been doing just that since November 5, when Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced that Long Island City was one of two places that Amazon chose for its second headquarters (HQ2).
The terms of the deal are dreadful. New York City and State have agreed to $3 billion in tax breaks and subsidies, although the MTA, NYCHA and city schools desperately need those funds. Amazon has promised to create 25,000 to 40,000 jobs and build a school and tech center on 4 million square feet of land, some of it public, in a rapidly gentrifying and overcrowded neighborhood just two or three stops from some of the city’s most rent-burdened neighborhoods.
Cuomo and de Blasio used provisions of state law to circumvent the Community Board and City Council approvals necessary under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP). “They tried to take away our voice,” DSA’s Susan Kang declared to the max-capacity crowd at the town hall at the Church of the Redeemer in Astoria. But the deal can be stopped, she added. The state Public Authorities Control Board can veto the deal; it vetoed another boondoggle, for a New York Jets stadium on the far West Side of Manhattan, in 2005.
Queens DSA had organized the town hall with many partners: Queens Neighborhoods United (QNU), CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, Chhaya Community Development Corp., DRUM (Desis Rising Up & Moving), Hate Free Zone, Socialist Alternative NYC and Whole Worker.
Pressure on elected officials and community outreach are key. In early December, A Quinnipiac poll released in early December found that a majority (57%) of New York City residents favored Amazon coming to New York City. But when asked about the deal with its various subsidies, only 46% of poll respondents were in favor; 44% were against. And when more than 200 DSA members and friends went door to door in Western Queens, they found little enthusiasm, and much hostility, for the Amazon.
“Most people I spoke to in Long Island City were against the deal,” said David Lee, a new DSA member who took part in six of 29 canvassing events that DSA organized. In Sunnyside and Woodside, by contrast, few people knew much about the deal. Canvassers distributed information about the town hall and explained that Amazon’s HQ2 “isn’t for us.” Not many of the headquarters jobs, which projects will have a $150,000 average annual salary, are likely to go to the working-class people it displaces, or even other New Yorkers, and some of the jobs could last only a month or two.
Some elected officials and community groups hope to modify the deal, but not DSA and its allies. “This is a no Amazon Zone,” said Shrima Pandey of QNU, a moderator of the town hall. Speakers touched on the many ways that Amazon abuses the working class. Members of the community groups, many of whom are working-class immigrants, testified to their personal experience of landlord harassment, rising rents, and overcrowded schools and subways, in neighborhoods as close to the proposed HQ2 site as the Queensbridge Houses and as far away as Jamaica. These problems would increase drastically if Amazon builds its HQ2 in LIC.
Other speakers noted that Amazon provides facial recognition software to ICE. As DRUM member Mauricio Piritova said at the town hall. “We can’t call NYC a sanctuary city if we welcome Amazon.”
A Whole Worker member discussed union-busting efforts at Whole Foods, which Amazon now owns and Whole Worker is organizing. A Socialist Alternative member reminded the crowd that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and the world’s richest man, bullied Seattle public officials into repealing a tax on Amazon to fund housing for the homeless in Seattle.
NYC-DSA has also been working with ALIGN, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Make the Road, and New York Community for Change, in addition to the Queens groups, to oppose the Amazon deal. This loose coalition marched on the proposed Amazon site shortly after the deal was announced and protested just before a City Council hearing on the deal. During the hearing, CAAAV and DSA members dropped a huge HQ2Scam banner from the Council’s balcony. #NoAmazon activists have also testified and protested at Community Board meetings in Queens.
Organizing plans for the new year are still being hashed out. Possibilities include more town halls in other neighborhoods, visits to elected officials, protests at PACB meetings in Albany, and mass civil disobedience; more canvassing is for sure. To get involved, email queens(at)socialists.nyc. You can also give this factsheet to friends.