You might recall how, throughout 2017 and 2018, the municipal battle to woo Jeff Bezos and his out-of-control, inhuman spawn Amazon heated up. Mid-sized cities nationwide dusted off their best suits, got down on both knees and begged Bezos to pick them, offering up taxpayer dollars like cheap chocolates and chrysanthemums.
Of course, Amazon gave each of their 238 suitors assurances that they, too, could win Amazon’s hand in public-private, quasi-governmental marriage.
What if tax breaks promised to Amazon were instead given to you and your community?
Cities and states nationwide strategized on how best to roll out a lush carpet, dyed red with the blood of the locals the town offered as the sacrificial dowry for the validation of having Amazon—AMAZON!—choose them.
It’s rather surprising that only one town offered to give up its name in the flurry that courting the potential HQ2’s hand inspired. Most just offered billions in tax incentives. All made passionate pleas, and many made incredibly stupid videos. Most completely ignored the needs of the actual people who lived there, brainwashed by a twisted form of late capitalism that says that only Amazon will save you.
Except, that’s a lie, and HQ2’s phony competition turned out to be nothing more than a massive data grab and empty, capitalistic hype. Some folks, of course, could smell the rat rotting in Amazon’s gut as soon as the competition was launched.
Others, like New York State’s venerable development-loving governor and New York City’s mayor, happily hashed out massive tax and land giveawaysbehind closed doors only to have the rug pulled out from them.
It was, in other words, a mess. And while Amazon ultimately chose to, of course, do whatever it wanted, where it wanted (Northern Virginia and Nashville), the other 236 cities were left feeling pushed into the “just friends” zone. Of course, those cities can still visit Amazon.com, they can still get deals on Prime Day, and they can even get free shipping.
But they don’t get to become one with Amazon. They won’t be changing their name, building new transit hubs, or investing in special workforce development, just for their former, potential, corporate lover.
Which, many might suppose, is a good thing. (Like the activists in Queens, New York, who challenged the city and state’s backroom Amazon love-making that ultimately was perceived to be truly screwing the people of Queens instead.)
Then, for the most part, the plans were shelved. Many are not public.
Which is, perhaps, is the worst thing that could be done with them.
If states and municipalities were able to massage their numbers to give billions of taxpayer dollars to Amazon, imagine if they were to instead give all those resources and support to their citizens, small businesses, cooperatives, and to their poorest communities for support services and community businesses the people actually want and need.
Imagine what Gary, Indiana, could do with the $792 million it offered Amazon.
Imagine what Atlanta could do with the $2 billion it offered Amazon.
Or imagine what Newark could do with the total $5 billion it promised Amazon.
Those three cities are—arguably—in massive need of a redistribution of resources. Yet they came up with that much money for Amazon? What about the people who live in food deserts? Book deserts? News deserts? What about the poorest people of color who need basic health, education, and transit services? What about the jobs that money could create if directed to cooperatives, small businesses, or the arts?
Imagine how much local improvement could happen—infrastructure, environmental, transit, education, public art, drinking water, and more—nationwide, if each municipality put their best Amazon FBA course packages to work for their people. Not Amazon.
What’s incredible is that this isn’t already happening on a mass scale. Where has the discussion been on reworking the plans for the people?
Why not talk about how to rework it for minority-owned businesses? Cooperatives? Public schools? Energy independence? Bridge and overpass and pothole repair?
Imagine if the number crunchers of each municipality’s HQ2 plans went back to the drawing board, with the actual communities of their town, and re-worked those plans to serve the people?
What will that look like?
The world can’t wait for change any longer. And your town can’t wait for Amazon—or any big corporation—to come in to save it.
Valerie Vande Panne
Independent Media Institute
Valerie Vande Panne is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She is an independent journalist whose work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, In These Times, Politico, and many other publications.
This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.