Activists are organizing against the Washington region’s bids for Amazon.com’s second headquarters, saying governments shouldn’t offer tax subsidies to a wealthy company when they haven’t devoted enough money to public schools, mass transit and the poor.
In a meeting Tuesday night, about 100 activists from more than a dozen social justice and workers’ rights groups gathered in a Northwest D.C. church calling for more transparency in the bids submitted by the District, Maryland and Virginia. The groups say no public financial incentives should be included in the offers.
Opponents have dubbed their campaign “Obviously Not DC” and “Obviously Not DMV,” a play on the D.C. government’s “Obviously DC” pitch.
“I think the allure of having Amazon in the region is a strong one, to sell D.C. as a place that’s tech-friendly or another Silicon Valley and as a place where people want to live,” meeting organizer Erin Shields said. “But to be honest, we don’t have the infrastructure now for all the people coming into the city.”
The region has three of the 20 localities on Amazon’s list of finalists for a second North American headquarters that the company says would bring at least 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment.
The activists, who are being organized by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, are part of a relatively small but increasingly vocal opposition against cities’ attempts to woo the tech giant. In Pittsburgh, some activists chanted “Whose city? Our city!” at a February forum on that city’s proposal, according to media reports. A grass-roots organization in Chicago held an April news conference calling on city officials there to give community representatives more of a say in the bid. An “Atlanta Against Amazon” website warns of “wildly inflating rent prices, more congestion on the roads, and soon, delivery drones buzzing over our heads” if the city is chosen.
An Amazon spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on the opposition. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The Washington-area activists said an influx of high-paid Amazon workers would drive up rents and home prices and push out longtime residents, particularly lower-income African Americans in the District, already under pressure from gentrification.
“If you care about racial justice, please recognize this move for what it is,” said Maurice Cook, founder and executive director of Serve Your City, a nonprofit that serves at-risk children in the District. “We will be removed. . . . This city’s culture is already under siege, and this would be the final nail.”
Stephanie Sneed, co-director of the Fair Budget Coalition, said D.C. officials shouldn’t offer Amazon tax breaks when they haven’t fully funded services for the homeless, immigrants, victims of domestic violence and residents seeking affordable housing.
“This is not about Amazon,” Sneed said, “but about the future of this city.”
Maryland, the only area government to reveal some of its bid, has pledged up to $8.5 billion, which includes tax benefits and unspecified transportation improvements. Maryland officials have said those incentives will pay off, citing a state-commissioned study that found an eventual net annual benefit of $483 million in additional state tax revenue and $280 million in additional county tax receipts.
Shields said government officials should not be allowed to keep financial incentives a secret.
“This is a huge decision essentially being decided behind closed doors,” she said.
Matteo Colombi, one of the meeting’s organizers, said Amazon’s search has sparked a “how low will you go” approach among local governments. He said he opposes a proposal in Montgomery County that would streamline zoning regulations for a “signature business headquarters,” such as Amazon, to locate in the county.
“It makes it harder for us to have any voice and any input,” Colombi said.
Amazon has said it will choose a second headquarters location by the end of the year.