Progressive pushback coalesces against local giveaways to Amazon HQ2

In September of 2017, Amazon unveiled a grand campaign to build a new headquarters (HQ2) facility outside of the Seattle region, promising a future investment of over 5 billion dollars in construction and other relocating costs, 40,000 potential new jobs and an office building that would rival the size of the Pentagon.  States and counties scrambled to roll out the welcome mat to this unprecedented windfall-- over 238 towns, cities and other localities threw their hats in the ring.  Tucson went so far as to send Amazon a cactus and the Stonecrest, GA city council voted to change their name should Amazon select their proposal.

The raucous displays suddenly went silent in January when Amazon announced the 20 finalists for the HQ2 proposal.  All of the cheery dancing and pleading immediately melted away as every finalist was sworn to silence behind an airtight non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to not discuss the negotiation process or the specifics of the financial incentives that would be given to Amazon.  After months of claiming “We want to find a city that is excited to work with us and where our customers, employees, and the community can all benefit”, Amazon had predictably returned to the traditional model of negotiating a covert deal with cities and states, share as little with the public as possible, promise the world and extract as much benefit as possible.

To push against this wall of silence, MDC DSA organizers initiated a campaign to fight against Amazon coming to the region.  One of the first direct actions was disrupting a budget meeting in DC and directly confronting Mayor Bowser.  This was followed by a wave of Freedom of Information Act requests in DC, MD and VA.  As expected, DSA received little to nothing of substance from any of the parties -- organizers in Montgomery County were given pages and pages of redacted documents.  Virginia submitters were told categorically no with the exception of Loudoun County, which graciously offered to give redacted documents if we were willing to fork over $1,600 to pay for their time.

MDC DSA continues to provide shape to local progressive pushback on this invasive-species event – our next working group meeting is tomorrow (Saturday, June 2).

Based upon what’s been released so far, it appears that the 20 finalists are happily working to outdo their rivals in this economic prisoner’s dilemma.  Chicago offered a possible 2.25 billion, Columbus 2.76 billion dollars, New Jersey 7 billion dollars and in our region Maryland has offered an incentive package that could end up giving away 8 billion dollars in the form of tax credits, exemptions, grants and transportation upgrades focused on the benefit of Amazon and its employees.  In DC and Virginia, the amounts potentially on offer to Amazon are unknown.  In the District a heavily redacted first bid showed potential tax credits, reductions, abatements, exemptions and relocation reimbursements with all dollar amounts obscured.  Some estimates have shown that over a billion dollars could be spent on Amazon bringing HQ2.  In Virginia, next to nothing is known.  Attempts to get any kind of detail about the bids have been denied and the only understanding about what could happen comes from vague statements from city councilmembers, county board members and economic development agency employees. The Good Jobs First report Public Auction, Private Dealings provides an excellent overview of what has been offered as of April 2018 and calls for cities to stop playing Amazon’s game.

As of today, community organizers are still mostly in the dark in regard to what Amazon or their elected leadership are up to due to the NDAs and a cowardly refusal to see the negative consequences of an Amazon HQ2.  Many progressives believe that Seattle and the Bay Area are harbingers for the future of the DMV.  As with them, housing is already a critical problem in our region and Amazon would only serve to exacerbate the current trends of high rent, pricey homes, homelessness and new development targeted to richer, smaller families.  The economic development in the region has been mostly to the benefit of the wealthy as well as the professional and managerial classes while displacing working class families and stressing them to the margins with low pay/low benefit jobs.  Tech companies already abound in the DMV to siphon off federal dollars via contracting for the defense and intelligence communities- Amazon merely represents a blast of adrenaline to an already surging system.

Our local leaders have shown time and again that they are unable and unwilling to fight for what's best for the marginalized in our region.  Affordable and public housing has been underfunded and crumbling for decades.  Officials consistently push to ease regulation to foam the runway for big companies to move in, as seen with the recent push in Montgomery County to halve the development review time for a “signature business headquarters” clearly a nod to Amazon that MoCo is eager to bend over to do business with Jeff Bezos.  MDC DSA organized and conducted a regional town hall to help teach more about the impacts of an Amazon HQ2.  The town hall was well attended and allowed community members to ask questions and speak their minds on how they felt about HQ2 and the failures of local government to properly serve the people.  MDC DSA is continuing to work with other local organizers after the May town hall to push local leaders in the right direction.

Expect more direct action and engagement on this issue in June and the months to come.  MDC DSA is planning to continue to push elected leaders in DC, MD, and VA to do better and teach the community that it deserves better from our government.  Our next meeting will be on June 2nd, and will include a training on organizing tactics and discussion on future work in the district as we wait for a decision to be announced from Amazon- rumors (unsubstantiated) abound that Amazon will announce the location in June. To keep up with the latest in the campaign, go to the #regionalamazon channel on Slack.

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